I refuse to love money

I refuse…

…to love money.

No one wakes up in the morning and decides to become a drug addict or an alcoholic.  Scores of high school students have been subjected to movies and statistics of lives ruined by drug use (alcohol included).  They see the train wreck of a life where star athletes or academic leaders throw their lives, their relationships, their careers, and their families down the toilet.  Interview students exiting the auditorium and ask, “Want the druggy life?  Want to steal tv’s or sell your body for the next hit? Want to abandon all who love you?”  In the moment, they say, “No…of course not!”  But yet, many do.  It does not happen overnight.  They start with a beer at a party.  Consequences are avoided.  Someone hands them a joint at another party, and they want to fit in.  “But I’ll never do anything harder!” they promise themselves.  Until, in a moment of stress, a “friend” offers them something to help them feel like they can conquer the world.  Just this once.  It won’t hurt just once.  Months later or maybe even years, they’re being filmed for an anti-drug movie to show in high schools.  They never planned life to turn out that way.  What happened?  Just a few steps at a time.  No, not everyone who sneaks a beer from the frig will end up with an arm full of tracks.  But, those who end there started with a belief.  No wait – they started with a disbelief: It will never happen to me.

The real drug is money, riches, mammon.  We all use it and need it.  Money in of itself, is not wrong or evil.  It’s just a thing.  Furthermore, there have been plenty of good yet rich people.  There have been evil rich people.  There have been good poor people and evil poor people.  Jesus used money from time to time.  He even paid taxes.  The disciples had a treasurer (ok…it was Judas, but he was not evil because he was treasurer).  Money can be compared to a drug.  On one hand, a prescription drug can relieve pain after a difficult surgery.  It’s being used properly and mercifully.  On the other hand, if not controlled, that same merciful drug can become an unmerciful tyrant.  Someone was not careful with its power.  Someone thought, “It will never happen to me.”  In the same way, our attitudes on money can lead to great good or slavery.  It depends on how we view money.

Paul, not one to sugarcoat, explains it to his young disciple, Timothy.  “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” (1 Tim. 6:10).   When we say, “Follow the money,” we usually mean to trace money to its original source to discover who is behind some nefarious plot.  Paul implies something different.  The money addict follows the money.  When I go fishing, I bring my collection of bait.  I have natural baits, artificial baits, some with sparkles, some that look like little fish, and even some florescent colored baits.  I use what works.  I want the fish to track down my bait and swallow it whole.  Paul is warning: money is bait.  Yes, it looks like food too.  But, the followers of money remember not and heed not.  So, what should we remember, and what should we heed?

Remember: The love of money is the root of all kinds of evil.

Paul makes a foundational statement.  It needs to be remembered.  The expression love of money is really one word.  It can also be translated as avarice or miserliness.  I like how it’s translated in most of our English Bibles…the love of money.  Again, Paul is not saying that money is evil.  It’s just a thing.  A baseball bat can be used for evil or a homerun.  Money is like that except that loving it can start one down a vicious trap.  What’s the root of all kinds of evil?  What’s the start of a heart turning dark?  What makes that child who was often called “such a nice boy” have such a lonely funeral?  The love of money.  We all know about Satan and his demons.  But when it comes to the human heart, the deadly core, the source of despotism, the bedrock of cruelty, the footing of all kinds of evil is the love of money. 

Really?  What about lust?  What about idolatry?  Racism?  Abuse?  Eating M&M’s at the same time as a Skittles (try it…you’ll think it’s evil too).  Nope.  As heinous and harmful those may be, they are not the root of evil.  Paul could not be clearer.  The question for us is: Do we believe him?  When you hold that dollar bill in your hand and determine that you want more, the seed of evil has sprouted.  It is lust.  It is idolatry.  It is even racist and abusive.  The problem is not the money but your attitude about it.  Do you love it?  Quit rationalizing.  Paul says you have the origins of evil in your heart.  If you just made that step, you’ve just bowed to the peer pressure and slammed down that first beer. 

We have to believe this.  Why? Paul’s reason is the next sentence.  We should heed it.

Heed: You lose the faith and gain pain.

Look again at what Paul says, “Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs.”  The money addicts find two outcomes (Why? Because the love of money is the root of all evil!  Listen!  Don’t think you’re immune!).  First, they wander from the faith.  Does this mean they lose their salvation?  No, I don’t think so.  When we examine Paul’s use of the word faith in First Timothy, he rarely means the saving, belief kind of faith.  Rather, he means the faith that we hold; the doctrines we hold as true.  As a Christ follower, you will deny your dearest beliefs if you love money.  Sounds too far out there, doesn’t it?  Yep…it’s just like drug addict stealing money from his own family who once thought it would never happen to him.  Second, pain impales the money lovers.  They hurt with all kinds of pain…tons of it.  They will hurt in places they never thought possible.  It could be physical, mental, emotional, relational, or financial pain.  It won’t be a scratch either but a piercing through.  The ancient torture device, The Algerian Hook, suspended a victim with a large hook around the mid-section.  Sounds like loving money.

Every adult has lit a fire on a stove or camp ring.  We get fire and understand the danger.  We need to do the same (if not more so) when it comes to the loving of money.  Where’s your heart?  No, we are not talking about moving up in a career or refusing a raise.  It’s ok to save, start a 401K, and make a profit. But here are some questions:

  • Do you make all your decisions based upon how much money you will gain?
  • Have you broken relationships because of money?
  • Have you compromised a biblical command or principle in order to gain money?
  • Has your desire for money caused you pain?
  • Does your desire for money cause pain in others?
  • Is it hard for you to be generous?

If you answered “yes” to any of these questions, you likely love money.  Will you remember the foundational truth that loving money is the root of all evil?  Will you hear the reasons why it’s so bad?

Prosperity Gospel proponents have ignored Paul’s warning about money.  Yes, I understand the principles of sowing and reaping.  But if I give for the purpose of getting more money, why am I giving?  Could it be that I really just love money?  I would rather sow love and generosity and have God let me reap what he sees fit.  If it happens to be cash, that’s ok.  If not, that’s ok too.  If I need to be impoverished to advance God’s kingdom, so be it (I’m trusting him for that grace).  But I reject this idea of riches by following some kind of so-called biblical formula.  It sounds just like money loving addiction to me.  In fact, when it comes to loving money, I refuse.

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I refuse to strive to please men over God.

I refuse… 

…to strive to please men over God.  

Everyone has one.  Everyone has at least one stupid thing they keep doing or saying no matter how hard they try to quit.  One word can never be pronounced correctly.  A weird wrist position causes a missed free throw, or a loop in a swing means strike three.  A bad driving habit shifts into gear.  Someone’s tone sets off anger.  That one sin leads to bitter confession promising God it will never happen again, but in the heart of hearts, it will.  We all have one of chink in our armor.  Frankly, we own them in bunches.  Striving to please men over God ranks in my top three.  I wish I did not keep falling into that trap.

 One would think that as a middle aged man, I would have a grip on this.  As we age, we generally think less and less of what people think about us.  Over time, you tire of it.  Especially when it comes to career, I need to remain on guard against this thinking.  It is no accident it ranks number two on my “I refuse…” list.  I remember times when the slightest criticism would keep me up at night.  Sometimes, the criticism would come from ignorant people — just jerks.  When I considered the source, I became more frustrated that I gave credibility to those who deserve none.  I just wanted everyone to be pleased…just wanted to be liked.

 Here’s a freeing principle: not only can you not please everyone, you will please the least number of people if you try.  The circle turns into a self-defeating paradox.  I can say “Yes” to every request and end up annoying more people.  The more I seek people to like me results in less people liking me.  In leadership, this is solved by sticking to vision (see chapter one!).  I simply communicated, “Look…here’s where we are going.  Want to come along?”  Sometimes, this meant saying no or correcting or standing ground.  Those who offered resistance often became allies.  Eventually, people would get it.  They would find comfort in their part in the vision even if their leader did not cower to their spoken or unspoken demands.  And yet, I need to keep reminding myself to refuse to please men over God.

 I love the Apostle Paul in this area.  I want to grow up and be like him especially regarding pleasing men.  In Acts 17, he travels to Thessalonica.  As per his habit, he would reason from the Scriptures in the synagogue.  He identified Jesus as the Messiah, and he taught Jesus rose from the grave.  Jews and Greeks would hear, believe, and follow Jesus – but not all.  In this case, Paul faced persecution from Jewish sources.  He fled to Berea where Luke verbally body slams the opposition with “Now the Berean Jews were of more noble character than those in Thessalonica…” (Acts 17:11).  Paul is no man pleaser.  While safety dictated they move on, it did not deter them from the mission.  He kept preaching.  Later, when Paul would write the Thessalonian church, he recounted the persecution.  He explained what drove him to continue while popularity polls plummeted.  Look what he writes to the Thessalonians, “…we speak as those approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel. We are not trying to please people but God, who tests our hearts” (1 Thes. 2:4). 

 Remind yourself: God calls 

Paul says he has been approved by God to preach the Gospel.  His tone communicates certainty.  God examines him.  God approves him.  And for what?  Just the Gospel!  Just the message of reconciliation with God through the shed blood of Jesus who defeated death!  That’s all.  Just the most life changing, radical, impossible, phenomenal, world altering message since the dawn of existence!  God did not send angels or emblaze fire across the sky.  He sent Paul.  God chose to send his servants (note the plural here) to speak and live out the message of Jesus Christ.  Now Paul would be the first to admit that he has no credentials before God.  It is not as though God needed him.  Paul reminds the Thessalonians and himself that all the approval he needs has already come from God. 

 But, one may ask, “Where’s my call on the road to Damascus?”  Unfortunately, too many use this as a crutch.  What has God already told his followers to do?  Make disciples.  Build the church.  Be witnesses to the outer parts of the earth.  Love one another.  Preach the Gospel in all seasons.  Be ready for the return of Jesus.  Be filled with the Spirit.  Pray without ceasing.  Protect the flock.  That’s enough, but we could go on!  You and I have been entrusted to carry on the work Paul started.  Frankly, we have more tools and opportunities than Paul ever had.  We should remind ourselves that we have these and many other dictates entrusted to us by the Father in heaven.  So, who cares what the resistance thinks?

 Remind yourself: God prepares 

From the verse in Thessalonians, Paul uses one key word twice.  But for some reason, many of our English translations decided not repeat it with the same English word.  Look at the verse again,

“…we speak as those approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel. We are not trying to please people but God, who tests our hearts” (1 Thes. 2:4).  In Greek, it appears in a slightly different form, but the root word stands as dokimazo.  It means examined, approved, or tested.  So, when Paul burns valuable papyrus by repeating a point, we should listen.  We see that God approves, but that approval means more than a rubber stamp.  God put Paul and Co. through the paces.  God trained them. God tried them.  Dokimazo carries the idea of training oxen which can never be a passive exercise.  The farmer works, trains, and corrects his team.  He eventually gets them to the place where training stops.  The whip (so to speak) is no longer needed.  They “know” what to do.  The farmer just directs the place.  So, Paul essentially says, “We are approved by God.  After all, we completed his training course under his very nose. He changed us.  He knows us.  How silly for us to seek the approval of men when God himself has declared us approved!” (loose Olkowski translation). 

God works in our lives.  He places us where he has approved.  If we need more training or discipline, he will continue to work in our hearts.  A man pleaser forgets this.  He becomes so busy showing how he measures up, he fails to see that God has already measured him up. 

 Remind yourself: God is responsible

 I love cheesy sci-fi movies.  The special effects are far from special compared to today’s cg.  They are cool because they did so much with so little.  And, there is no cheesier sci-fi than Captain Kirk of the Starship Enterprise.  No one else could over act the role like Mr. Shattner.  Love him or hate him or think Star Wars is better, Captain Kirk reminded us (about every third episode) that he bore the responsibility for his crew…no matter what they did.  He stopped the buck.

 In the end, this is God’s gig. The buck stops with him. I am not saying we have carte blanche in our behavior and responsibility.  We do what we do so that he might be glorified.  Take the whole Gospel message.  All of creation will one day stand up and say a collective “Wow…he’s amazing.  Is there anything else that deserved so much worse and given so much more?”  Check Ephesians 2:6-7 to back me up here (not to mention repeated references of “…to the praise of his glory” in Ephesians 1).  The destiny of the world and our share in it will be exhibit A of his grace, mercy, love, power, justice, holiness, patience, (add your attribute here __________________).  It is his plan, so we need not concern ourselves with the criticisms of men.  In fact, I refuse to seek to please men over God.

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I refuse to be limited by weak vistion

I refuse…

…to be limited by weak vision.

As the eighth of nine children, my older siblings took a while to get used to the fact that I had grown, graduated high school, married, had kids, and completed college. In their minds, little Joey is still at home riding his bike all over the neighborhood. Slowly but surely, “Joey” has turned to “Joe,” and I find my siblings look to me as a man. However, my experience has given me empathy for that rough and tumble prophet, Jeremiah. God called him as a young man. Jeremiah thought no one would listen to him due to his youth. God brushes this objection aside. God gives Jeremiah a vision: Then the LORD stretched out His hand and touched my mouth, and the LORD said to me, “Behold, I have put My words in your mouth. See, I have appointed you this day over the nations and over the kingdoms, To pluck up and to break down, To destroy and to overthrow, To build and to plant” (Jer. 1:9-10).

So, little “Jerry” is got himself a preaching job…how cute. I wonder how he will respond? Oh, it’s not a real hard vision or is it? Let’s see: Jeremiah will be preaching to older men and leaders, and he’s just a kid (albeit, likely in his twenties). He will speak for God during a time of great apostasy and rebellion against God. The exile is only a few months off. His message will not be accepted. He will not be hailed as a celebrity. God has given Jeremiah authority over nations but will they recognize it? The sum of the vision is to mostly destroy but to build and plant. He will not be winning people over with a positive message for the large part. Given the circumstances before us, I wonder how we would respond?

Jeremiah possessed two critical elements to get him through. When he faces persecution, these would keep him going. When he sunk down to his knees in the mud, these would inspire him. When he wrote Lamentations from the depth of his soul, he knew there would be more. Jeremiah had vision and he had the God of the vision.

A vision is simply a goal to strive after. I may have the vision of running a marathon. At present state, I don’t think I could hold up after a mile. But with vision, that mile can grow to two, then three, then five, and so on. After time and work, the vision will be met. The trouble with most of us is that we settle for reasonable visions. “I want to walk a quarter of a mile.” I can do that today. I go out, walk my quarter mile, and pat myself on the back for being such a visionary. Too bad the vision lacked punch. We need visions that are so huge and daunting, we cannot yet fathom how they can be accomplished. Weak visions are for weaklings.

In ministry, family, church, or mission, we settle for the weak vision. “I want our church to double” is exchanged for “Let’s add ten people in six months.” “Prayer should be a focus of our family” morphs to a Santa clause list of requests. Jeremiah’s vision started from a position of strength and vitality for multiple reasons.

The Vision Had Strength because it was beyond Jeremiah’s natural abilities.

On Jeremiah’s resume, he listed one word: prophet. That was it. The Bible prophets are not the “Nostradamus” kind of prophets or the end of the year sages on grocery store tabloids. A prophet simply speaks for God. God explained the process when he spoke to Moses. He said, “Moses, I will speak to you, you speak to Aaron, Aaron will speak to the people. Simple. Moses, think of Aaron as your prophet” (Exodus 4). Jeremiah is simply a mouth-piece. He is a mouth-piece for the Almighty God of the Universe, but a mouth-piece nonetheless. He would not have the abilities or the message to make the impact. He did not have the creative juices to create some PowerPoint presentation to really wow the crowd. Most of what Jeremiah would say was not so much predictive as it was descriptive. He had to describe the current state of the people. For example, Jeremiah writes, “But my people have exchanged their glory for worthless idols” (Jer. 2:11) or “Look! He advances like the clouds, his chariots come like a whirlwind, his horses are swifter than eagles. Woe to us! We are ruined!” (Jer. 4:13). So, Jeremiah could look to himself or look to God. “Hmmm…let me see…all powerful and insightful God or me…let me weigh this out. Ok, I’ll go the God route.” To his credit, the prophet saw his own inadequacies. God inspired him and assured him that he was not on his own. A true visionary needs to look beyond the limits of his own skin. Supernatural stuff can only be accomplished by a supernatural God.

The Vision Had Strength because it was unselfish.

In all honesty, I love accolades. Admit it: you do to. Even if there is no chance for a man to win, he secretly thinks himself the dark horse winner at the awards banquet. We crave the pats on the back and the recognition of men. But, where are the visionaries who don’t look for their names on plaques? Where are the men and women who would truly do something good or noble or even great and not care if anyone sees? It’s like the old adage that says, “It’s amazing what could get done if no one cared who got the credit.” And, Jeremiah’s ministry would be tough. He would be up against hostile crowds most if not all of the time. His message would be unpopular. Indeed, it could not be for personal gain. This work would be the last thing to make Jeremiah’s life complete or popular or fulfilled. His time and energy would not be his own. In fact, not only would he need to abandon any hope of personal gain, he would look forward to suffering and ridicule. Perhaps, only God would be the only one who would recognize his faithfulness until long after he is done.

This one is hard to do. We know we should be unselfish in vision, but visions of grandeur rise. We have to reject them. Continue to strive to the vision even if no one knows. If we ever notice our motive being greatness, fame, power, or money, stop. This does not necessarily mean abandon the vision. If it did, we would abandon vision after vision. It does mean repent. Stop, realize the motive, and cast it aside. “You” is not why you are doing this. I have often wondered if God holds off success for me until my motives are clear, and I REALLY want him to get all the credit.

The Vision Had Strength because it was from God.

This past century witnessed dramatic changes and innovation. Men and women took their ideas and made them something great even to the point of worldwide impact. But, even the greatest of innovations have a shelf life. Something better comes along or the original idea is discredited. Light bulbs gave way to vacuum tubes which gave way to transistors which gave way to microchips which will give way. But when God gives a vision, it continues. Indeed, even in the eschatological future beyond the very end of time (sorry for the redundancy; just making a point), God’s vision continues. He prepared Jeremiah and the vision for Jeremiah from ages past. It is a cosmic cog in his eternal plans. It will never become obsolete. It did not find its source in human cleverness. It has no marketing plan. God has the distinct advantage of ultimate authority. He will bring his plan about. And for some reason, he chooses us. He chose Jeremiah. Angels will work or writing messages in the sky will work, but God imparts his vision to us: just men and women who say they follow Jesus. There is no financial backing that can compare to him. When he wants it done, it will be done. When he imparts the vision, the choice is ours of whether or not we will jump on board.

If God says the surf is up, let’s ride his wave. It’s his wave. I refuse to limited by weak vision.

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I refuse Intro

We don’t cross lines in the sand anymore.  Come to think of it, we don’t draw lines in the sand anymore either.  Western modern and post-modern cultures turn up their superior noses at each other, but neither really takes a stand.  Both try to be different from the previous generations or philosophies.  In reality, they both suffer from a collective need to be accepted.  So, they make pronouncements and strive to find others who agree, but no one really wants to take a stand and take a shot, draw that line in the sand, stand there with their arms folded and say, “No, it goes no father.”  

Sadly, this attitude has made its way into the church.  While many will answer correctly on a theological exam, there is still the acceptance that others may believe differently – even if that different belief is a lie.  So, I believe in the existence of hell.  If you don’t, who am I to push that belief on to you?  I don’t want to offend.  I don’t want to draw lines in the sand.  That’s confrontational.  That’s not tolerant.  That’s not loving.  What’s worse is that we hold truth to be validated if one believes it.  Rather than truth being something that conforms to reality, we can have all kinds of “truths” just because someone believes it.  Someone makes a commitment to the Lord, but they just see it as truth unto themselves.  This makes our commitments fluid and optional.  We can find ourselves dismissing the claims of Christ and the Bible.  His lines in the sand are washed away by the coming tide of our opinions. 

Our culture and church attitude is not the forum that truly disgusts me.  That forum is my own heart.  Daily, I have compromised, convoluted, ignored, or simply disobeyed the Bible and my relationship to God.  I have been re-created into a new creature, but I have allowed my culture to permeate my heart.  My convictions turn from steel to jell-o.  

Jesus is the true counter-cultural radical.  More than that, he is the counter-nature radical.  From the dawn of civilizations of artificial gods to the worship of man to the denial of reality to ignorance of the dark ages to closed mindedness of science to the post-modern era, Jesus’ message stands apart.  Beyond a change in philosophy, he preached an entirely new nature.  He speaks to the core of the core issue: our hearts.  We do not need his words to be validated or voted upon.  In fact, the whole message of the Bible is one deep line in granite.  This message offers an entirely different level and nature of personhood.  It speaks to a heart that beats when the world was new.  So uncomfortable is it, Jesus was persecuted and killed for it.  Why settle for some trend when a new nature is offered?  All manmade philosophies are pretenders. 

Almost fifteen years ago, I just about had it with ministry, Christians, and the church.  Remember, I include myself in all three of those groups.  Gossip speaks louder and more often than prayer.  Criticisms and taking sides appeal more than fighting for a single mission and goal.  Emails are sent by tattle-tales who don’t have all the facts.  Building personal kingdoms trumps God’s kingdom.  Pleasing men over God is the norm.  Popularity rules over principle.  Faith became quaint and childish rather than childlike faith.  Direct commands from the Word of God morph to options if the justification could be made (and usually easily so).  I got ticked.   I wanted the new life and nature instead of the church-biz.  As I prayed out of frustration, I just said, “God I refuse…”  I refuse to play the games anymore.  I refuse to ignore what I know to be true.  I refuse to hold values that build my kingdom instead of God’s.  Yea, the word refuse is a negative, but there are a few negative commands in the Bible if I’m not mistaken.  

The list of lines I drew in the sand started with three, grew to ten, needed some Scriptural support, and ended after three pages of single spaced refusals.  Over the years, I’ve shared them with individuals and groups but with little explanation.  Since the list has generated, I needed to come back to it again and again.  A crisis here or complacency there conveniently pushed the commitment out of mind.  I read the list again and realize, “Man…gotta get in line again.” 

I struggle with wanting attention.  My heart’s desire is that I can write this without expectation of anyone reading it and finding something good.  I am still not sure of my motives.  It just seems like it’s time to write.  I am not a nationwide name.  I live in a town I didn’t even know existed a few years ago.  But these are my lines in the sand. 

And one more caveat, while each statement begins with I, these are Holy Spirit needed heart changes.  I cannot hope to deepen the line by my own self-control, power, or gritting of teeth.  True, biblical change is an act of God.  Supernatural power is needed for supernatural commitments.  When it comes to living radical, over the top, counter-natural by myself, I refuse…

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