Pressing On

with THE WORD

A study of the Scriptures to discover who God is, what He is like, and how to partner with Him now.

Filtering by Tag: money

Buyers vs Sellers

The concept of buying and selling is inescapable in our culture.  There are shops set up everywhere we look, trying to entice us with items we may (or may not) need.  Radio, TV, and internet commercials are strategically placed to get a product in front of those most likely to be persuaded to buy them.  Even if you can’t afford to pay for something at the moment, there are traps…I mean, offers…to help you instantly increase your purchase ability.

But when you get right down to it, everything has an associated cost.  Even if we’re not talking about money, we view our time and effort in terms of being “spent” or “sold”.  We judge ourselves based upon how well we believe we have “spent” our time.  That’s also the concept behind getting paid for doing work.  I agree to “sell” you my time and efforts in exchange for $10/hour, $20/hour, or $100/hour…all depending upon the value you and I agree to for my labors.

The exchange of money or time or effort for something else comes down to a question of value.  And what we, as individuals, place value on will vary greatly.  How we perceive the value of an item or an experience is inherently subjective…and then throw in the clamoring of the marketplace, the influence of social media, on top of our own inner monologues…it’s easy to become overwhelmed with all of our choices and options.

As always, God has stepped in to give us direction.  Toward the end of the book of Proverbs, we find this statement:

Proverbs 23:23
Buy – and do not sell – truth, wisdom, instruction, and understanding.

The proverb has a genuine wisdom-feel to it, does it not?  Whether you read it or hear someone say it, it’s one of those statements where we can all solemnly nod in agreement…and then move on with our lives…

But how do we actually apply this concept of buy and selling when it comes to these elements? 

The easier of the two is the idea of buying.  So much so that you can probably answer right away.  The first way we can buy truth, wisdom, instruction, and understanding is with our time.  Do we spend our time securing the truth, seeking wisdom and instruction, or prioritizing understanding?  Another piece of purchase power we have is our finances.  Would our spending habits reflect the pursuit of these things?

The idea of selling can be a bit of a head-scratcher until we remember that the act of selling is just like buying – it is an exchange of something we have in order to obtain something else.  Looking at our actions, do we find times where we’ve decided that life would be a little more convenient if we glossed over the truth?  Have we ignored wisdom because we really want the shiny object in front of us?  Have we replaced instruction and understanding with so-called “blissful” ignorance?

Additionally, whatever we would exchange truth, wisdom, instruction, and understanding for would not be worth as much as those elements.  Could money or fame or more shiny stuff really make you better off if they were purchased at the cost of our truthfulness or good judgment?  In the long run, I think not…

The worst Biblical example of selling something valuable comes in Paul’s letter to the believers in Rome.  Paul is stating that those who reject God and His truth are living under His wrath now, in this present life.  In the midst of his discussion of those who make self-centered, unchecked-passion-driven choices, Paul gives this selling analogy:

Romans 1:25
They exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served what has been created instead of the Creator…

What we prioritize and how we spend our time, talent, and treasure matters greatly.  Solomon wants us to recognize it and make choices accordingly:

Proverbs 23:23
Buy – and do not sell – truth, wisdom, instruction, and understanding.

Keep Pressing,
Ken

Settling accounts (part 1)

One of the last topics Jesus addressed with His disciples before He went to the cross was how they were going to live after He returned to the Father.  Since the exact time of His return to earth had not been revealed, Jesus told three stories to help them understand their need to be ready at all times.

In the first parable, Jesus contrasted the two paths before a servant who was put in charge of other servants.  When the master returned at an unannounced time, he would find that either the servant continued to be faithful, or he would find that the servant had been derelict in his duties.  The appropriate reward or punishment would then follow.

In the second parable, Jesus contrasted two groups of virgins who were waiting for the groom to return.  When the groom took longer than expected, it became clear that some of the virgins had prepared for a long wait and some of them had not.  When the groom finally did arrive, those that were prepared were welcomed into the wedding feast, while those who were not prepared were excluded from the event.

From these two parables, Jesus teaches that being prepared for His return will lead to significant rewards and opportunities.  The next logical question the disciples must have been wondering is How do I get ready?  What must I do?

Fortunately for them (and for us) Jesus’ next parable answers that question.  Continuing to talk about the Kingdom of Heaven, Jesus said:

Matthew 25:14-15, 19
For it is just like a man going on a journey.  He called his own slaves and turned over his possessions to them.  To one he gave five talents; to another, two; and to another, one – to each according to his own ability.  Then he went on a journey…After a long time the master of those slaves came and settled accounts with them.

Notice that elements from the previous parables are here also – namely that the servants had responsibility over a portion of the master’s property, and that the master took a long time before returning. 

Now a talent was a very large sum of money, worth about 6,000 denarii.  That monetary unit doesn’t mean much to us, but a denarii was the equivalent of a day’s wage.  Using today’s median income, a talent would be worth about $720,000.  This wasn’t some dinky gift from the master.  This was a serious investment of resources.

Interestingly, the servants did not receive an equal share…but they did receive an appropriate share, to each according to his own ability.  The master was wise enough to know that some servants could handle more, and some should to be in charge of less.  To give a someone more responsibility than they are capable of handling would be setting them up for failure, and the master didn’t do that.

Just imagine the scene when they received the master’s possessions.  The first servant received $3.6 million, the second received $1.44 million, and the third received $720,000.  That moment when the master looked the servant in the eye and said “I’m entrusting you with my money.  I’ll be back to see how you’ve managed it.”  How would you feel?  

Overwhelmed? 
Nervous? 
Jealous that someone else got more? 
Worried that the master entrusted you with too much?

Very few of us will ever receive a full talent of money as a lump sum in our lifetime.  However, if we look at how much we typically make over our entire lifetime…we’ve been entrusted with a lot of the master’s resources.  Now factor in other talents and abilities each of us have, think about how those could be invested…and if you’re like me, I’m starting to feel like the servants must have felt. 

Jesus has entrusted us with a lot.  And when He comes back, He’s going to settle accounts with us.

Invest wisely.

Keep Pressing,
Ken

Laying the foundation

I’ve been fascinated by harmonicas for a while now.  Listening to people who can pull a harmonica out of their pocket and just jam away on some jazzy, country, or bluesy music has made me want to do so as well.  I never acted on that desire, until recently.  And I learned something rather important – playing the harmonica isn’t super easy.  In fact, some parts of it are rather difficult.

The first skill to learn is to blow and draw single-hole notes clearly.  Makes sense to start there, but that’s easier said than done.  And my lips got sore/tired after about 10 minutes of squeaking around, so I had to wait until the next day to try again.  Day two wasn’t any better.  Neither was day three.  It took me months of work before I could play a scale without messing it up (and mess ups still happen, occasionally). 

The next skill to learn is to move around the harmonica, playing notes out of order so that I play a recognizable tune.  More work, and still not easy.  I’m much better at it now, after another couple of months, and I can now get about 80-90% of “She’ll be Coming Round the Mountain” on a consistent basis.

On the horizon is a skill called ‘bending’.  It’s being able to change notes using the same hole by changing the position of your tongue and throat.  The video instructor I’m following called the practice time of learning this skill the ‘dark hours’ of learning to play.  He warned that it will take some time, and that it takes some people longer than others to figure out how to consistently bend notes.  His tone and cautiously chosen words were a little unsettling…but he did reassure that this skill is the gateway to learning all the jazzy, country, and bluesy jam session stuff that I really want to play.  If I don’t spend this time grinding through the ‘dark hours’, then I will be unable to play the harmonica to its full potential.  I’ll miss out on what I’m capable of because I won’t have the foundation I need to play like that.  But who knows how long it’s going to take for me to get this part figured out…

We’ve been looking at a passage from Paul’s letter to Timothy, who is overseeing the church in the melting-pot metropolis of Ephesus.  While being poor has its own challenges (and Paul addressed some of them earlier in this letter), Timothy also needed to instruct the wealthy members of the church how to handle their finances in a way that is productive and honors God. 

If we modern-day, American believers widen our lens to include the rest of the world, we quickly see that we too fit Paul’s definition of those who are rich.  With our smart phones, cable TV, and cars, in addition to our air conditioning, clean water, and indoor plumbing…It’s hard to argue that we’re “not that rich”.  Here are the things Paul says we need to learn:

1 Timothy 6:17-19
Instruct those who are rich in the present age 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. 

Instruct them to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous, willing to share, storing up for themselves a good foundation for the age to come, so that they may take hold of life that is real.

Being others-focused like this does not come naturally, though.  We’re ok saying polite things and throwing a little money in the offering plate at church.  But we know that if we’re going to really do what God is asking of us here – do goodbe rich in good worksbe generousbe willing to share – that is asking for a change in us at a deeper level.  We’re going to have to take on our deep-seeded attitudes about ‘my time’ and ‘my money’.

And that wrestling match is hard.  When we finally step out and try to follow God’s instructions here, we find that we’re not very good at it.  It’s more uncomfortable that we want it to be.  We struggle with questions like ‘How will I know when I should help someone financially vs when it would be unwise to offer money?’ and ‘What does be generous really mean for my level of income?’ and ‘If I give and share when I really don’t want to, does that “count”?  Does God still consider my actions to be “good”, or should I skip giving until don’t feel any resentment about it?’.

Wrestling though these kinds of questions will be some dark hours.  We might be ok with being generous today, but lose the fight tomorrow.  We will want to throw in the towel and go back to just being nice (and comfortable).  We’ll get to the point where we can handle our wealth 80-90% of the time, and then lapse back into a selfish attitude. 

But it will be worth it in the end, He says.  Our work now, when it’s hard, is laying a good foundation for the age to come.  Learning how to be wealthy AND others-focused is the gateway to being able to partner with God in Eternity Future.  Without this practice time, we won’t be able to fully do the things we were made to do. 

I can’t answer your ‘dark hour’ wrestling questions, but God can.  My advice (for you and me) is to keep practicing.  Let’s trust God in this and take hold of life that is real.  Eternity future awaits.  Let’s make sure we’re prepared to partner with God and fully enjoy it.

Keep Pressing,
Ken

Is it wrong to be rich?

Over the last several years, we’ve heard a lot about “the greedy rich” and “the 1%ers” who have the biggest salaries and have seemingly “unfair” amounts of wealth.  These phrases are thrown around in the business world, in political speeches, and on news broadcasts…with the inference that it is wrong for someone to be at that income level.

In America, if you’re going to be part of the top 1% in annual salary, then you’d have to bring in over $434,000 every year.  To be in the top 10% of American wage earners, your salary would be over $133,000 every year.  Maybe you don’t fit into either category, and you don’t think of yourself as “rich”.  That’s for someone else, right?  Someone who can spend as much as they want whenever they want and not worry about it. 

But the issue we’re subconsciously wrestling with whenever a “1%er” statement comes up is…Is it ‘wrong’ to be rich? 

Ever wonder what God says about being rich?  Is it a sin to make a lot of money?  Is it sinful to have large amounts of money in the bank?  

Before we get to Paul’s instructions to Timothy about Christians who have a lot of wealth, we need to clear something up.  If we stop comparing our income to others in our town and instead look at the rest of the world, if we make more than $32,400 in a year (or $15.59/hour)…we’re in the top 1% globally.  Also, “rich” in the ancient world meant that you had a house to call your own and extra disposable income to spend on lavish, unnecessary fun items.  With our smart phones, cable TV, and cars, in addition to our air conditioning, clean water, and indoor plumbing…I think we do qualify as “rich”.

So, what does God think about us having so much? 

1 Timothy 6:17-19
Instruct those who are rich in the present age 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.  Instruct them to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous, willing to share, storing up for themselves a good foundation for the age to come, so that they may take hold of life that is real.

So, it’s not a sin to have money.  It’s not a sin to have things or take pleasure in them.  After all, God richly provides us with all things to enjoy.  So, we shouldn’t feel guilty about going to the movies, or having an iPhone, or being able to afford a vacation.  

From this text, we see that God’s more concerned with our attitude about our riches.  If our wealth was suddenly gone, would we still sing about how good God is?  If our future is uncertain, do we console ourselves with the amount in our bank account, or with the knowledge that God provided that money in our bank account to protect against emergencies?

Is our hope and security based on money or the One who gave us the money?  That can be easy for us rich 1%ers to forget.

Keep Pressing,
Ken

To run or to fight?

Some battles are worth fighting, and other times we’re better off just walking away.  It would be easy to talk in these terms about conflict with other people…but let’s ask the harder question instead:

How do we know the difference – when to run and when to fight – when it comes to our internal struggles and desires?

Because here’s our dilemma:

If we run when we should fight, it is a clear loss.
If we fight when we should run, then we waste time in a losing battle and risk injury or ruin.

Last time, we looked at Paul’s warning to Timothy regarding the seductively destructive desire for money and wealth.  Paul’s advice for dealing with money-love? RUN AWAY

1 Timothy 6:9-11
But those who want to be rich fall into temptation, a trap, and many foolish and harmful desires, which plunge people into ruin and destruction.  For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil, and by craving it, some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pains.

Now you, man of God, run from these things;

Loving money and what money can do for us will inevitably pull us away from God.  That pull can be as subtle as a distraction or as painful as a trap.  As such, Paul says having money as our primary driver is something to get away from.  And rather than dreaming of riches, Timothy needs something better to chase after:

1 Timothy 6:11-12
Now you, man of God, run from these things;
but pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance, and gentleness.

Fight the good fight for the faith;
take hold of eternal life,
to which you were called
and have made a good confession
before many witnesses.

Paul has presented a practical contrast for Timothy:

He is to run from the trapping desire to get rich and get away from loving/craving money.
Instead
He is to fight to acquire the eternal life qualities of God and what God has called Timothy to do.

Beyond the direct application of Paul’s instruction (which would be extremely helpful), we can also draw out these principles:

We are to run from – the attitudes and actions that pull us away from God, from those things that try and take His top place in our lives.

We are to fight for – the attitudes and actions that draw us closer to God, for those things that keep Him in the top place in our lives.

When (not if) we find ourselves presented with an internal conflict, we need to check which direction we’re being pulled in…and then choose to either run or fight accordingly.

Keep Pressing,
Ken
 

Running away

We all had moments like this as kids.  We saw the danger coming, and it was coming in fast.  Maybe for you it was a schoolyard bully, or the neighbor’s large dog, or the owner of a property that you were not supposed to be on.  Whatever it was, the adrenalin kicked in and you instinctively knew what you had to do next…

RUN!

Adrenaline is not called the “fight or flight” hormone for nothing.  When it starts pumping through our body, we are suddenly stronger, more focused, and significantly faster than we have ever been.  But we must decide, and decide quickly, how we are going to use our enhanced capabilities.  Some things aren’t worth fighting over, it’s best just to get away…and get away as quickly as possible.

As he was wrapping up his letter of direction and encouragement to his protégé Timothy, the Apostle Paul warns:

1 Timothy 6:9-11
But those who want to be rich fall into temptation, a trap, and many foolish and harmful desires, which plunge people into ruin and destruction.  For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil, and by craving it some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pains.

Now you, man of God, run from these things;

For Timothy to try balancing the pursuit of riches and being a man of God would have been completely futile.  Not only would he waste his time, but he would risk becoming trapped or falling into ruin and destruction.  A chasing after money leads to all kinds of compromises he would have never thought possible…it would lead him away from the faith and his reward would be many pains.

Jesus gave a similar warning:

Matthew 6:24
Not one can be a slave of two masters, since either he will hate one and love the other, or be devoted to one and despise the other.  You cannot be slaves of God and of money.

No wonder Paul’s advice to Timothy was to RUN.

But Paul doesn’t leave Timothy hanging either.  God isn’t just handing out a set of rules “Don’t do this.  Don’t do that.”  Whenever you find a “don’t” in Scripture, it’s almost always accompanied by an alternative “do”.

1 Timothy 6:11
Now you, man of God, run from these things;
but pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance, and gentleness.

Earlier, Paul told Timothy that godlinessholds promise for the present life and also for the life to come” (1 Timothy 4:8). 

So, we see the contrast here: Paul says to run from what the world sees as lifegiving now and to pursue what God says is lifegiving both now and in eternity.

Timothy had to choose what he was going to run from and what he would pursue

We must make the same choice.

Keep Pressing,
Ken

Fighting the temptations of money

We joke about it, but there’s certainly some truth to it – There are no luggage racks on a hearse.

We’ve also heard the more serious advice – You can’t take it with you when you die.  Travel light.

However, our consumerism-driven American lifestyle isn’t the first time Christians have had to wrestle with the desire to acquire things.  There really is nothing new under the sun.  Every generation is faced with the same issues, they just might come at us in slightly different ways.  When warning Timothy about the dangers of greed-driven false teachers, Paul made this observation:

1 Timothy 6:7-8
For we brought nothing into the world,
and we can take nothing out.
But if we have food and clothing
we will be content with these.

Paul is telling Timothy that we can choose our perspective on acquiring money and the things money can buy.  But…we will be content.  That is a choice.  When we stop and consciously think about it, it makes all the sense in the world.  Having lots of money in this life provides no guarantees on how life in eternity will go for us.  We can’t buy our way into Heaven, and anything we accumulate will get left behind with our physical bodies when we die.

And yet it is so, so easy to get caught up in the pursuit of money and the things money can buy.  Our selfish desire to be comfortable, to “live the good life”, actively creeps into our thoughts and attitudes.  From my experience, the desire to take it easy has gotten stronger the older I get.  As my career and experience progresses, so does the value of my work.  With more money comes the opportunity to selfishly spend it on myself.

Which is why Paul then warns:

1 Timothy 6:9-10
But those who want to be rich fall into temptation, a trap, and many foolish and harmful desires, which plunge people into ruin and destruction.  For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil and by craving it, some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pains.

Whether we’re wise with our money (and have no debt) or we’re unwise with our money (and buy everything with credit), the world repeatedly tells us that we deserve to take it easy.  But believing that lie is only the first step down path to a trap leading to ruin and destruction.

Don’t think for one moment that this kind of temptation only ensnares “false believers” and that “true believers” wouldn’t fall into the money trap.  With his very next sentence, Paul tells Timothy:

1 Timothy 6:11
Now you, man of God, run from these things…

We must choose to run…and we must choose to be content.  Paul isn’t advocating that we live with just the minimum food, clothing, and shelter needed to stay alive.  In just a few verses, Paul will tell Timothy that God gives us all things to enjoy (see 1 Timothy 6:17).  Paul’s warning is for Timothy (and us) to guard against the human tendency to take something meant to be enjoyed and allow it to become something that we focus on and love.  The best way to protect ourselves is to remember Paul’s words and choose contentment:

1 Timothy 6:7-8
For we brought nothing into the world,
and we can take nothing out.
But if we have food and clothing
we will be content with these.

Keep Pressing,
Ken