Tag Archives: Stewardship

Bible study: responsibilities and obligations in Philippians 1-4

Bible study that hits the spot
Bible study that hits the spot

Here are some parts of Philippians that speak to an issue that I think is a problem today for many Christians – self-centeredness.

Philippians 2 talks about the importance of not being self-centered, but instead being focused on the needs of others.

Phil 2:1-8:

2 Therefore if there is any encouragement in Christ, if there is any consolation of love, if there is any fellowship of the Spirit, if any affection and compassion,2 make my joy complete by being of the same mind, maintaining the same love, united in spirit, intent on one purpose. 3 Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves; 4 do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others. 5 Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, 6 who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, 7 but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. 8 Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.

And Phil 2:19-23:

19 But I hope in the Lord Jesus to send Timothy to you shortly, so that I also may be encouraged when I learn of your condition. 20 For I have no one else of kindred spirit who will genuinely be concerned for your welfare. 21 For they all seek after their own interests, not those of Christ Jesus. 22 But you know of his proven worth, that he served with me in the furtherance of the gospel like a child serving his father.

Nothing very complicated here, it’s important to look out for the interests of others and to be concerned about their welfare.

I think it’s a good idea to be practical about partnering with people, and instead of just speaking words like “I care” or “I’ll pray for you”, try to find out what needs to be done and do it. Solve the problem with actions. Prayer is important, of course, because so much of what happens to that other person is in God’s hands. You aren’t going to be around all the time, but God is, so talk to him about the other person and what you’re planning to do. But you must also do your part, and do it intelligently and effectively. (The New Testament book of James talks about the need to accompany good wishes with actions that solve the problem)

Also don’t just stand back and give orders while feeling righteous. Many people want to influence others by just quoting the Bible, putting on pious airs, or using mere words. This doesn’t work in any area of the real world. Instead, take a more active approach. Think about the problem that is preventing someone from serving Christ well, and then act to make it easier for the person to do the right thing.

I’ve been able to achieve good success by praying AND performing supportive actions, rather than by issuing commands or prayer alone. For example, I’ve gotten people to transition for useless careers into IT careers, got them to pay off their high-interest debts, got them to switch their majors from something useless to something useful, got them to move on from an abortion or a divorce, got them to not commit suicide, listened to their health problems, helped them pass the GRE or the GMAT or something, got them to take a better job, got them to do a public speaking engagement, taught them how to debate their atheist brother, sponsored a Christian speaker at their university, helped them recover from bad parents, etc. It’s pretty fun to partner with people to further the Kingdom, but if you just leave it at prayer and giving orders, you won’t get the same good results.

All it takes to move from prayer alone to prayer and solutions is to think about other people like a puzzle, and then sacrifice some of your time or your money to build them up. I have a lot of experience doing this, but it’s not something that I learned to do in church. Church doesn’t teach you to be practical about following the Bible intelligently and with your own initiative. It’s set up to favor emotions (singing) and passive listening. To be active, you have to think about the Bible from a higher strategic level. Think about who Jesus is, and then follow his example. Don’t read the Bible in order to just feel happy or sound pious, instead try to make a plan to really DO good. Your goal should be to achieve a result in line with Jesus’ character and goals.

By the way, part of being able to partner with other people to solve problems with actions is being capable yourself. Don’t study stupid things in college. Don’t get into debt. Don’t try to fill your days with fun and thrills. Instead, study hard things, get hard jobs in the private sector, save your money, and learn useful skills. That way, you’ll be able to do more when something more than passive words or feelings is needed. One time, a woman I knew severely hurt her hand at work. She has OCD, and liked to clean the stairs in her house every day. She has a furry cat who drops fur everywhere. So she was lugging this heavy vacuum up and down the stairs every day. And spending a lot of time ironing with an old-fashioned heavy iron, too. So I bought her a hand vacuum and a fancy new iron. With the extra time she saved, she was able to do more reading, public speaking and helping others. Doing Christianity well means making yourself strong, so you can look after others with more than just feelings, piety and prayers.

Philippians is my favorite book of the Bible. And the most important thing about Philippians is that it’s good to be focused on other people, and not on ourselves, and to think of the interests of others, not our own interests. It’s good to get down into the weeds of other people’s problems, and act to self-sacrificially to solve them. Read the book (it’s short) and see if there are not people who you could partner with by helping them solve problems so they can be more effective.

Wayne Grudem explains what the Bible says about spending, saving and charity

Bible study that hits the spot
Bible study that hits the spot

A practical lecture on money – spending, saving, charitable giving – from famous pastor Wayne Grudem.

I like the way that Wayne Grudem navigates the Bible finding the passages that tell you who God is, so that you can make better decisions by analyzing alternatives and choosing the one that gives your Boss a maximum return on investment. He’s very practical.

The MP3 file is here.

The PDF outline is here.

Spending:

  • Christianity does not teach asceticism (= don’t enjoy anything in this world), Paul condemns it in 1 Timothy 4:1-5
  • When you buy nice things, even if it is a little more expensive, it’s an opportunity to be thankful for nice things that God has provided
  • Even being rich is OK, but don’t let it make you haughty and arrogant, and don’t set your hopes on your money (see 1 Tim 6:17)
  • It is important for you to earn money, and you are supposed to use it to support yourself and be independent
  • It is possible to overspend and live recklessly (Luke 15:13) and it’s also possible to overspend and live too luxuriously
  • Increasing your income through career progression is wise, because it allows you to give away more and save more
  • God gives us freedom to decide how much we spend, how much we give away, and how much we save
  • every choice a Christian makes with money will give him or her more or less reward in his or her afterlife
  • Do not spend more than you have – you should make every effort to get out of debt as quickly as possible

Saving:

  • Saving money is wise so you can help yourself and others, and have money in your old age when you will not be working
  • If you do not save your own money, you end up being dependent on others (e.g. – family or taxpayers)
  • Not saving money for the future is a way of “putting God to the test” (Matt 4:7)
  • You are to “be dependent on no one”, to the extent that you can (1 Thes 4:12)
  • We don’t know the future, that’s why we should prepare for an emergency, and buy insurance to guard (James 4:13-17)
  • It’s right for us to learn how to save to be able to buy bigger assets, like a car or a college education
  • Saving and investing in stocks and bonds lets people in business start and grow companies, creating jobs and new products
  • Don’t over-save, trusting too much in money more than you trust in God (Ps 62.10; Matt 6:19,24; Luke 12:15-21)

Giving:

  • it is required for the people of God to give something out of what they earn, but no percentage is specified (Deut 26:12-13)
  • you do not give money to become right with God, you can’t earn your salvation
  • a Christian gives to show God that you trust him to take care of you, and to experience trusting him through your giving
  • the quality of your resurrection life with God is affected by giving you do for the Kingdom (Phil 4, Matt 6:19-21; 1 Tim 6:18-19)
  • when you get involved in the lives of others and give to them, you have the joy of experiencing caring for others (Acts 20:35)
  • it’s possible to give too little, but it’s also possible to give too much – be careful about pride creeping in as well

The first part of this lecture made me think of my treat for the week, which is to get a double chicken burrito bowl after my weight lifting. It is very easy to say grace when you are hovering over a double chicken burrito bowl. It is good to have nice things especially when it makes you thankful for what you have.

I was so happy listening to this talk because he was condemning bad stewardship, which I see in a lot of young people these days. I was happy until he got to the part about trusting in your savings for your security, and then I thought – that’s what I do wrong! I save a lot but it’s not just for emergencies and to share with others, like he was saying – I want a sense of security. This was more of a temptation in my 20s than it is now in my 30s, though.

Charity should hurt

I can remember being in my first full-time job as a newly hired junior programmer when the 2001 recession struck. I would cry while signing checks to support William Lane Craig’s Reasonable Faith ministry, because I was so scared. I had no family or friends where I lived to help me if anything went wrong, and that’s been the story of my working life. If anything goes wrong, there is no backup. But it’s that experience of crying when I gave that allows me to say today “that’s when I became the man I am, that’s what a man does when he is a follower of Jesus”. If you are not doing the actions of charity, then you will not having the experience of trusting God and letting him lead you. There is more to the Christian life than just saying the right things – you have to do the right things.

Don’t follow your heart

If you’re scared about giving when you are young, then do what I did in my 20s: work 70-hour weeks, get promoted often, and save everything you earn. I volunteered every Saturday for 9 months in order to get my first white-collar part-time job when I was still in high-school. The faster you increase your savings, the easier it’s going to be to take a genuine interest in caring for the people around you. Read Phil 1 (fellowship), Phil 2 (concern for others), and Phil 4 (charity). Turn off your emotions and desires when it comes to choosing what to study and what work to do, and put Philippians into practice. Your freedom to give is very much tied to the quality of your decisions of what to study, where to work, how much you spend on entertainment, and so on. That’s why you need to turn off your feelings and desires and do what works, even it it’s not fun, and even if it involves responsibilities, expectations and obligations.

Wayne Grudem explains what the Bible says about spending, saving and charity

Bible study that hits the spot
Bible study that hits the spot

A practical lecture on money – spending, saving, charitable giving – from famous pastor Wayne Grudem.

I like the way that Wayne Grudem navigates the Bible finding the passages that tell you who God is, so that you can make better decisions by analyzing alternatives and choosing the one that gives your Boss a maximum return on investment. He’s very practical.

The MP3 file is here.

The PDF outline is here.

Spending:

  • Christianity does not teach asceticism (= don’t enjoy anything in this world), Paul condemns it in 1 Timothy 4:1-5
  • When you buy nice things, even if it is a little more expensive, it’s an opportunity to be thankful for nice things that God has provided
  • Even being rich is OK, but don’t let it make you haughty and arrogant, and don’t set your hopes on your money (see 1 Tim 6:17)
  • It is important for you to earn money, and you are supposed to use it to support yourself and be independent
  • It is possible to overspend and live recklessly (Luke 15:13) and it’s also possible to overspend and live too luxuriously
  • Increasing your income through career progression is wise, because it allows you to give away more and save more
  • God gives us freedom to decide how much we spend, how much we give away, and how much we save
  • every choice a Christian makes with money will give him or her more or less reward in his or her afterlife
  • Do not spend more than you have – you should make every effort to get out of debt as quickly as possible

Saving:

  • Saving money is wise so you can help yourself and others, and have money in your old age when you will not be working
  • If you do not save your own money, you end up being dependent on others (e.g. – family or taxpayers)
  • Not saving money for the future is a way of “putting God to the test” (Matt 4:7)
  • You are to “be dependent on no one”, to the extent that you can (1 Thes 4:12)
  • We don’t know the future, that’s why we should prepare for an emergency, and buy insurance to guard (James 4:13-17)
  • It’s right for us to learn how to save to be able to buy bigger assets, like a car or a college education
  • Saving and investing in stocks and bonds lets people in business start and grow companies, creating jobs and new products
  • Don’t over-save, trusting too much in money more than you trust in God (Ps 62.10; Matt 6:19,24; Luke 12:15-21)

Giving:

  • it is required for the people of God to give something out of what they earn, but no percentage is specified (Deut 26:12-13)
  • you do not give money to become right with God, you can’t earn your salvation
  • a Christian gives to show God that you trust him to take care of you, and to experience trusting him through your giving
  • the quality of your resurrection life with God is affected by giving you do for the Kingdom (Phil 4, Matt 6:19-21; 1 Tim 6:18-19)
  • when you get involved in the lives of others and give to them, you have the joy of experiencing caring for others (Acts 20:35)
  • it’s possible to give too little, but it’s also possible to give too much – be careful about pride creeping in as well

The first part of this lecture made me think of my treat for the week, which is to get a double chicken burrito bowl after my weight lifting. It is very easy to say grace when you are hovering over a double chicken burrito bowl. It is good to have nice things especially when it makes you thankful for what you have.

I was so happy listening to this talk because he was condemning bad stewardship, which I see in a lot of young people these days. I was happy until he got to the part about trusting in your savings for your security, and then I thought – that’s what I do wrong! I save a lot but it’s not just for emergencies and to share with others, like he was saying – I want a sense of security. This was more of a temptation in my 20s than it is now in my 30s, though.

Charity should hurt

I can remember being in my first full-time job as a newly hired junior programmer when the 2001 recession struck. I would cry while signing checks to support William Lane Craig’s Reasonable Faith ministry, because I was so scared. I had no family or friends where I lived to help me if anything went wrong, and that’s been the story of my working life. If anything goes wrong, there is no backup. But it’s that experience of crying when I gave that allows me to say today “that’s when I became the man I am, that’s what a man does when he is a follower of Jesus”. If you are not doing the actions of charity, then you will not having the experience of trusting God and letting him lead you. There is more to the Christian life than just saying the right things – you have to do the right things.

Don’t follow your heart

If you’re scared about giving when you are young, then do what I did in my 20s: work 70-hour weeks, get promoted often, and save everything you earn. I volunteered every Saturday for 9 months in order to get my first white-collar part-time job when I was still in high-school. The faster you increase your savings, the easier it’s going to be to take a genuine interest in caring for the people around you. Read Phil 1 (fellowship), Phil 2 (concern for others), and Phil 4 (charity). Turn off your emotions and desires when it comes to choosing what to study and what work to do, and put Philippians into practice. Your freedom to give is very much tied to the quality of your decisions of what to study, where to work, how much you spend on entertainment, and so on. That’s why you need to turn off your feelings and desires and do what works, even it it’s not fun, and even if it involves responsibilities, expectations and obligations.

Where to get help if you have a selfish, absent or abusive mother or father

Bible study that hits the spot
Bible study that hits the spot

Today, I want to say something this article about lambs in Scotland, written by Sheila Walsh in the The Stream.

She writes:

I am very fond of sheep. I grew up on the west coast of Scotland with sheep all around me, field after field of white wool and incessant crying when things seemed a little off.

[…]Of all the lessons I have learned from these defenseless, gentle animals, the most profound is the most painful. Every now and then, a ewe will give birth to a lamb and immediately reject it. Sometimes the lamb is rejected because they are one of twins and the mother doesn’t have enough milk or she is old and frankly quite tired of the whole business. They call those lambs, bummer lambs.

Unless the shepherd intervenes, that lamb will die. So the shepherd will take that little lost one into his home and hand feed it from a bottle and keep it warm by the fire. He will wrap it up warm and hold it close enough to hear a heartbeat. When the lamb is strong the shepherd will place it back in the field with the rest of the flock.

“Off you go now, you can do this, I’m right here.”

The most beautiful sight to see is when the shepherd approaches his flock in the morning and calls them out, “Sheep, sheep, sheep!”

The first to run to him are the bummer lambs because they know his voice. It’s not that they are more loved — it’s just that they believe it.

I am so grateful that Christ calls himself the Good Shepherd.

“He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. After he has gathered his own flock, he walks ahead of them, and they follow him because they know his voice.” (John 10:3-4 NLT)

My older brother and I grew up with a mother who was very much focused on her career and earning and saving money for her retirement. We were both stuck in daycare very early after being born, so that she could go back to work right away. (Me after 6 weeks) My older brother has shown the ill effects of our parents (especially our mother) not having any plan for us, especially morally and spiritually. He dropped out of college after failing his first year, never had a career. Although he has normal intelligence and mental health, he never could stick in any real job.

Although there were early warning signs when his grades started to drop in Grade 5, my parents never took responsibility to make a plan to solve it. Oh, they would yell and scream at him at report card time, but just for a day or two, and after that, nothing constructive. My brother decided that he could just ride out the flak my parents gave him on report card night, and keep going with his plan of having fun and being popular. My parents just forgot about it until the next report card day, because they did not want to be distracted from their careers, hobbies and retirement planning. When dispensing rewards, my brother was always given the same as me, despite our different levels of achievement. And my parents considered this equal dispensation of rewards regardless of performance to be a great virtue, and excellent parenting.

I had the exact same upbringing as my older brother. He actually did pretty well until Grade 5 just like me, but then our paths diverged. From Grade 5 on, his grades deterioriated. He got tired of having to study and he was more interested in the opinions of his peers and conforming to popular culture. In my case, from Grade 5 on, my grades were always high-90s. I remember taking the same classes as he did, in the same high school, with the same teachers. He got a 44 in data processing, I got a 96 with the same teacher and won the award for the entire grade. Every class I went to, the teachers would speak fondly of my older brother – he was a nice guy, very popular with his peers, good at sports. But not a very good student. How was it that I was winning awards when he had scored so poorly. Was I really his brother? How could we be so different?

The difference is that in Grade 5, he got a Gideon’s New Testament and he read it and he didn’t put it into practice, and in Grade 5, I got a Gideon’s New Testament and I read it twice and I did put it into practice. That was the difference. I had the awareness of the moral law (i.e.- wisdom) that allowed me to judge my parents and judge my peers and judge my teachers and stand alone. When you cannot rely on anyone to lead you, be able to judge when others mistreat you is very important. That is what allows you to maintain appropriate boundaries and minimize the influence of friends and family who are teaching you self-destructive behaviors. Awareness of the moral law is what allows you to stop trying to please people who do not want what is best for you. On the other hand, God is always willing to give you wisdom if you ask Him for it, and you can find out all about him because he has left plenty of evidence concerning his existence and character for you to find. It is in knowing God as he really is that you can find your sense of value, purpose and meaning. The God of the New Testament is the God of people who are lost and need a Savior.

For me, Christianity was a simple matter of being willing to go along with what was true, and not insisting on having fun or conforming to peer expectations. The essential characteristic of my faith, in contrast to my older brother’s lack of faith, was this – I did not mind being different, so long as I never lost a debate about what was true. My obedience to Christ has never been conditional on things going my way, on being liked, or anything like that. The only thing that mattered was being factually correct. It never bothered me what other people were doing, or what other people expected me to do, so long as I was acting on what I knew to be true. And God helped me to find out what was true by motivating me to study, and leading me to him with good evidence, and good mentors. Thanks to Jesus’ death on the cross, the mistakes I made early did not count against me, and they never will. Jesus’ death on the cross gives me the imputed righteousness that I need to stand before God holy and blameless. This is what allows me to keep learning and keep trying no matter how much I fail on any given day.

How has this affected me? Well, this is the second thing I wanted to say about the bummer lamb analogy. Since I was a victim of this hands-off, me-first style of parenting, it’s caused me to be extra sensitive about being a good spiritual leader to others in the same predicament. The people I mentor can see it in the way that I treat them . I treat them the opposite of the way that my older brother and I were treated. I care what people read. I care what courses they choose. I care what they eat. I care how they feel. I care about their finances. I care about their plans to serve God. I care about their romantic relationships. I care whether they get recognition for doing good. I care whether their life is going in the right direction. One person I mentored who once considered taking her own life wrote to me when she graduated from a STEM program, and she said this: “I wish you could have been here at my graduation. My parents only paid for this degree. You were the one who got me through it”. We have never met in person, but she is going to continue to make a huge difference for Christ and His Kingdom going forward.

I think when you have been a bummer lamb, you are extra careful to make decisions that will enable you to be a good shepherd to other lambs. Being a good shepherd does not mean being pious, spiritual, mystical, etc. Being a good shepherd does not mean making the lambs feel good about making bad decisions. Being a good shepherd means understanding what God has done to lead you, and then reflecting that love back to others in practical, self-sacrificial actions that solve actual real-world problems for other people who want to know and serve God. If you are about to jump off a cliff, the last thing you need is someone with no wisdom or experience telling you that God is OK with you doing whatever feels good to you. What you need is someone practical and competent to give you good advice, however much that advice may make you feel bad, or block your pursuit of fun.

One of my friends proof-read the draft of this post and told me that it made her think of 2 Cor 1:3-5:

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort,

who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God.

For just as we share abundantly in the sufferings of Christ, so also our comfort abounds through Christ.

Nothing else I do in life matters to me as much as taking care of the people I mentor, especially the ones who are lost and lacking guidance and care. I have good health, good education, good career, and great finances. But by far the most important thing I do is following the example of the Shepherd by caring for other lambs.

How can a successful writer who “is true to himself” end up poor?

My friend Lindsay sent me this article about a very successful writer who has trouble making ends meet.

The story appeared in left-leaning The Atlantic. I don’t want to rehash the whole thing, because I want to make a point.

So, first thing to quote, this guy looks like a success to others, even though he is actually really struggling:

The Fed asked respondents how they would pay for a $400 emergency. The answer: 47 percent of respondents said that either they would cover the expense by borrowing or selling something, or they would not be able to come up with the $400 at all. Four hundred dollars! Who knew?

Well, I knew. I knew because I am in that 47 percent.

[…]You wouldn’t know any of that to look at me. I like to think I appear reasonably prosperous. Nor would you know it to look at my résumé. I have had a passably good career as a writer—five books, hundreds of articles published, a number of awards and fellowships, and a small (very small) but respectable reputation. You wouldn’t even know it to look at my tax return. I am nowhere near rich, but I have typically made a solid middle- or even, at times, upper-middle-class income, which is about all a writer can expect, even a writer who also teaches and lectures and writes television scripts, as I do.

The thing I like about this guy is that he doesn’t blame anyone else but himself – he thinks that his own decisions led him to poverty. Rod Dreher has a nice list of the mistakes at American Conservative:

1) He chose to live in New York, which is one of the most expensive places to live in the country;
2) He chose to be a writer, not the most lucrative and stable career;
3) He and his wife chose to put their kids in private school, something they felt was necessary in their Brooklyn neighborhood, but an expense they could have avoided or dramatically lessened had they lived in another part of the country (they eventually moved to the Hamptons to get out of paying that tuition);
4) He and his wife believed their two children had “earned” the right to go to very expensive universities, and they spent everything they had, and the inheritance his parents planned to leave for him, on educating the girls;
5) They got caught in the housing crash and had to sell a Manhattan apartment they owned at fire sale prices;
6) Given the way his income as a writer is structured, taxes were a bitch (as a writer, trust me, this is true).

Pay close attention to 1 and 2. I would NEVER live in a garbage blue state like New York. I would rather be dead in a ditch than live in a state that is run by Democrats. I hate the high taxes and high spending of blue states. Blue states are great places to go if you want to work and have someone else steal all of your money to buy votes from lazy losers.

And as far as 2 goes, I don’t think that I need to repeat my warnings to everyone about non-STEM fields.

Well, OK, I will:

Starting and Mid-Career salaries by profession (click for larger image)
Starting and Mid-Career salaries by profession (click for larger image)

Regarding the housing crash that he mentioned, Democrats caused that, by forcing banks to loan money to people who couldn’t afford to pay it back. If he voted for the Democrats, then he screwed himself again.

Now, you might think that people end up poor because they want to do work that is fun and enjoyable. And that’s true, I’ve seen that. But this guy’s problem was that he just spent beyond his means. Why? Well, the writer explains that he is compelled to spend the money, because spending money defines who he is. He can’t say no, because he thinks that he has one life, and one chance to define himself. He can’t think about the future, because he has to spend every last dime today in order to be who he really wants to be.

Dreher comments:

He felt that to choose otherwise would have made him inauthentic, untrue to himself. He felt that he deserved the life he had, and could not choose otherwise without betraying himself. I think this must be an extraordinary thing, in terms of history: people who spend recklessly to give themselves the lives they think they deserve. If you think about it, though, our culture, which valorizes Authenticity, encourages this.

I have to tell you, I just don’t understand this. I define myself by Christian virtues – self-control, self-sacrifice, concern for others who I know personally and in my community. I’m not a spender. I am a saver by nature, and the older I get, the more grateful that I am closer to retirement than I was before. Working gets harder as you get older, even for jobs that don’t require physical labor.

If you plan ahead, you can get all your working and saving done before you’re 50. That was my approach. But I see other people who haven’t started working full-time by 30 and even by 35. Every day when you are in school instead of working full-time in your field is a wasted day. With few exceptions, you will learn more on the job than in the classroom. You want get out of school and get working as soon as possible, with an eye to getting married as soon as possible – since marriage is a wealth building engine. The faster you start investing, the more time your money has to grow through interest and dividends.

The bottom line is that my obligation as a Christian is not to be true to myself, or anything weird like that. My obligation is to make sure I don’t starve, and then to turn to the people around me and make sure that they don’t starve. Sometimes, that means giving them good advice. Sometimes, it means recognizing their achievements with little gifts. But the main thing is that the world isn’t safe enough for you to put off earning so that you can do what you feel is the “real you”. Being independent and then serving others is more important than being the “real you”.