Monday, February 15, 2016

Debt, Freedom, and a Life for the Kingdom

Years ago, while my wife and I were both working at a homeless shelter in Kansas City, one of our co-workers anonymously dropped the audio book “The Total Money Makeover” by Dave Ramsey into our employee mailbox. I took it home and put it on my book shelf, and there it sat for a year or so untouched and scarcely remembered until one day when we were about to take a very long drive across the country, and I grabbed the few audiobooks I owned just to help keep me from falling asleep on the road. We weren’t really looking to gain anything from the book except a few hours of distraction, but in fact that little book would change our lives forever. I’ve since made it a habit to taking it a bit more seriously when someone sincerely recommends a book, much less thinks so much of it that they buy a copy for all their co-workers.

Now, I am not here endorsing literally everything Ramsey says. The point of this post is not to promote this particular book or author. But the portion of the book dealing with debt, how it harms, and how to get out of it forever, is what set us on a very valuable path to biblically reorienting our finances and challenging many cultural assumptions about money, lifestyle, and purchasing decisions. If these are things you have never paused to really think about, Dave Ramsey really might not be a bad place for you to start, though maybe balance it by spending some time reading guys like David Platt and Francis Chan, just to help make sure you keep the proper goal in front of you beyond money itself.

Having said all of this, what I really wanted to emphasize is simply this: in a culture where debt has become the only way people know, where credit cards and student loans and mortgages and car financing are simply assumed to be the only ways that normal people can obtain things, and where being “able to afford something” simply means being able to make the payments on it each month, we often don’t even pause to think about debt from a biblical perspective. But if we are going to live as people who believe the gospel, and therefor live in a way that prioritizes eternity over now, a life as a sojourning people in a foreign land not tying ourselves down to this world, a life in which the kingdom is held in priority above all else, than this issue simply cannot be ignored. A man who is debt free could quit his job, sell all he has, and move to the mission field tomorrow. He doesn’t have to, but he is free to. Nothing is stopping him. No one owns him, save his Lord in heaven. But a man in debt is a man who cannot quit his job without first securing another, and only one that pays him well enough to make at least his minimum payments each month. He can only go where such limited and restrictive work requirements allow him, and if his debt is tied to property, he may be unable to sell and move and all! How about monthly giving? How hard is it to give freely when one owes each month on so many other things? These are just a couple simple examples of how being tied to earthly matters by debt can hinder our lives from being fully surrendered to the priorities of the kingdom. A man in debt is necessarily forced back to materialistic concerns to a degree that a debt free man does not have to be. Debt is a binding chain on a kingdom man. On any man, really.

Paul tells us in Romans 13:8 that as Christians we ought to owe nothing to anyone except love. Charles Spurgeon commented on this, “Scripture says, ‘Owe no man anything,’ which does not mean pay your debts, but never have any to pay.” If you do have debt, of course you should pay the debt you already have, but what if Christians decided to live so unlike the world around us that we did not borrow money to have the comfort and convenience of things that we don’t actually have money for? What if we saved and payed the full amount for everything we bought, and only bought things that were worth saving up for? We would certainly become a peculiar people, a people unlike the materialistic world, a people quite strange in their sight. But isn’t that what Scripture tells us we are supposed to be? And would it, perhaps, give weight to our claim to truly believe that our comfort and reward is not in the things of this life anyway, but in things to come, so we are in no hurry to obtain materialistic pleasures now and are fine to do without them entirely if need be? Would it aid our proclaiming of a gospel of eternal life in the kingdom of God to come? It certainly would not hurt!

Now, let me be clear, I am not saying that literally all debt is sin. Some debt is, and the attitude behind borrowing certainly can often be sinful, but all of that we can save for another post. My point here is not to call debt sin, but rather to suggest that it holds us back from fully embracing an eternal focus, a kingdom priority, and biblical generosity. Debt is an anchor, and the Christian life is about setting sail and moving forward, not staying put. Why not stop borrowing right now, responsibly pay off the debt you already have over the next several years, and free yourselves to live out the kingdom life like never before? There is freedom in seeing that last check clear, freedom in a monthly budget without monthly payments, and freedom in an unhindered focus on where God wants you to be rather than where the banks will let you be, and I hope and pray that some of you will find it! I will be forever grateful for the co-worker those years ago who quietly bought me a book so that I could find it!

Luke Wayne is a bi-vocational Baptist missionary in Utah and the chief editor for Perilous Trails. He holds an MDiv from Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and an MA in Theological Studies from Midwestern Baptist College. He has served as a church planter in Olathe, KS and a Homeless Shelter Manager in Kansas City, MO. He is also a husband, father, fisher, hiker, security officer, and raiser of livestock

Thursday, February 11, 2016

Now and Eternity

“And Peter said, “See, we have left our homes and followed you.” And he said to them, “Truly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or wife or brothers or parents or children, for the sake of the kingdom of God, who will not receive many times more in this time, and in the age to come eternal life.” (Luke 18:28-30)

The gospel is a call to completely forsake the world as it is and live for the radical hope of the world as Christ will one day make it. To give up the comfort and the priorities of this life, trusting that they are temporary and that the promise is true of a permanent future and of resurrection life in the new heavens and earth in the age to come when our bodies are given health and vitality that cannot be taken away and where we live forever as perfected men and women humbly in the presence of our great and glorious God. Truly believing this, truly trusting in this hope purchased for us by the suffering, death, and resurrection of our Lord changes everything. One simply cannot have faith that this is true and yet live as if this life is all there is, drinking in its pleasures because “you only live once,” checking worldly goals off our “bucket list” because you “have to experience this before you die.” No, the way of the world is simply not possible for those who believe in the grace of God in Christ Jesus and the glorious eternal kingdom at His future return. Believing in Jesus changes everything. The gospel is a call to forsake this life, and to live for the promised eternity.

“The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and covered up. Then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field. Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls, who, on finding one pearl of great value, went and sold all that he had and bought it.” (Matthew 13:44-46)

Christ Himself left his heavenly glory and took on the form a servant, even faced death on the cross, to purchase the kingdom and display its glorious future hope in His bodily resurrection and ascension to the right hand of the Father. In this, Christ is not only our master and savior, but also our model (Philippians 2:4-11) He was born outside in a manger, in his ministry the Son of Man had no place to lay his head, and at His death He was naked, mocked, spat on, beaten, shamed, tortured, and murdered. He could have come as a king, and the crowds often wanted to make Him one. He could have multiplied food and turned water to wine for himself instead of only for the hungry crowds (but He would not even turn a stone to bread for Himself when He was at the brink of starvation). He could have called an army of angels to strike down the crowd who called for His crucifixion. Indeed, with a single word He could have snuffed out the lives of His enemies by His own divine power. He would have had every right, yet He did not. He forsook all to bear our sins and to purchase the sinners redemption, and He has called us to also forsake all to bear our brother’s burden and call the sinner to repentance and to faith in the redemption that Christ alone has purchased. We are to daily take up our own cross and follow Him. This will surely look different for different Christians in different situations. We are not all of the same gifts and ministries, but we are all of the same body and Spirit, and of the same gospel call that is simply not compatible with the pleasures and priorities of this life and of this world’s manner of thinking and living. Indeed, it is like forsaking all other women to take a wife. When we enter into to covenant with God by faith in the sacrificial blood of Jesus, we are giving up the world. To live like we haven’t is a great sin!

“You adulterous people! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God.” (James 4:4)

Abraham left his home for a promise he would not live to see fulfilled, but he trusted that God would be true to His word. Elisha left his family and his inheritance to live in the travails of a life as a prophet of God amidst a wicked generation, putting his hope in the LORD alone. The apostles left their nets, their parents, their offices, their lives. They lived without financial security and in constant threat of pain, prison, and death for the sake of the gospel and in hope of the kingdom to come. This is faith. This is the Christian life. Suffering now, glory later. A sojourner in a foreign land now, an heir to an eternal homeland in the age to come. 

“The earth will soon dissolve like snow, the sun forbear to shine. But God who called me here below will be forever mine” (John Newton, “Amazing Grace”)

So what are we to do? As I said, this looks different for each of us, but for all of us it looks radically different than the people around us. It definitely means that you need to boldly proclaim the gospel and live obediently to biblical standards, even if that costs you your job, your career path, your relationship with family and friends, your financial security, your comfort, even your freedom or your life. It means you might get fired from the job you worked and studied so long to obtain, and could even mean that because you got fired for your stand for biblical truth that you end up working a hard, dirty, lower wage job and just scraping by even though you are qualified for something more. It might never go that way for you, but it means Christ and the gospel being so central in your life and speech that it could go that way.  It means being willing.

But it also means more. A complete shift in priorities. For some of you maybe it means you relocate your business or transfer your work and your family to a place in the world, or even a region in the U.S., where the gospel is not often heard and to devote yourself to reaching the lost and helping the needy there. Maybe you are to stay right where you are, but to downsize your house, cancel your cable, eat out less (or even not at all), live like the poor and give all that money to support missions, or your local homeless shelter, or to fund adoptions, or to support a local pro-life ministry in rescuing children from death. Maybe you would even use some of your hours off work and your vacation days to participate in these things rather than merely pursuing the pleasures of personal leisure. Maybe you are young and married and ought to consider adopting or fostering children to show God’s special compassion to orphans. Maybe you need to quit your work and go into full time mission work, or use your skills in accounting or law or medicine or the like in the service of a ministry that needs such things (even though it will likely mean a pay cut, and even though behind the scenes work like this is not a very “glamorous” side of missions.) Or maybe it means stopping the advance of your career and “settling” for a lower position that will demand less of your time and focus because money and title are not as important as time with church and family and time to share the gospel in the street and to serve the poor. A quiet, simple, modest, hard working life that is devoted to the service of others is a radical thing in this materialistic and self centered world, even if it isn’t the kind of story you read Christian books about (as we previously discussed here). This is not an exhaustive list, only a few possible ideas out of many. Read your Bible, and apply what it says, even if what it says will make you look crazy to others around you. Read your Bible, and apply what it says, even if what it says will make you look mundane and boring to others around you. But in all things:

"Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added unto you" (Matthew 6:33) 

Luke Wayne is a bi-vocational Baptist missionary in Utah and the chief editor for Perilous Trails. He holds an MDiv from Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and an MA in Theological Studies from Midwestern Baptist College. He has served as a church planter in Olathe, KS and a Homeless Shelter Manager in Kansas City, MO. He is also a husband, father, fisher, hiker, security officer, and raiser of livestock.