Monday, February 13, 2006

On being poor

In the grand scope of the world, we aren't poor. Poor is when you aren't allowed to have a credit card. We aren't poor, we just can't afford things.

I've always been cautious about the phrase "God spoke to me..." I shouldn't be, but it can preface some weird things. I think this morning, though, that God really did speak...or at least he brought into focus some things that had been very blurry to me for some time now.

When we lived in Foxboro, I came to feel like a poor urchin pressing my face against the glass where our church members were warm and filled in their comfortable 300,000 dollar homes. I grew embittered when we couldn't afford to join them for dinner out after church on Sunday, to dress in their kind of clothes, or to even live in the same town as them (we lived almost in Rhode Island because we couldn't afford any housing where the church was located). I was often relieved when they cleaned out the food pantry and gave the close-to-expiration canned goods, baby food and milk to us. In that church, it was made clear that pastors and their families (and this went for our sr. pastor as well) were not equal with the other church people, especially the professionals, even though they had a similar level of schooling and experience. It was frankly, humiliating. Some of the people secretly gave us large gifts of money, some kind-of realized it was inappropriate, but for the most part, the board was more concerned with their rainy-day funds. When we left, for a multiplicity of reasons, I was relieved, but I never dealt with those feelings of inferiority.

In Michigan, it wasn't much of an issue, because most people were pretty much at the same level in our church and town. A few people had more and a few people had less, but for the most part, it was pretty much a common experience, and frankly, I had my house of dreams and was very content.

I knew that moving to such a successful area of the country would pick the scabs of my old wounds and lately, I confess, it has really been bothering me. Probably because it looks like won't be able to afford the kind of house I would like to have here.

I am being really honest, here, because I think real honesty is the best way to really deal with things.

So this morning, I realized that I had been feeling a tremendous amount of guilt for wanting Vintage Fellowship to succeed. But in all truth, as I examined these feelings closely, I realized that my desire is not so much for wordly wealth and security apart from God. My desire is to be at a place of freedom (not independence from God) where we can best minister to people. If I have to constantly be concerned about the bottom line, I cannot give my best efforts to serving God. I think of some of the really impactful people in my life, and they are people who managed their resources well so that they could do what God wanted them to do at the drop of a hat, without asking "Can we afford to do this?". Rather than fighting this tendency in my personality, I should be thankful that God made me this way AND that he gave me the visionary husband I have. We form a great team. Right now, we have little. I intend to be faithful with that little. Whether or not God gives us more is really up to Him, but I intend to keep working toward freedom not indenture. Because we chose this situation (and have no board setting our salary) I don't have to feel humiliation and inferiority.

I don't know if this strikes a chord with any of you or not. Maybe you think it is awful of me to even think of money at all. I felt like that for a long time. But guilt doesn't do a thing for the kingdom...it just paralyzes. I have become convinced that God made me this way on purpose and I can bring Him glory and contribute to the kingdom by thinking about money, earning money and by using it well. This isn't the end of my thinking about this issue, but this was an interesting flash of insight that occurred to me this morning.

6 comments:

Sandy Mc said...

Hang in there, you guys are still so young.

It's our *stupid* culture that makes people get mixed up about "needs" and "wants"...and I hate it. Then the "haves" feel it is their right to dictate to the "have nots." Back around Christmas we were talking about giving with the 5th grade girls small group we lead. Not all these girls come from familys in the exact same place financially, but face it, it's an affluent church. One girl in our group piped up right away about how her family did Angel Tree and she stated how *terrible* she thought it was that those kids ask for stuff like Nintendos when they "Should be asking for coats and boots and stuff." I asked her why she felt that way and she brought up their *needs*, admitted hers were already met, and then I shared how we all have wants as well as needs and that that is not wrong to have them, but may be "wrong" how we deal with them.

That said I have a great deal of respect for those, particularly pastor/servants (especially young ones) who choose to live more modestly. I frankly do not see why average people feel (society driven) that they "need" a 3000 plus square ft house with 3+ garages, a two-story great room, granite counter-tops...etc...most often for a family with no more than three kids. It raises my *suspicision* when young church leaders seem driven to be affluent. That is one cool thing I like about this church: www.xenos.org They "require" their Elders to be of modest means so that the directional leaders can stay in touch with the congregation in a REAL way. I admire that.

I choose to live carefully in respect of Matt 19:24 "And again I say unto you, It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God."

akr said...

I don't think that I have large volumes of platitudes in which to offer but as a fellow traveler down the path of humanity I feel a kindred spirit...I have struggled with this so much more as I have been married and been more of an adult...looking at pretty houses and watching decorating shows and wishing through better homes and gardens...I guess growing up in the conservitive realm we were taught that these were evil wants and we were desperately sinful for dreaming of homes, security, peace...yet I have begun to develop a new view on these things...God has placed eternity in our hearts and these longings...these glimpses I wonder if he has meant them more to look up than around. I have begun to desire a heart that longs for my real home but it doesn't come easy. I still long for job security for my husband and a clear outlook for our future, a home, children, and the white picket fence but I wonder if I long more for the peace and security I will feel from those things and maybe, just maybe I will find that in the hope of heaven. Andrew Peterson has a new CD called Far Country and it talks about some of those things...any of his stuff rocks...but anyways...you have been on my heart and in my prayers...

bina said...

Okay. This is something I totally don't have figured out but wanted to comment on because your thoughts and feelings resonate with me. I think a lot about money and a lot about the decisions we make with our money. My husband and I have chosen "ministry" vocations, although not pastoring. We are careful with the financial resources God gives us, but always feel like we're scraping on by--and we don't even have a family yet. But then there are other days where I think we are just so blessed.
I am reminded so often that just by living in this country, even in a tight month, I am very rich. I've never gone hungry because I couldn't afford food.
Yet, I know the desire not to be in a place of worldly wealth and materialism but of freedom financially to be able to give to those things most pressing on my heart. And I think it's a goal God honors. Prov. 13:11 was recently pointed out to me, and I like it.
Someone told me once, maybe the money is the "little" thing God wants us to be faithful in. If we're faithful with money (the little thing), he will entrust us with so much more (like lives for his kingdom). After all, if I couldn't manage my little paycheck, how could He entrust me to impact souls for Him? If I do manage my little paycheck well, what else will He throw in my path?
The woman in Proverbs 31 earned money and provided for her home. So she definitely thought about money. I think God honors that desire to want to make homes for our families and to want to nurture the needy outside of our families.
And even sometimes to give out of our poverty.
Another commodity I've learned a lot about is time. There's a community just on the other side of the highway we live by where the people are materially and spiritually poor. Lots of people I know have written checks to bless the kids in this community. We can't write a check. But we can spend hours every week with these kids and build a relationship and hope to change their worlds around, even in some small way for the better. I've learned a lesson in this. If I had more financial freedom at this point in life, how easy it would be to write a check and never step foot on their territory or enter their world.
This Christmas someone gave tickets to see Narnia and gift certificates to these kids. I'm not saying that person wasn't greatly blessed in doing this. But who was really blessed? All of us volunteers who got to spend the day with the kids, riding in the car with them, laughing, talking, and adding another experience to our memories with them. Especially when the girls I shopped with, who have very little, chose to buy gifts for their families instead of themselves. Right now I don't have money and I have little time, but I think at this point in life I'm blessed to have time over money to give.
That said, I think it is an honorable goal to contribute to the kingdom by thinking about money, earning money, and using it well.
This weekend I was reminded in church that "Whoever is generous to the poor lends to the Lord, and he will repay him for his deed." Prov. 19:17. When and how God decides to repay is up to Him. But He sure does say a lot about money in Proverbs and other books, and I don't think the fact that you are "bent" to think about money is in anyway a personality flaw. How many ministries I have seen harmed by people who didn't think about money and who didn't use it well.

courtney said...

Well,Sis, I think you've been giving lots of good "advice" from the others here and I agree...but I also can relate to your feelings and I also know how long you have struggled with them, since I struggle with it too and we aren't even in a full-time ministry situation. It's that "just trying to keep my head above water" feeling. I don't think it's wrong to want "nice" things; it's part of our humanity. And, often, we just want to be able to take care of our kids and-possibly-alieviate the potential pain of "poor kid" syndrome. But,let's face it, you've got happy kids who don't know that things are tight. Dora doesn't care if we've got a house right now--she's got the toilet paper tube and it's a sunny day. I agree with Sandy on the confusion of needs and wants. It sucks sometimes.And the outside world somehow thinks that those in vocational ministry have somehow taken a vow of poverty and don't care if they don't have a tv and never want to just get away or take the kids shopping...like you've severed your humanity away from the rest of you and now you're "uber-godly"
When I get itchy about the money thing, I remember things like how my mother in law grew up with no room of her own and a suitcase for a dinner table and how gracious her parents raised her to be and now she's been provided to opportunities to continue being gracious to others and sometimes that means money and sometimes, it means an article that she came across that she sends you.
I've rambled on alot here and I apologize to the other readers but I love you and I know your heart and I know where this is all coming from so I'm giving you an inexpensive hug from a distance and my prayers.

Sandy Mc said...

Courtney...
I liked what you said (well, maybe "liked" is not quite the right word, lol) about people in vocational ministry and how many perceive them as perhaps being *required* to live in poverty to be more Godly. Just to make sure no one feels that was what I was saying *I* believed was the right thing.

What I do believe is what I have had as a cross stitch on my wall since 1991: "He who lives content with little, possesses much."

What I do not feel I see among the far too many North American Christians is a tendency to make giving choices in a similar way to how they make other financial decisions. How many do you know who are willing to give if it is not tax deductible for example? How many do you know who are sincerely willing to give as the Biblical example of the poor widow, "...Assuredly I say to you that this poor widow has put in more than all of those who have given to the treasury;" (Mark 12:43)
How many are giving sacrificially...and to me that does not mean just fitting planned tithing into the budget?

In my first months as a new Christian a man at church spoke of a decision his family had made to evaluate each thing they spent money on by whether they could bless someone else with the same thing (all the way to providing the funds to get needed for an underpriveleged kid who needed braces for their teeth.) I latched on to that model, and have pursued it ever since. That man and his family had more disposable income, so their choices looked different sometimes than mine. I do believe if more people pursued a similar thing our choices as Christians would reflect a *better image* about our hearts.

Another thing that we have learned through our older kids is that when you provide MORE it generally just raises expectations for even more, as well as gives them more room to get into trouble. One of the things our younger crew is NOT thrilled with us about is that we have decided they will share bedrooms as long as they live at home. We feel that it is important that they learn to live in community with others also that way they have an accountability partner. We also want them to see that we can then share as a family our "guest room" with others. We offered our downstairs living are to Katrina displaced homeschoolers through HSLDA but we were not called upon to serve. We are hoping to be able to have one of Roy's international students live with us in the near future, or if not that, other international students through the friendship family program (or other local international student ministry groups) at U of A.

Well, now I too need to be *accused* of rambling, LOL!

Dreaming about an others focused church and world...

Sandy

your bro said...

hey sis, can you spot me 10 bucks - you know I'm good for it

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