Following Christ or Culture? (3)

Welcome back. You belong here.

Several things of note are happening today.

Welcome IMN 2005

First, today the International Mentoring Network 2005 cohort will be gathering together at “Into the Mystic…”

Instructions to the 2005 cohort: scroll down and you will find a post below [“Welcome IMN”] with a place to enter the conversation.

Bloggin Business Summit

Also, today, I’m driving to San Francisco to participate in the Blogging Business Summit hosted by WordPress, Microsoft and Boeing, Blogger, and others. Hopefully, I’ll gain some useful wisdom that can be applied to iMosaic and “Into the Mystic…” I’ll be there Wednesday the 17 through Friday the 19th.

So, if anyone’s in San Fran, I’ll be free for dinner on Thursday night.

In Search of the Mystic — Phantoms?… continues below.

Is creating wealth a Christ following value?

Terrific conversation on this the last few days. You guys have a lot to say on this. Here’s a challenge: What are some concrete short term and mid range applications from our discussion on creating wealth? What do you think?

Photographs

  • in search of the mystic
  • woman begging in Barcelona. Photographer: Niza.

into the mystic…

Alex McManus

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22 thoughts on “Following Christ or Culture? (3)

  1. Let’s get practical. rather than giving applications someone else should or could do, talk about what you can do, then do it. Later you can report back and tell the story.

  2. it was great spending time with you this past weekend, Alex, here in Detroitland – at Genesis, at Mongolian BBQ, at my apartment, and finally at IHOP – aka the Promiseland where hot coffee and hot maple syrup flows like milk and honey! 🙂

    looking forward to the upcoming roundtable [anyone who is interested in an Origins Roundtable Discussion in Royal Oak (right outside Detroit), MI on 9/9, check out originsproject.org].

    in the mean time, i’ll try and figure out an application or two re: the whole creating wealth question.

    by the way, can you send me a copy of that article that guy wrote in response to your response of The Passion of the Christ? did that question make any sense whatsoever? 🙂

  3. Just coming in after reading all the previous post on this.

    I like what was said from day #1…and I noticed that the discussion seemed to stand around the idea or assume that “creating wealth” means accumilating money…for me.

    What if creating wealth is more about the other and not about me. What if I am challenged (as Alex has) to do something that will create a “wealthy” situation–long or short term, but not for me.

    I think the examples from Acts are right on the money (no pun intended…) Even our Christ following communities (not all) seem to focus on what can be done for us by us…not them.

    Even with missions…I was talking to a friedn the other day about how mission trips (espeically for high school and college) are getting sort of trending…the thing to do. Not necessarily to serve but to be part of some great experience that will help ME.

    Is our DNA so full of “me-ness” that we’ll consantly go back to that in any attempt to help, serve or create wealth for others?

    I’m realizing that as I consider what it can mean to be missional, and how that aligns (or doesn’t) with my life, is quite challenging and convicting.

  4. To me, creating wealth is about living simpler. I can live to fill an insatiable appetite or I can live to be a conduit of God’s blessing.

    What can I do practically? I can live simpler. Last week we sold one of our two cars. We’re paying off the little debt we’re carrying. We’re weeding out stuff we don’t need.

    We want to position ourselves to be able to respond quickly as needs arise. We want to give more to organizations that are making a difference in the world. We reject the consumer culture and instead choose to live differently from the lifestyle that is idolized in America.

    Why? Because this is what God has been speaking to our hearts.

  5. First off, let me say how much of enjoyed reading the recent discussion, having just discovered your blog Alex.
    I remember during a class on preaching (during which we were discussing money matters), raising Tony Campolo’s (in)famous question “can a Christian drive a BMW?” A fellow student took the opportunity to get my answer to that question. My answer was ostensibly “yes but it would be better if they didn’t”. This as you might imagine sparked a lively debate. The lecturer himself added “a prominent and committed member of my church drives a $200,000 dollar Mercedes”. Finally I was challenged with “where do you draw the line?”. At that time I didn’t give a winning response.
    It’s a reasonable question, and is reminiscent of another question asked long ago “who is my neighbour?” Jesus’ answer to that question is what we know as ‘the parable of the good Samaritan’. Jesus reminds us there are no lines, its not the nature of love to ask how little must I love. Of course, we would like the security/comfort that comes from placing boundaries around our lives. We want to be able to be at ease, knowing that we have done all that is required of us.
    Given again the opportunity to respond, my answer would be “may our hearts not be betrayed by what we love and value in this life, as revealed in the choices we make”, or perhaps more bluntly “what part of God’s kingdom, should be deprived or suffer at your expense”. In the end our willingness to trade present mission opportunities and eternal treasure for a luxury and status, only reveals the poverty and blindness of our hearts. I feel a sense of loss, for that prominent Christian who had nothing greater than himself to be spent on behalf of.
    Creating wealth is a misnomer, for as some remind us: “God owns the cattle on a thousand hills”. Everything we have, we are stewards of. Wealth is not created it is realized, or released. Our talents, education, opportunities, environment and upbringing indeed our wisdom, are all gifts to us. Why then do we continue to look at what we have, and continue to think “my hands have done this”. This does not preclude employing our considerable gifts to realize wealth, our passion for the kingdom will demand we do what we can to move it forward. Our love for others will insist we do what we can.
    Simplicity for me is a given, “live simply that others might simply live”. Practically this means we (our family) own one small car, one mobile phone and we share them (a novel concept to some friends), and inconvenient at times! We have downsized from our new but modest (by Australian standards) home, to something older and smaller. We are an upper bracket income family but that brings privileges not rights. We have given very generously in the past year, as the Lord might expect.
    Some (long-winded) thoughts to encourage and challenge, and to honour the Master who shares his life with us, enabling us to hold less tightly to our own impoverished lives.

  6. A few weeks ago my church had a guest speaker in talking about what the cost of following Christ was. He was a Muslim so the costs for him were significantly different than mine. At the end of the service we were challenged to write down what our “next” step was to follow Christ more closely and live for him.

    I am seriously thinking about this idea, but I’m not sure if it would be foolishness or if it’s something I really need to do to rely more on God.
    For me, this means sacrifice. I live in a good neighborhood, have a good job, drive a nice… you get the point. But what am I really sacrificing to follow Christ? Unfortunately, the answer is usually nothing. My comment here does pertain to the topic (I know you were wondering when I’d get there) because my cost is living below my means and giving away the difference.

    I don’t know much about creating wealth, but I have been constantly challenged lately by Mark10:20, which is where Jesus calls the rich man to sell all he has before he follows him. I wonder how much of a stretch that would really be to sell it all and give my money away to the poor, and start from scratch. I could recover, financially speaking, but the wealth in wisdom and compassion I would gain as well as a new found reliance on God would be the true gain.

  7. The ways that we can contribute to a wealth creating society are numerous. I think in most cases, you need capital to be able to create wealth, but even if you don’t have access to capital, you can support other organizations that have a goal of socially-conscious wealth creation.

    – I mentioned Pura Vida Coffee in a previous post on this blog. Buy coffee from them. Get your church to buy coffee from them. You are helping to support a sustainable lifestyle for coffee growers in Central America.

    – Microfinance is an increasingly popular area of missions for Christians with business skills.

    – This is a more long-term thing, but start thinking about starting your own business. My friend Lance who graduated from MIT Sloan School of Management is very passionate about this idea of Christians creating wealth to benefit the poor. He thinks entrepreneurship is one of the best way to accomplish this.

  8. I’m a bit wary people throwing around the words “simplify” and “sacrifice”. I believe that withdrawing from participation in our economy is a destructive action. For example, some people may forgo renovating their kitchen and bathroom because they want to “simplify” and “sacrifice”. But by doing that, you deny revenue to those who would do that work, in many cases, small business owners who hire low-income workers. If the home renovation businesses get less work from Christians who want to “simplify” their lifestyle, they will need to lay people off.

    I want to propose the idea that people ought to “simplify” and “sacrifice” by cutting expenses not for *others* but only for their own spiritual well-being. Why? Because as I wrote above, I think cutting expenses can be a destruction action. But sometimes we do need to simplify for our *own* sake. Many of us are not capable of living with many material goods and going out to nice restaurants wihout forgetting that God is our provider. But for those people who can, we should not tell them that they need to “simplify” and “sacrifice”.

    The greater life sacrifice in a wealth creating society is to take the money you have and take risks with it to create more wealth.

  9. And the purpose of creating wealth being to create more jobs to help people support themselves. It’s the whole idea of teaching a man to fish instead of giving them a fish just to get by. Or another visual analogy that my friend Lance uses is that of a pie representing all the wealth in the world. Capitalism gives us the tools to create a bigger pie. If we have more Christians involved in the increasing of the size of the pie, we can play a role in making sure the poor get a bigger chunk of that increased pie.

  10. Peter, exactly my thoughts. It seems capitalism has created an idea that the pie we see is all there is and I need to get mine before you get yours and maybe take some of mine.

    This attitude is even in us as children, the whole idea of sharing is foreign to a child until it is modeled and taught.

    Why is it we have an attitude of losing out if someone gets more?

    I think part of following Jesus is realizing that the pie is never ending and that we can share/help/give/leave with no lack. Then as I teach others to fish the wealth that is created goes way beyond just me doing it.

  11. One correction: it’s not capitalism that created that idea of a fixed-sized pie. Capitalism is the means for having an economy that is dynamic and can grow.

    Other societal factors perpetuate the false idea that the pie is fixed.

    We need more Christians involved in wealth creation (aka making the pie bigger) so that more of the poor benefit from it, rather than it just making the rich richer and the poor poorer.

  12. Peter, your perspective is one perspective. It is not my intention to sustain the capitalist machine called America. (Using your example) if I choose to forego a kitchen remodel and send that entire amount of money to feed dying children in Niger, I have extended wealth by conserving.

    To me: if creating wealth is a christ-following value it has one goal, fulfilling God’s purposes. What that means to me is spreading the message to those that don’t know, feeding the poor, clothing the naked, caring for the orphans. It does not mean to me expanding my lot so someone else can expand theirs.

    I don’t anticipate it happening but if capitalism and America evaporates tomorrow, God will still provide for those who are in need. He can do it from our pocketbooks or by raining manna from heaven. God sustained and provided before America and he will after as well.

    My words to simplify and sacrifice are what God is speaking to my heart now. Instead of trading up to a new 5 Series wagon like I wanted to do, I sold off and send the money where He directs.

  13. I apologize if I come across as criticizing your response to God’s call. That is not my intention.

    But I do want to try to get people thinking beyond what the Scriptures may literally say, take into account the changes in culture and society, and try to respond to the heart of Jesus’ message in a way that is relevant to the 21st century.

    I don’t mean to say that capitalism is our savior. But we ought to use the tools we have access to in order to advance God’s mission.

    I also want to try to get people to think that maybe capitalism is a good thing. I feel like there are too many voices, especially in the church, that deride capitalism as this evil machine that oppresses the poor. The capitalist machine is what provides jobs for millions of Americans. The capitalist machine is what enables India’s booming tech industry. The capitalist machine is what enables China’s booming manufacturing sector. Capitalism is helping to improve the lives of the formerly poor all over the world.

    We need to feed the dying in Niger, but I want us to think much bigger than just the short term. Can you envision a Niger that has a thriving economy? Let’s try to do what we can to make that happen.

  14. No offense taken Peter. One of my desires is for the church and followers of Jesus to become more actively involved in micro-economic development.

    We can spend $30 to feed someone for a month in a remote third world country or we can spend $30 to help them start a business that provides for their whole family. We may need to do both ($60) to start with but eventually they can sustain themselves and their families.

    My desire for this to happen is not to expand business opportunities. But to see basic needs met AND develop relationships with influencers of society that allow for God’s message to be shared.

    I can stand on a platform with a microphone in another country and tell them about a God they’ve never heard of or I can show generosity, walk with someone as they build a business, and build relationships that let them see the love of Christ in me. It’s not an ‘either or’ in my opinion; it’s ‘both and’.

    Can’t wait to meet you someday Peter…

  15. This is a great question and one I have been asking of myself recently. It’s kind of interesting to see you, Alex, asking the same question.

    Well, my thoughts come from a passage I read 3 days ago in Proverbs… someone may have already posted this passage, but here it is anyway:

    “Do not weary yourself to gain wealth, Cease from your consideration of it.”
    -23:4

    My opinion: I need to cease from considering gaining wealth.

    I think the question may be secondary. I don’t see gaining wealth or not gaining wealth as Christ following values. What I do, however, see as a Christ following value is to be the best I can be at what I do. Now if me being the best investment banker means I achieve much monetary wealth, then so be it. But my concern is not to gain wealth but rather to work the best I can with what I am given or choosing to do.

    On the other side of the same coin, if I am a janitor, I still need to be the best at what I am doing even if I do not achieve great monetary wealth.

    The value, as I see it, is not based on whether or not I become wealthy or whether or not I strive for it. It seems obvious to me that The Love of Money is the root of all kinds of evil.

    Not money itself, though.

    If my pursuit is to make lots of money, then I am short-sighted. My value should be to be excellent at whatever it is I am doing and if I make lots of money in the process, then great. I must then be generous with it and give to those who are with little. I must care fir the orphan and the widow. I must clothe the naked, feed the hungry, etc. For, in doing so, I am providing for Jesus Himself.

    In conclusion, I would argue that there is no value, as far as Christ following is concerned, with making money or not making money. The Christ value is to be great at whatever I do and be generous with whatever I have.

  16. So practically speaking, what can I do?

    Well…

    Be the best Barista I can be. And with the little money I make, ask the Lord to lead me to those who are even poorer than I and help them with the little I can.

    cliff

  17. I have the FREEDOM to chose what I want to do… there is some security knowing the government will provide when and if I need it; knowing I can travel anywhere; knowing I have friends to move in with or loan me use of their car (or $); knowing that my children CAN go to college on scholarships and loans; knowing that there will be some sort of inheritance; knowing I have access to the greatest healthcare system; knowing I can dialogue with passionate, smart leaders like you.

    The potential access to these products of material wealth provides a platform of great security from which I can discuss using it for God’s purposes. What a luxury!

    God’s spiritual abundance reigns my soul. I HAVE been giving away my material possessions – I drive a rusted out beater car, I live in a inexpensive rental next door to million dollar homes…. If I have $10, I will give away $5. But sometimes I think that’s the easier thing to do because I CAN do it. And I know I CAN replace any of these things at some point in my life. We must recognize the platform from which we speak.

    I have released my children to the Lord. I am entering relationships I might not want to enter. I will go pretty much where the Lord calls me – even the dangerous ones. But there are many others who are not at the point I am. There are times I am on my only parade with the Lord… other times I am joined by many.

    Last week I talked with 11 .. 20 something girls from an arts ministry in South Africa. The Summit focus was toward Africa – hands on works (their backyard)! The biggest Summit take away for the girls was the potential for “professionalism” with which they could do ministry!

    And I realized that we are all on an individual and collective journey of discovery. Like a slinky, our journey is a spiral that ascends the cross. Each successive circling skims the surface of the last. Individually we are in a different place in our own spiral. We attempt to collectively syncronize the ascent. What we spiral is important – the Cross.©

    Sorry, Alex, rather abstract, I know. I did cover the practical though, didn’t I? 🙂

  18. Cliff,
    You’re a barista? You’re my hero! Really. It’s a dream job.

    What can I do? I struggle with this one. I could forego Starbuck’s once a week, save the money, and at the end of the year, send it to Kenya, where a ministry friend serves his people in the Pokot region. They’re expecting 44,000 of this tribe that is about the population of the city of Detroit to die from starvation this year.

    Anne Jackson talked about this earlier this year when discussing the design of a new church building. Do we really need all of the “fixings”? Can we justify them when there are so many people without in other countries (or even on our urban streets)?

  19. Yes, I think it is because we can do more of the good we are already doing if we are wealthy. Our reach will be greater without having to worry about some of the other needs in our lives.

    -Albert

  20. lots of great comments here–many resonated with me. steve’s observation…

    “We can spend $30 to feed someone for a month in a remote third world country or we can spend $30 to help them start a business that provides for their whole family. We may need to do both ($60) to start with but eventually they can sustain themselves and their families.”

    this is something that i’ve been thinking about lately. we can send over the $$$, but taking action to support the basic foundation needed for a sustainable lifestyle is much more long-term–like new businesses and schools.

    what steps are we taking?

    our short-term goal is to function as a small business. we’re focusing on working from home using our computers/phone services and have already started making this transition. right now i’m the only one working out of the home for about 20 hours/week to supplement our income as we get our business off of the ground. long-term goal is to be able to work from wherever God leads us to go. we want to be as mobile as possible.

    as far as our current ‘things’ go, as was stated above, we’re the stewards. when we moved to our current location, we had a lot of ‘stuff’ in storage due to living overseas for about 10 years. when we moved here, we had more than we needed. so what have we done with a lot of it? gave as much away as possible to families, and new college and seminary students. we still have much more to give and realize that it’s a privilege to share what God has allowed us to steward.

  21. Came across an interesting quote from Wesley, he said to his new converts that “our luxuries should come after we have met other people’s need for necessiaties” I thought that was interesting

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