Saturday, May 24, 2014

Embrace Your Inner Duck

Zimbabweans gave my grandfather a name when he lived in Zimbabwe—“Iskwabayile”. Assuming I have gotten anywhere near the actual spelling, it means (I think) “He walks like a duck.”

That was way back in the 1920s. When I went to Zimbabwe some 50 years later as a teacher at Matopo Secondary School (the same place my grandparents lived), I met an old woman who had lived there for a long time. She asked me, “What’s your name?” “Daryl Climenhaga.” “Who was your father?” “David Climenhaga.” “Who was your grandfather?” “John Climenhaga.” Then she delivered the coup de grace: “You walk like your grandfather.”

Great! I walk like a duck! Since then I have had various opportunities to embrace my inner duck.
Class Reunion at Messiah College, about 20 years after seeing my classmates. I saw an old friend across the grass as I walked towards the Eisenhower Center. “Daryl!” (Always nice to be remembered.) “I recognized you by the way you walk.” (Great. Embrace your inner duck.)

I have the comfort of knowing that my father bears the same burden. My grandparents had three sons: Arthur, David, and Joel. One day their wives (Grandma Emma, Arlene, Dorcas, and Zoe were standing in front of their house watching their husbands walk down the driveway. They burst out laughing, causing the men to turn around in surprise. “We were just watching four bumps on a log.” So all four of them walked like ducks.

One of our sons recently said that he is trying not to walk like a duck. Good luck! These things are too deeply ingrained from watching our father walk as we learn to walk for us to simply set them aside. Embrace your inner duck!Besides, ducks can be aggressive creatures when they defend their families and take care of each other. Maybe waddling and dancing don’t seem to go together, but then again even ducks can learn to dance!

There’s lots of other attributes from my father and grandfather that I also want to embrace: their commitment to God; their commitment to their spouse; their care for their family (in spite of the problems that our family has known); their love of truth; their love of music and learning; their desire to help make the world around them better. There are the usual culprits of qualities I would like to leave behind, but for the most part I want to embrace my inner duck.

Sunday, May 11, 2014


Text: Matthew 6: 19-24
I want to talk about money this morning. This is a touchy subject, so let me give you a bit of background. The worship committee responded to a suggestion that we spend some time talking about money. We could talk about questions such as, “How much we should tithe?” Should you tithe 10% of gross income or net income? Do you give all of your 10% to your home church and then give offerings beyond that to other ventures in God’s kingdom? And so on.
One can answer such questions readily. Tithing as a matter of law does not apply in the New Covenant. We give as a response of gratitude and love for God’s grace active in our lives. This truth increases the importance of giving. A tithe can feel like a tax, so that we look for the least we can do to satisfy the law. A response of gratitude and love leads us to ask how much we can give, how little we can get by on for ourselves. But of course these answers gloss over a deeper issue: How do we relate to money?
I was talking about this question with some friends recently, and we noted a shift in our area between our generation and those who precede us. Older folk tend to hold their money more lightly; we (I speak as a baby boomer) tend to be more concerned with accumulating money.  So I want to wrestle with this question this morning: How should we relate to money? What can we say as Christians about money?
Money is Good
Can we agree on this point to begin? Money is good. Money is (or can be) a sign of God’s blessing. Listen to Proverbs chapter 3:
5 Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding;
6 in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight.
7 Do not be wise in your own eyes; fear the Lord and shun evil.
8 This will bring health to your body and nourishment to your bones.
9 Honour the Lord with your wealth, with the firstfruits of all your crops;
10 then your barns will be filled to overflowing, and your vats will brim over with new wine.
Now this particular passage goes on to observe that wisdom based on the fear of the Lord is worth more than these overflowing barns, but the point is clear: wealth comes from God. Consider people in the early church such as Lydia (Acts 16) and Joseph of Arimathea (Matthew 27:57), who used their wealth for the benefit of people around them. This point is worth making because people sometimes misquote Paul: “Money is the root of all evil.” Of course you know that Paul says, “The love of money is the root of all kinds of evil” (1 Timothy 6:10).  To begin then, let us say that money and possessions are good. God wants us to thrive—as Proverbs puts it, to have full barns and good wine. Paul’s words remain, however, and they lead us to our second point. If money is good, then how can the love of money be the root of all kinds of evil? How can the love of money be bad?
Money seeks to take God’s Place
Note the way that Jesus puts it in this morning’s text: “You cannot serve God and Money.” Money is good; but money can be abused. Similarly, fire can be destructive, burning down someone’s house. But fire itself is a good thing, providing heat and energy for people like us who live in such a cold climate. When fire is out of control, it becomes destructive and bad. It is not simply that it burns up dead stuff—in a forest fire that activity contributes to the long-term health of the forest. But when a fire burns out of control it destroys good and bad together and becomes an agent of destruction. Similarly, when money is not controlled, when money becomes the controller (the master), it becomes destructive.
Hear again Paul’s words in 1 Timothy 6:10:  “Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs.” Money is good, but greed is bad. Money can be God’s blessing in our lives, but loving money and pursuing it leads to grief. Why is this?
The Trouble with Money
Do you remember Jesus’ words in Matthew 19?
16 Just then a man came up to Jesus and asked, “Teacher, what good thing must I do to get eternal life?” 17 “Why do you ask me about what is good?” Jesus replied. “There is only One who is good. If you want to enter life, keep the commandments.” 18 “Which ones?” he enquired. Jesus replied, “‘You shall not murder, you shall not commit adultery, you shall not steal, you shall not give false testimony, 19 honour your father and mother,’ and ‘love your neighbour as yourself.’” 20 “All these I have kept,” the young man said. “What do I still lack?”
21 Jesus answered, “If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” 22 When the young man heard this, he went away sad, because he had great wealth. 23 Then Jesus said to his disciples, “Truly I tell you, it is hard for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of heaven. 24 Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.”
Jesus’ point is clear: The rich cannot enter God’s Kingdom unless God makes it possible. We can see this more clearly by looking at a definition of who is poor and who is rich.
We often define “poor” economically. Instead, let’s define “poor” theologically. I think it is Kittel (The Theological Dictionary of the New Testament) who defines them this way: “The poor are those who need God’s help and know it.” The rich then are those who need God’s help—and don’t know it. Compare this idea to Revelation 3:14-18:
To the angel of the church in Laodicea write: “These are the words of the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the ruler of God’s creation.  15 I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other! 16 So, because you are lukewarm – neither hot nor cold – I am about to spit you out of my mouth. 17 You say, ‘I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.’ But you do not realise that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked. 18 I counsel you to buy from me gold refined in the fire, so that you can become rich; and white clothes to wear, so that you can cover your shameful nakedness; and salve to put on your eyes, so that you can see.”
Sometimes we focus on the lukewarm nature of this church: “I wish you were cold or hot!” I’m not sure if what follows is cause or symptom, but observe: They use their wealth to self-medicate their condition. They think they can solve their problems with money. They think that their wealth will protect them from the problems of life. Like Donald Sterling of the LA Clippers, they think they can solve any problem they face with money. They are wrong!
Ravi Zacharias has put it this way: “The words of Augustine are most appropriate: ‘You have made us for yourself and our hearts are restless until they find their rest in Thee.’ Or, as Pascal put it, ‘There is a godshaped vacuum in the heart of every man, and only God can fill it.’”
I read a blog replying to this quote, in which the author claims that atheists are happier than Christians, so the quote must not be true. What I say here, then, I say with appropriate caution: I believe that Augustine and Pascal (and Zacharias) are right, but I don’t identify the experience of God’s presence with happiness. Christians may not always be happy; but we do find the fullness of God’s presence, which alone satisfies. You can call what we find “joy”, or “peace”—something deeper and richer than the pleasure that comes from spending money. “There’s a deep, settled peace in my soul, while the billows of life o’er me roll, he abides, Christ abides.”
The rich try to fill that inner space with many different things, and they fail. Poor people struggle with obvious problems such as no housing and no health care. Rich people’s problems are often invisible, but just as destructive. Paul Simon turned a poem by Edwin Arlington Robinson into one of the best and grimmest of his early songs:
They say that Richard Cory owns one half of this whole town,
With political connections to spread his wealth around.
Born into society, a banker’s only child,
He had everything a man could want: power, grace, and style.
But I work in his factory, And I curse the life I’m living, And I curse my poverty.
And I wish that I could be, Oh, I wish that I could be, Oh, I wish that I could be
Richard Cory.
The papers print his picture almost everywhere he goes:
Richard Cory at the opera, Richard Cory at a show.
And the rumor of his parties and the orgies on his yacht!
Oh, he surely must be happy with everything he’s got.
But I work in his factory, And I curse the life I’m living, And I curse my poverty.
And I wish that I could be, Oh, I wish that I could be, Oh, I wish that I could be
Richard Cory.
He freely gave to charity, he had the common touch,
And they were grateful for his patronage and thanked him very much,
So my mind was filled with wonder when the evening headlines read:
“Richard Cory went home last night and put a bullet through his head.”
But I work in his factory, And I curse the life I’m living, And I curse my poverty.
And I wish that I could be, Oh, I wish that I could be, Oh, I wish that I could be
Richard Cory.
The trouble with money is that we use it to try and heal what only God can heal, to do what only God can do and fill the space in our lives that was made for God alone.
A common response to this line of thinking is to adopt a simple lifestyle. It’s a good response, but by itself it is not enough. Simplicity is not an end in itself. Simplicity is not the goal; God is. You can decide that you are going to break the grip money has on you by moving to a cabin in the woods. You may decide to downsize radically. You may buy a used car and get your clothes at the MCC Thrift Ship. You may become genuinely cheap! But none of this is the goal. God is the goal.
The Shakers were a group who broke off from the Quakers in the late 1700s. They were an idealistic group who committed themselves to life in the Spirit, living in anticipation of Christ’s return. They had some characteristics not worth emulating, as well as many admirable qualities, one of which was their commitment to simplicity as the path to freedom in the Spirit. We can learn from their understanding of simplicity, expressed in a little one-verse hymn you may know. Here are just the first two lines:
’Tis the gift to be simple, ’tis the gift to be free
’Tis the gift to come down where we ought to be ….
Richard Foster wrote a book called The Freedom of Simplicity. He starts out by saying that simplicity is not simple. Simplicity is complex. Simplicity is possible only through God’s grace active in our lives. One of the churches in the larger Mennonite family has adopted what they call their Core Values. Their statement on simplicity runs like this: “Living Simply: We value uncluttered lives, which free us to love boldly, give generously, and serve joyfully.”
Simplicity is a gift from God that sets us free to love God and serve God with our whole hearts and minds and strength. Simplicity—freedom from being controlled by the pursuit for more, for things, for money—sets us free to serve God alone.
Some basic ideas in closing
If we are free to use money as our servant, instead of serving money as our master, then a way of living results. I can’t give you rules and say: Do this and you have it. This way of living is in response to God’s grace and love active in our loves. True love is visible and expressive, and cannot be captured in a simple set of rules.
What then does the love of God look like, expressed in the way we live with our money?
I expect that we will sometimes spend the money God has given us on things that please us. These things are God’s gift to us, and God likes it when we enjoy his good gifts.
I expect that often we will spend our money simply on God. That might take the form of:
·        Offerings to the church.
·        Caring for someone who is less financially fortunate.
·        Living generously towards others.
Actually, this way of asking the question is wrong: It’s not our money. I remember a Christmas about 20 years ago when our young son carefully wrapped up the dollar we gave him for his week’s allowance and gave it to me for my Christmas present. I loved it! I loved it so much that I had the dollar laminated and made into a bookmark. But where did it come from? Lois and me. Who would give him more? Lois and me. It was a good thing to do, that showed his love for us wonderfully, but it really came from us all along.
That’s a bit like the case with us and God. We struggle over how to live with our money, when we would first of all relax in God’s arms and trust God to take care of us. All that we are and have is God’s anyway. We cannot give God anything that is not already his.
Return to the questions we started with: How much should we give in our tithes and offerings? No rules, but two ideas.
·        Ron Sider has suggested a graduated tithe. Give 10% on the basic amount you need to live on—say $50,000, and then increase the percentage for every 20,000 (or any other increment you choose) above that and give the extra to God’s work and God’s people and God’s world.
·        Someone else has suggested: Whenever you buy something you don’t really need but would like, make a matching gift to God. If you spend $1,000 on electronics or some other “want”, make a matching gift of $1,000 to God’s work and God’s people and God’s world. You can do the same with small luxuries, such as going out to eat.
I can’t give you a rule to follow; you have to work out the specifics for yourselves. The answer will be the same but look different at different stages of our lives. God moves in our lives at every age, but the answer when we ask God how to use our money will look different when we are 20 from when we are 40 from when are 60 from when we are 80. The answer will be the same: Do what shows your love and gratitude to God, using the good gifts God has given us for God’s sake, not for ours.
Experiencing God’s Love and Grace: We value the free gift of salvation in Christ Jesus and the transforming power of the Holy Spirit.
Believing the Bible: We value the Bible as God’s authoritative Word, study it together, and build our lives on its truth.
Worshiping God: We value heartfelt worship that is God-honoring, Spirit-directed, and life-changing.
Following Jesus: We value whole hearted obedience to Christ Jesus through the empowering presence of the Holy Spirit.
Belonging to the Community of Faith: We value integrity in relationships and mutual accountability in an atmosphere of grace, love, and acceptance.
Witnessing to the World: We value an active and loving witness for Christ to all people.
Serving Compassionately: We value serving others at their point of need, following the example of our Lord Jesus.
Pursuing Peace: We value all human life and promote forgiveness, understanding, reconciliation, and non-violent resolution of conflict.
Living Simply: We value uncluttered lives, which free us to love boldly, give generously, and serve joyfully.
Relying on God: We confess our dependence on God for everything, and seek to deepen our intimacy with Him by living prayerfully.