Tag Archives: poverty

Coldest Night of the Year

I remember when I first heard about Jericho Road Ministries from its founder, my friend Ray Desmarais. A compassionate man with a big heart for the hurting and homeless, Ray wanted to do something practical to help. Over the years, his relentless drive and passion led to the birthing of a ministry that has demonstrated the love of Jesus to hundreds of broken people in Ottawa’s core. While appreciating the need for shelters such as Shepherds of Good Hope and the Ottawa Mission, Jericho Road has chosen to offer smaller-scale, discipleship-based group homes with the aim of helping mentally ill or addicted men and women get off the street and learn practical life skills in an atmosphere of structured Christian community.

For several years my wife Marion and I were among the regular performers at a weekly coffee house offered by Jericho Road. We loved it! At the time, we lived in the rural community of Russell, and the coffee house gave us an opportunity to serve and rub shoulders with people that we wouldn’t normally have any contact with. Now that we live in the historic neighbourhood of Vanier, so close to downtown, I have a whole new appreciation for the work done by ministries such as Jericho Road.

I no longer sing at the Jericho Road coffee house, as there are now plenty of musicians to fill the roster, but on February 23, I’ll be joining a team led by my good friend Keith Brown in a walk in support of this great ministry, along with dozens of other Ottawans. The event is known as The Coldest Night of the Year, and takes place in cities across the nation in support of various charities that serve the hurting and homeless. In Ottawa, your donations will go to support Jericho Road. I’d be grateful if you would consider supporting me with a donation.

If you would like to donate, or would consider joining the walk yourself, you can do so by going to my personal home page. All donations are tax-deductible.

God bless you.



Jesus’ investment advice

It was the spring of 1998, and I was 45 years old.  After having spent almost 20 years of my life either pastoring or planting churches, my life had recently taken a radical shift.  I was fresh out of school again, a rookie in my new line of work as an Oracle application developer (see Life in the Hallway).  I was also a new homeowner, after having spent most of my adult life in either church-owned or rented properties.  Marion and I had recently moved with our four children from the city to the country, at the invitation of a couple from our church, to partner with them in planting a cell-based church in the village where they lived.  So I had a new job and new house, was living in a new community, adjusting to a new lifestyle, developing new relationships, attempting to walk in a new model of ministry, and learning to think in new ways.

I hadn’t been finding the transition an easy one.  I was on a steep learning curve at work.  Marion and I were missing our friends from our church in the city.  The adjustment to country living had its challenging moments.  To top it all off, we were stretched financially.  Although having a real job had meant a significant increase in income, buying a house in the country and commuting to work in the city meant our expenses had also increased significantly.  We were home-schooling, so there wasn’t a second income.  We weren’t in debt apart from our mortgage, and we were pretty good about staying within our budget, but our car was ageing and there were many things that needed doing around our house.   We always had money for groceries and the bills always got paid, but things were tight.

As a young pastor, I had been somewhat conflicted about money.  I knew that money had its uses, and enjoyed the generosity of the more prosperous among our church members.  At the same time, I saw the prosperity gospel as a front for American materialism, and believed that to be a rich Christian had to be some kind of contradiction.  After all, hadn’t Jesus said that we should avoid storing up treasures on earth?  From 1991-1997 our family had lived on a very low income, first as church planters and then during my year at business college, and we had been content.  Why couldn’t others be like us?  To be honest, I think I felt very virtuous in my insistence that money really wasn’t all that important to me.  This, of course, was pride – but I wasn’t ready to admit this to myself just yet.  Other people might be self-righteous, proud and hypocritical, but not me.  I was much too spiritual for that.

But some cracks were starting to form in the fortress of my beliefs about money.  I had been getting some teaching on finances from my new friend Brian Sauder, who was giving apostolic oversight to our church-planting efforts.  He was teaching that God wanted his people to prosper, both because He is good and also so that we could have the necessary tools to do the work of the Kingdom.  I was starting to see a bigger picture and was beginning to think that maybe I hadn’t been right about everything after all.

Brian didn’t fit my stereotype of a prosperity preacher.  He didn’t wear a gold Rolex, an expensive Italian suit or crocodile shoes.  He didn’t have his own TV show, and he didn’t send out letters promising answers to prayer if we purchased his special anointing oil or prayer cloths.  He didn’t promote his own ministry, and he wasn’t out to sell me anything.  Instead he spent time in our home, got to know my wife and kids, gave us practical encouragement, shared Biblical wisdom honed in the school of experience, and genuinely cared about how we were doing.  He was a very down-to-earth, believable guy – a man of integrity.

More than that, his teaching on the topic of finances was having an impact.  I liked what I was hearing!  Still, I had some concerns to work through.  One beautiful spring day, I was on a break at work and I went for a walk to clear my head.  My office was on a military base that had recently been shut down, so there was lots of open space and it was easy to be alone.  While I was walking, I was crying out to God for his help with the various pressures I was experiencing, and I heard the voice of the Lord speaking to my spirit.  I say “heard” because I really did hear very distinct words, although not with my physical ears.  I was pretty sure this message had to be from God.  Not only was it consistent with Biblical truth, I also recognized that it could not have arisen from my own mind because it was totally contrary to my feelings, my expectations and my natural mindset and ways of thinking.

The words that I heard in my spirit were these :
        I intend to prosper you, first in the natural and then in the spiritual.

This message had the unmistakeable ring of truth.  I knew Jesus’ promise that His sheep could recognize the difference between His voice and the voice of a stranger.  From years of listening to the Lord I did not think I had been hearing the voice of a stranger.  Still, I needed to test this.  Was I deceiving myself?  Was this wishful thinking?  I asked Father if this was really His voice that I was hearing.  Didn’t Jesus say that it was hard for a rich man to enter the Kingdom of God?  What about that?  Well, He assured me, it is hard but not impossible.  It’s hard, not because wealth is evil, but because our hearts are prone to fall into the deception that we don’t need God, and wealth makes this illusion easier to maintain – at least for a time.

As I continued to dialogue with the Lord, I sensed Him telling me that because Marion and I had made his Kingdom the goal of our lives, He could trust us with financial prosperity.  This, I recognized, was consistent with Jesus’ words of assurance to his disciples, as recorded in the gospel of Matthew and beautifully paraphrased by Eugene Peterson:

If God gives such attention to the appearance of wildflowers—most of which are never even seen—don’t you think he’ll attend to you, take pride in you, do his best for you? What I’m trying to do here is to get you to relax, to not be so preoccupied with getting, so you can respond to God’s giving. People who don’t know God and the way he works fuss over these things, but you know both God and how he works. Steep your life in God-reality, God-initiative, God-provisions. Don’t worry about missing out. You’ll find all your everyday human concerns will be met.  (Matthew 6:30-33 MSG)

That day, a big chink came out of the wall of the fortress of poverty thinking.  I knew that I was being changed.  My whole outlook on finances – indeed, on life – was in the process of being transformed.

I still recognize that our hearts can be deceived by wealth, as they can by any addictive substance.  I take Jesus’ warnings seriously, but I now realize that the real issue is not wealth or poverty, but Lordship.  If my allegiance is to Jesus, and I have learned to value and walk in the freedom that He promises to the children of God, then I can handle prosperity without being corrupted by it, and I can use it to bless many and to do the works of the Kingdom of God.  One of the ways of testing ourselves on this point is to ask ourselves whether there is anything that we couldn’t let go if Jesus asked us to.  He always gives back more than He asks of us!

So what about the title of this post?  Does Jesus give investment advice?

Yes he does.  It’s very simple.  Sow your seed boldly and courageously! Everything that is in your hands has been entrusted to you by the King.  It’s his, not yours – you are a steward, not an owner.  The owner, however, is generous and will reward those who are faithful.  Don’t let fear drive you to dig a hole and bury your wealth – natural or spiritual – in case something goes wrong.  Because you know His character, don’t hesitate to invest everything you have in His enterprises, and expect Him to bring an increase.  Be willing to take risks for the sake of the King, trusting that He wants to bless you.  (See the Parable of the Talents, Matthew 25:14-30)

That doesn’t mean I ought to take stupid, uncalculated risks.  Jesus also told his disciples not to build on sand, and to count the cost before embarking on any enterprise.  Although he applied these lessons to the Kingdom of God, he knew their natural meaning.  Stupidity doesn’t make us better disciples; planning wisely can be an expression of God-honouring faith.  Having said all that, I have come to see that my Father wants confident, bold sons and daughters who are not paralyzed by fear, but are willing to take risks – even if some of those risks don’t work out exactly as we expect.  This mindset is a key to Kingdom living, and is as true in the financial area as in other areas of life.

On that spring morning in 1998, I desperately needed to hear the voice of the Lord telling me to prosper, because up til then, even though I had stepped out in faith many times, I had also often been dogged by a nagging fear of failure, and deep down I found it hard to believe that God really wanted to bless me.  Since then, many things have changed in my life.  God has indeed prospered me financially and spiritually. More than anything else, it is my view of God that has changed.  I now realize that since I am a child of God, forgiven and cleansed because of the shed blood of Jesus, my Father delights to bless me and wants to see me succeed.  He delights to fill me with His Spirit so that I can do the works of God.  Why would he not also give me all good things – including financial prosperity?  At the same time, prosperity, like healing or any other form of blessing, is a secondary goal, not a primary one.  So, my focus is not to be on these secondary blessings but on the Giver of all good gifts.  This is the battle that I need to fight daily : to keep my gaze fixed on God, His goodness and His priorities, and to boldly invest and cheerfully give out what He has freely supplied.  If I do that, He promises to richly supply me over and above what I need for every good work.


Money – blessing or curse?

Someone once asked John D. Rockefeller, a multi-millionaire industrialist of a past generation, how much wealth was enough.  His famous reply? “Just a little bit more.” In his day, Rockefeller was one of the richest men on earth. He was also one of the most generous, believing strongly that he had a responsibility to use wealth to improve the lives of others.

By contrast, I recently read a news piece about Karl Rabeder, an Austrian millionaire who is currently in the process of giving away most of his fortune.  He plans to use the proceeds to finance a microcredit charity (see Leaving an Imprint – January 6).  He has taken this radical step after coming to the realization that money could not make him happy.  Having grown up in a poor family, and having spent most of his lifetime striving for wealth, Rabeder says he is now finding peace and genuine satisfaction through giving away his wealth to others, living very simply and renouncing luxury.

Rockefeller was a Christian and his views on wealth and its proper uses were motivated by Christian convictions. I have no idea whether Rabeder is a Christian, but his decision to renounce wealth and give most of his substance to the poor is consistent with some interpretations of Christian obedience. Taken together, the actions and viewpoints of these two wealthy men highlight an issue that has always posed a dilemma for those who seek to follow Jesus.  What is the proper attitude of the Christ follower towards wealth and property? Should we seek wealth, as Rockefeller did, or renounce it as Rabeder has done and is doing?

Attitudes towards money vary widely. Sadly, like the man in Jesus’ parable who built bigger and bigger barns but was not rich toward God, many make the pursuit of financial security the major goal of their lives. Others, reacting to the evils caused by greed, conclude that money and the pursuit of wealth are inherently evil. Ironically, however, it is often wealth gained through business that ends up being used to finance works of charity – as in the case of both Rockefeller’s and Rabeder’s fortunes.

There is no Biblical support for the claim that money in itself is impure or evil, or that the wealthy are wicked by definition – nor did Rabeder make any such claim when he decided to give up his fortune. What the Bible actually teaches on this subject is not that money is evil, or a source of evil, but that the love of money is a root of all sorts of evil. This observation is not actually a statement about money at all, but rather about the human heart. The Bible speaks in very positive terms of those who walk uprightly, gain their wealth honestly and use it to bless others, and in very negative terms about those who gain wealth by oppression or unrighteousness or who place their ultimate hope in their riches.

One of the ironies of life is that you can be in financial bondage whether you are rich or poor. Some are in slavery to poverty, some in slavery to wealth. Some reject all wealth as evil, others are addicted to it.  Some fear poverty because they are afraid for their own survival and that of their children; others fear prosperity because they are afraid it will corrupt them.  Strange as it may seem, both these maladies stem from the same root.  They are the work of a spiritual power that feeds our minds with lies,  tempting us to assign ultimate power to a created thing rather than to God, thereby diverting us from walking in faith and love.

When I was a young man I had a very one-sided view of this issue.  I knew the words of Jesus about not serving two masters, and was famliar with his instruction to the rich young man to give away all his possessions to the poor.  I saw the dangers of materialism, and saw the church of my upbringing as hypocritical, filled with middle class people who from my perspective had given their lives to the pursuit of Mammon.  I did not yet see how judgmental I was, or how dependent on the generosity of those who were more prosperous than I.  More recently I have come to see that prosperity can be used in the service of the Kingdom of God, and that while Jesus warned against the dangers of pursuing wealth as a primary goal in life, he was quite willing to accept financial support from those who worked for wealthy people.  The key to a right understanding of wealth, I now see, is a Biblical view of stewardship.  If God has entrusted wealth to me, I am not the owner but the steward, and I am accountable to Him for what I do with whatever He has entrusted to me. Wealth is a tool which can be used to accomplish much good – but only if we first settle the issue of Lordship and decide who will have our primary allegiance.  In Jesus’ words, No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or else he will be loyal to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon.  In other words, you can only have one Lord, not two – or three or four.

When we believe the lie that our lives are controlled by money, or wealth, we make money into a god, and submit to the control of the principality, or spiritual power, that Jesus called Mammon.  If you think this doesn’t apply to you, consider how many times you have said that you would do thus-and-so if only you had the money. Consider also how much of your energy goes to getting more wealth than you have, and how much of your hope is fixed on things that money can buy. Yes, God can use financial plenty and financial lack to open and close doors, but often we live as though our primary allegiance is to Mammon, and the true God has to get Mammon’s approval before we can step out in faith – rather than the other way around. Jesus, on the other hand, lived in a culture where needs were great and wealth was comparitively more scarce than it is in North America today, yet he never acted or spoke as though provision were lacking for any undertaking that his Father had ordained. To use a phrase that I first learned from my friend Brian Sauder, Jesus had a prosperous soul – he believed that Father’s provision for him would always be more than enough, and he lived in confident expectation of that provision. This is Biblical prosperity – staying in the center of Father’s will, and living our lives as though His provision will always be more than enough.

There is nothing wrong with having an abundance.  There is also no sin in being poor. The key to staying blessed in both sets of circumstances is to recognize the Lordship of Jesus – to recognize that God is the owner, everything comes to us from His hand and we are his stewards. The only way to freedom is to give control of our finances to the One who is the only rightful Lord of everything in our lives, including our finances, place our trust in His goodness, and let His word renew our minds with regard to wealth and finances. This act of surrender may or may not result in a change in our financial circumstances, but it will certainly result in a change in our attitude towards wealth and property. In the early church in the Book of Acts, no-one said that anything he had belonged to him.  This is a key insight.  Jesus said that if we seek first God’s kingdom and His righteousness, everything else we need will be provided for us. He also told us to be content and to give generously. Giving control to Jesus means learning to live our lives by the values of the Kingdom, not the values of the world system.

I have learned to fear neither prosperity nor poverty. Due to a ministry commitment, for several years when our children were young Marion and I lived in relative poverty (at least by Canadian standards) and we found that these were good years in the life of our family – years when we grew in faith and experienced much blessing. We have now come into a much greater level of financial abundance, and have discovered that it is a tremendous blessing to be able to do for others what many did for us during the years when our income was more limited. I have also discovered that no matter how prosperous we may be, we always tend to make commitments in accordance with our wealth – so a wealthy man is just as dependent on a constant flow of provision as a poor man. This posture of dependency and humility coupled with confident expectation is a good posture for a believer – it is a posture that allows us to walk in freedom, faith and joy with regard to finances.

My church is currently in a financial crisis. I believe this financial crisis is the result of a crisis of vision, and that God is dealing with us sovereignly to bring us back to where He wants us to be. There is no lack with God. If we respond to him in faith and obedience, there will always be more than enough to do what He wants to do in and through us. Consequently I am not worried about this crisis. Of course this circumstance has created some pressure, but pressure is not necessarily a bad thing. It can be one of God’s choice instruments to purify our hearts and bring us to a place of greater surrender, greater obedience and greater faith. Yes, God is capable of providing in abundance, but there are conditions on receiving and walking in that abundance. Increasingly, when it comes to finances, my own prayer is for wisdom to steward well what God has entrusted to me, and a faithful heart that will rightly discern and respond to what He wants to do with what He has placed in my hands.  In the end, nothing else brings any lasting satisfaction.


What about the dark side?

First of all, for those who read my blogs semi-regularly, let me say that I am very flattered that some of you actually noticed that I hadn’t posted for over three weeks.   It has been a very busy stretch, what with company year-end bookkeeping, Marion being away for over a week, and the usual family, work and church commitments.  I’ve missed blogging and hope to resume posting on a roughly weekly schedule, although that depends partly on what topics suggest themselves – I don’t really plan these things very far in advance.   It’s nice to know that my blogs were missed by at least a few people!  Incidentally, two of my sons – Joe and Reuben – have recently started blogging and seem to be having fun with this new adventure.  Their blogs are very different from mine but I am enjoying them.

Much has happened in the world since I last posted.  In particular, there was a massive earthquake in Haiti on January 12.   Many of us probably know someone who was directly affected in some way.  Marion and I discovered that a friend from Russell — an Ottawa police officer with whom we had lost touch over the last few years — had been serving in Haiti for nine months as part of a peacekeeping mission and was there during the quake.  The leader of his mission was killed, and Martin (our friend) only escaped death because he had left his hotel a few minutes before the quake.   Although his scheduled time in Haiti had come to an end, he stayed on for several days to help with the relief effort and was profoundly moved by the experience.

How does one account for such devastation?  There’s no easy explanation as to why such things happen.  Jesus did warn his disciples that wars, famines and earthquakes would become regular occurrences in the years preceding his return, so if we are aware of the signs of the times we shouldn’t really be surprised by such things.  Yet our hearts cry out at the extent of the destruction, and we ask – if God is good, couldn’t He have prevented such misery?

This of course is a huge topic and I won’t attempt a complete answer, but let me say three things in response to this question.   First, from a Biblical perspective, the world as we see it today is not the perfect world that God created.  It has been marred by human sin and failure, and the Bible makes it clear that this disruption has had cosmic effects.   Secondly, God has not distanced Himself from our pain but has entered our broken world in the person of His Son Jesus, who willingly entered into our suffering as an innocent victim and bore it for us to purchase our freedom.   Thirdly, from the very beginning God’s good plan for the world has been opposed by an evil power, a liar and deceiver whose purpose from the beginning was to steal, kill and destroy, and the world will not experience lasting peace until he is finally overthrown and Jesus reigns on earth as undisputed Lord.

In the wake of the Haitian earthquake, American televangelist Pat Robertson made some very controversial comments linking the devastation in Haiti to an alleged pact with the devil made by Voodoo leaders in 1804.   The historicity of this particular claim is hard to establish, but whatever one thinks of Pat Robertson and his comments, there’s no denying that Vodou religion – a syncretistic mix of West African spiritism and Roman Catholicism – has had a big impact on Haiti.  There’s also no denying that Haiti has had a very dark history for many years, long before this latest earthquake.  My purpose is not to defend Pat Robertson, but whatever you think of his off-the-cuff ramblings, don’t be too quick to dismiss the idea that the spiritual choices and beliefs of a nation’s leaders will affect the destiny of that nation.  Haiti’s political leaders – themselves practitioners of Vodou – have done no favours for their people.   Despite hundreds of millions of dollars of aid to Haiti over the past few decades, poverty remains rampant.  Corruption and callous disregard for the needs of the poor have characterized Haiti’s leadership for many years.  The Biblical understanding is that all forms of evil – corruption, injustice, poverty, witchcraft, demon-worship – come from the same root.  Ultimately, they arise from humanity’s choice to turn away from the true and living God and serve other gods.  The only solution for such misery is for nations and individuals to turn back in humility to the healer of our souls and the restorer of nations.

I am a rational person who works in information technology.  I understand science and the materialistic world view.  I used to be an atheist and was raised in a climate of liberal humanism that was very skeptical about the supernatural.   Despite that background, I have come to believe in the reality of the supernatural – both good and evil.   I have found that most people – both Christian and non-Christian – have a high degree of respect for the person of Jesus Christ.  Many consider him to be a great spiritual teacher and a wise man.  Yet this great spiritual teacher presented himself as being the Son of God and the Saviour of the world, and he clearly believed in the reality of Satan and demons, although he was not in the least afraid of them or intimidated by them.  So at the very least, in the interests of intellectual honesty, if you are going to take Jesus seriously as a great spiritual teacher, you have to take his view of the world seriously as well.   If he claimed to be the Son of God and the Saviour of the world, he was either right or wrong in this claim.  If right, the only reasonable response is to worship Him.  If wrong, he was either deluded (insane) or a liar.   Reading the gospels has led me to the inescapable conclusion that he was neither insane nor a liar – and of course, if he were insane or a liar, he would not be a great spiritual teacher.  My conclusion is that he is who he said – the Son of God and the Saviour of the World.  Once I accepted that conclusion, believing in the reality of Satan was easy – and it made sense of a lot of things that otherwise made no sense (such as how an evidently good and beautiful world could at the same time contain such evil – or how people with such potential for creativity and goodness could produce so much darkness).

Does this mean that I blame the people of Haiti for their misery?  Not at all.  My heart is stirred with compassion for them, they have been often in my prayers, and Marion and I gave what we felt we could afford to help the relief effort almost immediately after hearing news of the earthquake.   My point is simply this.  Although short-term relief is clearly needed, money and human effort alone will not solve Haiti’s problems – or Canada’s, for that matter.  Ultimately, only Jesus can bring lasting blessing to any nation.  The true story of the world is of a people who were made in the image of  a good Creator and fell into darkness because of a choice to turn away from Him towards independence.  That choice was instigated by the ancient Serpent who leads the world astray.  One of the main ways he leads people astray is by concealing his existence and at the same time whispering in our ears that we are independent and fully capable of solving our own problems without God.  That belief is itself our main problem.  Yes, there is a dark side, and it does matter what you believe and who you serve.  Religion is not an answer – religious systems are the territory of the Dark Lord and only keep people in bondage – but a restored relationship with the Lover of our Souls brings true and lasting freedom.  The light shines on in the darkness, and the darkness has never put it out.  One day the light will rule completely and the darkness will be destroyed forever.   That being the case, I choose to walk in the light of the Son of God now, while I still have the choice.