“Mom! Stop! Don’t give him all that money!”
It was our first trip to China… 2006… and I’d been looking for some really good postcard scenes of the Great Wall. These five packets of ten cards each were excellent photos of various angles of that seemingly endless wall, captured in all four seasons. There were even some beautiful pictures of the old town section of Beijing we were now exploring. He’d asked for three dollars and I gave him five… and then waved away his offer of change. A half hour later he was still following us on his bicycle, not trying to sell us more, just smiling and happy. Noah answered my questioning look…
“He just made enough for the whole day… enough to provide for his whole family.”
Well, I was glad I could be so generous!
Money isn’t supposed to be everything… but sometimes it is. Ecclesiastes 10:19 recognizes how important money is in this world: “Money is the answer to everything.” Now I really chafe at Solomon’s words, but I have to admit, it’s pretty tough when the money isn’t there. And compared to so many others, I can’t say that I’ve really suffered that much for lack of it.
Our first parish provided us with a parsonage. Plus the congregation paid all of our utilities including the phone! After our four-year seminary struggle, we couldn’t believe how rich we suddenly were. We needed a refrigerator, washer and dryer. So we bought them. How about a freezer for all that produce people were already sharing with us? Sure, why not? But within two months we found out we’d missed something. We’d been used to having taxes taken automatically from our paychecks. Now that my husband was “self employed,” he needed to set aside that tax money. Suddenly we weren’t quite so wealthy!
My mom saw me counting my piggy bank money when I was a little girl. She scolded me when she found out what I was really doing. “Don’t you ever kiss money!” That lesson stuck with me forever. Later I would find her warning in the scriptures: “Whoever loves money never has enough; whoever loves wealth is never satisfied with their income” (Ecclesiastes 5:10). And the more familiar love of money being the root of all kinds of evil. The attitude. It’s all about the attitude.
I visited a congregation in Los Angeles near where my daughter was attending school. At the end of the service a woman spoke about the needs of a community just on the other side of the freeway, in what she referred to as the “poor section” of the city. Well, I’d really thought the area we were in was pretty downtrodden. But no. Out of their meager material blessings, the people gave freely of what they had. I learned a lesson in attitude that day… and in generosity too.
But money can't buy everything. There are lots of major league baseball teams that are blessed with tremendous talent and seemingly endless resources. Sometimes they win, but it’s not a guarantee. Sometimes it’s the teams that have good players who know how to work together, who keep honing their skills that take the prize. Sometimes “all the money in the world” can’t buy victory.
“Richness is: the feeling of free!” proclaimed an advertisement banner on the Vancouver Skytrain. While I wasn’t fond of the random colon, the thought stayed with me. It made me think of those songs that talk about not needing money. One gal thinks she’s wealthy because she has “the sun in the morning and the moon at night.” Another fellow proudly sings, “I got plenty of nothing and nothing's plenty for me… 'cause the things that I prize - like the stars in the skies - are all free.”
Is it the money, the wealth, that drags us down… makes us captive? Should I just be happy I’ve got nature and a place to lay my head? Even fresh air comes at a cost these days. What really IS free in this world?
“Come, all you who are thirsty, come to the waters; and you who have no money, come… without money and without cost” (Isaiah 55:1).
I know from reading the Scriptures that the gift of God can’t be bought with money. Though our Lord Jesus was rich in righteousness, He became poor for my sake. I got His riches. That’s what grace is all about… God’s Riches at Christ’s Expense.
I know my Lord is rich in love, rich in mercy, a rich store of salvation and wisdom and knowledge (Isaiah 33:6). And I have heard over and over that I need to be rich toward God. But what does that really mean?
Even if I’m poor I can make many rich? Even though I have nothing I possess everything? It’s got to be more than a clever song about being content with my blessings.
I know I can learn from those who can be generous in the midst of want. I can learn from those who express their joy even when their trials are many.
I realize I’m on a journey of discovery… to find out what all those riches really are and what they mean for my life and for those around me.
And if I have that freedom (and I do!)… the freedom that makes me rich, the freedom from sin and death that ultimately gives me “a rich welcome into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” at the end of my journey on this earth (2 Peter 1:11)… then I’d better be generous in sharing that “feeling of free”… generously giving others the gift that matters most... the message of GRACE... because I truly possess everything!
Leaving my guilt at the cross,