A Bodey in Motion

Building momentum, one step at a time

Which Gospel: Prosperity or Poverty?

Our lives aren’t all about money, but money touches almost every part of our lives. When you are a follower of Jesus, that’s especially true, and it’s important to take the time to learn what the Bible says about money.

Fortunately, that isn’t that hard to do. The Bible has a lot to say about money. Its pages cover working, and earning, and saving, and giving, and poverty, and debt, and etc. ad nauseum. You can learn a whole lot about money by reading the Bible.

Unfortunately, all of these different scriptures have led to a couple of conflicting theological schools of thought when it comes to Christians and their finances. Each have their standard bearers, and each have their critics. So, which is right?

Why don’t we start with a vague summary of each:

The Prosperity Gospel

This school of thought is shaped around the idea that God provides material prosperity for those he favors. Thus, if you are truly obedient to the Lord, you will be rewarded with growing wealth.  If you have wealth, you’ve pleased God and have been blessed by him. Paying tithes consistently and giving a big offering with the right heart always results in a greater material return.

Godliness and righteousness in life can be gauged through prosperity.


The Poverty Gospel 

According to this school of thought, poverty is required to experience true discipleship and sanctification. At best, wealth provides too much autonomy, and keeps the holder from experiencing true humility and dependence on God’s provision. At worst, it is sin, the result of selfishness and greed. To be truly obedient to the Lord, you must give up everything you own and live as simply and humbly as possible.

Godliness and righteousness in life can be gauged through poverty.

So, which is it?

The first ‘gospel’ has the benefit of synchronizing well with the “American Dream” that our culture idealizes. The second ‘gospel’ benefits similarly, though, as the very rich in America have been raised up as evil icons of a corrupt culture. We can look at Donald Trump and Mother Teresa and make a snap judgment about which is more holy. At the same time, everyday wealth is best gained through hard work, diligence, and living frugally, and those aren’t the bad qualities to have.

Which is it? Is God blessing the prosperous or the impoverished?

Why not both?

Why not neither?

The biggest problem with these two theologies is that they’re using finances as a sure measure of spirituality, and reality doesn’t match up. There are too many counter-examples to each of these ideas in the Bible, let alone the real world. God has called people to serve him from prosperity and poverty.

After all, none of our wealth is actually ours. It’s all been given to us. Whether we’ve been given a little or a lot, we’re called to manage it well, and use it to please God. Both prosperity and poverty are a gift from God to be used for his glory.

What do you think? Is it better to prosper or be poor? Which draws you closer to God?

April 4, 2013 Posted by | Christ and Church, Work and Money | , , , , , | Comments Off on Which Gospel: Prosperity or Poverty?

The Legend of the Monk and the Merchant

The Monk and the MerchantI received a copy of this book when I was out in Nashville getting trained as a financial coach by Dave Ramsey’s team. (Actually, I received a half-dozen books for free while I was there. That was pretty awesome.) If you are an employee at his company, then this book is required reading. That sounded like a ringing endorsement to me, so I moved it to the top of my reading list. At 160 pages, I found it an easy read, and I was able to tear through it in less than a day.

At its heart, this novel is trying to impart twelve principles that are to be the building blocks of a successful life. The author, Terry Felber, has couched these principles in the fictional story of a grandfather retelling his history as a lifelong merchant to his grandson who is about to enter the marketplace. The story is set in and around Rome in the 16th century, but the setting merely serves as a painted canvas backdrop for the conversations between the main characters. The struggles of a young merchant learning to become a success in business while serving his Maker are what takes center stage.

     Antonio turned the page of the book in his hands and laid it down on the table  in front of him. With his eyes still connected with Julio’s, he spun the book around so it faced his grandson.

     “This is the first secret to success,” he said as he pointed to the only writing on that page. Julio looked down at the book and read the words out loud.

Each of the book’s twelve principles are taught within the context of how they were learned by the old merchant, and the story flows very smoothly from tale to tale. Felber is clearly making the case that being in business, either as an owner or employee, is a spiritual action. Our work is a form of worship, and we are honoring our God by serving our customers. Work is a ministry, no matter what the profit margin is.

Unfortunately, the simple wording of a few of Felber’s principles can be misinterpreted. For example, the first principle is “Work hard and God will prosper you.” That can easily be taken to mean that God delivers riches to those that please him. That’s not biblical, and within the context of the story, it isn’t what is being said. Based on my reading of the book, I seriously doubt that Felber is pushing a prosperity gospel. He simply wants us to approach work, money, and business with the right attitude.

     “Antonio, you have done well. You have followed your passion and built a great empire to the glory of God. You have used your gifts and talents to serve people and to extend the reach of your influence. Now it is time for you to reach up.”

I recommend The Legend of the Monk and the Merchant. It’s not a perfect book, but what is being shared is a great introduction to the concepts of work as ministry and biblical money management. The simple language and short length make it a quick read and easily accessible by young men and women in your life. I’d encourage you to get the version that includes the forward by Dave Ramsey, as his take on the material does a good job of setting the tone for the book and is well worth the read.

March 18, 2013 Posted by | Read and Reviewed, Work and Money | , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Get to Know Yourself

(This covers the third chapter from Rabbi Daniel Lapin‘s book Thou Shall Prosper. Each chapter is one part of a set of core principles that approach business and money as spiritual practices, referred to as the ‘Ten Commandments for Making Money.’ I’m reviewing the third ‘Commandment’ here. My plan is to go through all ten. You can find out more in this post discussing my thoughts on the book. All quotes, unless otherwise attributed, come from the book.)

To change the way others see you, first you have to learn to see yourself as others see you.

We all breathe. We don’t often do it consciously, but it’s something every person does as part of being a person. In and out the air goes as we go through our day, and we don’t really think about it.

Interacting with other people can be much the same for us. No, really. Think about the last time you went out to eat. The person that waited on you, what color were their eyes? Can you remember the color of their hair? Their name? Gender?

That interaction, as you ordered your food, pretty much happened by rote. Your process for choosing and ordering a meal followed a pattern that you have performed tens, if not hundreds of times before. Thought was occurring, but it followed an expected script in your mind. Your questions, statements, and responses were all comfortable, pleasant and, if we’re honest, impersonal.

Wait. What if the waiter wasn’t that pleasant? It should be no surprise that your responses (frustration, dissatisfaction, displeasure, etc.) also follow an expected, if less commonly trod, path. Those emotional responses and the actions (or inaction) that they inspire are selected with comfortable, unpleasant and, again, impersonal thought. They more or less just happen.

Over and over, common everyday interactions just occur, and the way we react to them are generally determined by the experience of previous everyday interactions. Reactive thought often travels the path of least resistance. And, here’s the big take away, all of this is instrumental in defining who we are.

You will be the same person tomorrow, next week, next month, next year and in 5, 10, 20 years except for two things – the people you meet and the books you read.

– Charlie “TREMENDOUS” Jones

I’m not saying we never change the way we do things. We obviously do. If we want to grow, we expose ourselves to new ideas.  We read interesting books and make new friends. New paths are cut through uncharted territory and we exercise our ability to respond a new way when a common situation arises. Change happens, and that’s good.

That type of change and growth does nothing, however, to give us a lens through which we can see ourselves as others see us. According to Rabbi Lapin, if we want to develop that kind of lens, we need to spend time practicing the interactive equivalent of breathing consciously. I’ll follow my usual pattern thus far, and give you a couple of points to consider regarding that activity.

1. Personal Evaluation. Interacting more consciously requires us to review our previous interactions and critique our behavior. The best way to begin to do this is to take some time at the end of each day before bed and consciously think through the conversations and decisions that you have faced. Put a cover over your ego and then honestly evaluate your feelings, conclusions and reactions. What do you feel conflicted about? What could you have done better? What do you need to correct? Seek out trusted friends and coworkers that can act as a sounding board when you need additional insight.

2. Personal Motivation. We need to understand the dual nature of ourselves – the divine and the animal. The emotions, conclusions and responses we most quickly come to are shaped by which nature we have spent more time nurturing. By understanding what drives those two natures, we can better understand what motivates our behavior. It’s in our best interest financially to respond more consistently to the healthier motivations. So, get to know your natures.

A few quotes from the chapter that stood out to me:

Modifying the real you for maximum effectiveness is what ancient Jewish wisdom advises its devotees. An entire body of ancient Jewish literature called Mussar, which means “redirecting,” teaches how to be different, rather than merely how to act differently.

He spoke of how each person is really made up of two different entities and that each entitiy wants something different for the person. “It is like riding a horse,” he said, ” the horse wants to go one way, or perhaps the horse prefers going nowhere. You, however, have a very definite destination in mind.” Now you must decide who is going to win, you or the horse? Who will command whom?

My horse says I shouldn’t stay up half the night writing. The man agrees, but doesn’t want to fail at the goal he’s set. The horse would also like a nice bowl of ice cream.

Should you wish to combat effectively the tendency of one part of your personality to drag you in damaging directions, try to understand motivations. As with any adversarial situation, it pays to know what is motivating the other side.

By understanding your own motivations, you can far more easily determine why you do things and how to change your conduct. After all, by remaining exactly the same today as you were yesterday, you are guaranteeing that tomorrow will be no better than today.

Unadulterated truth, right there.

Biblical figures are almost all larger-than-life, three-dimensional personalities. Although the Oral Torah describes many of them as fabulously wealthy, this does not usually emerge from the text. This is because wealth is considered to be the consequence of a life well lived, in the company and companionship of others doing the same, rather than a purpose of life in itself.

This statement is intriguing. I’m not advocating a Prosperity Gospel stance, here. I don’t think wealth, safety and comfort is any indicator that you are in the will of God. I just find it interesting that God gave certain people of “fabulous wealth” some extremely challenging and dangerous callings. It takes me back to the Parable of the Talents, and it puts an interesting spin on verse 29, “For whoever has will be given more, and they will have an abundance.” The words more and abundance may not always mean what you think they should.

There is never any circumstance that demands you become angry. Being angry means you are out of control. What causes anger? Arrogance. Show me someone who readily loses his temper and showers those around him with angry yells and insults, and I’ll show you a very arrogant man. Anger is the emotion you feel when you are not being treated with what you consider to be appropriate respect.

Stop showing your anger, and you will soon stop feeling it. In addition watch the arrogance factor. If you frequently feel anger it may be a useful arrogance barometer for you. The more you think of yourself, the less significant everyone else looks by comparison. And how dare such insignificant beings bother you!

If you’ve come here from the original book review, then you might remember me noting that there was one thing that I came away with that will change my life forever. This is it. It was unexpected, because I had never had anger explained to me in this way. Now, it makes perfect sense, and I find I have more control over my anger and by extension my arrogance.

That’s my take on Rabbi Lapin’s Third Commandment for Making Money. Keep looking here for my thoughts on the Fourth Commandment: Do Not Pursue Perfection. Don’t expect it until after Thanksgiving, though. Feel free to comment and share your thoughts and questions about this chapter, whether you’ve read the book or not. Thanks.

November 19, 2010 Posted by | Read and Reviewed, Work and Money | , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments