Tagged ‘Faith‘

Stewardship and Contentment

Last week I returned from a trip to Central America. I was in Guatemala as part of a team from my home church to review several orphan care ministries with whom we were considering partnership. It was a privilege to see what God is doing there. In the coming days, I will write more about this trip. In all, it was a fantastic week.

By the time I flew home Saturday I was tired and not feeling well. I rested Sunday and then on Monday I dove into the pile of work in my office. I was still a bit drained, and my stomach was rumbling, but the workload was piling up swiftly. To complicate matters, several appliances in my home had broken while I was gone and urgently needed repair. Then a last minute invitation for an overseas ministry event arrived in the office. I needed to make decisions. I needed to order parts. I needed to purchase parts. At one point I was juggling three different text conversations at the same time. Then my laptop crashed. It felt to me like a sinkhole had opened up, and I was clawing in loose gravel to keep from sliding into the abyss. Okay, maybe that’s a bit dramatic, but you get the idea. It was not a good feeling!

By the time the dust had cleared, I had spent 30% of my savings in one day’s time. I was a bit shell-shocked. Like most of us, I have to carefully manage my resources. I try to plan ahead. I try to follow a budget. I try to keep a certain amount in reserve for emergencies. I try to earn extra income on the side to help with expenses. But then the ground shifts, and all of it can be wiped out in a moment.

By the time the laptop crashed for the third time, I figured out that God was trying to get my attention. Everything came to a stop as the screen suddenly went dark. I sat staring at the black hole that was my laptop as an eerie hush settled into the room. “Okay, God,” I said aloud, “what’s going on? What are you trying to tell me?”

I made a cup of coffee and settled into my chair to hear what he had to say.

God reminded me that I am supposed to live by faith. I made a commitment in 1997 that it would be God or nothing in my life. I could fill volumes with stories of God’s faithfulness since that point. It has been a miraculous journey as I have trusted him alone for my needs. But somehow lately I had forgotten that point. I take seriously the role of stewarding his resources. But I had made the mistake of becoming a better money manager than a steward. There is a difference. Let me explain.

Being a good money manager is relatively simple. Lots of people do this. You follow a budget, invest your resources for the best possible return, and plan for your retirement. You put together an emergency fund to cover six months’ worth of expenses. These are all good things for a money manager to do.

But being a steward is different. A steward is one who manages the resources of someone else. The steward does not actually own the resources he manages. The steward simply manages the assets in a way that will please the owner. A steward can be a good money manager, but a good money manager is not necessarily a good steward.

As a follower of Jesus, I am a steward of the resources God gives me to manage. I don’t actually own the resources he gives me to manage. I merely use his resources in a way that pleases him. Along the way, as I steward his things, he provides for my personal needs as well.

I think the reason the drain on my savings account hit me so hard was that I had forgotten that it wasn’t actually my savings account. I had unknowingly slipped over the line from steward to money manager. I had forgotten that I was managing God’s resources. Instead, I was frustrated because my plan for financial security was crumbling around me. I had forgotten that I was investing his resources in the way he wanted to invest them. When I use money management as a tool to provide a sense of security for myself, I cross a dangerous line. If my security is in anything but God, I am guilty of idolatry.

For me personally, the question was this: Have I used good money management to avoid having to live by faith? Ouch. It is such a subtle line to cross.

Being a good money manager is relatively easy. But being a good steward requires faith, and that can be daunting. Being a steward means that God may put me in a situation that does not make sense to me as a money manager. I have to have faith that God knows better than I do how to manage my life and ministry. God may lead me to give away the home I live in or to give away everything I have in the bank. If you are a good money manager, none of this would make sense. But when you understand stewardship, then it all becomes clear. And while it may be clear, it is not always easy. Naturally, I do not want to be in a position where I have no real control. But do we really have any control at all? Are we not all at the mercy of God’s kind hand? Are we not all moments away from financial ruin if he so chooses? How misguided we can be!

In Guatemala I visited the home of some folks who knew what it means to have next to nothing. Their homes consisted of tarps stretched over tree branches that had been stuck into the muddy ground. I don’t have the space to tell all the details here. But these people had nothing except the clothes they were wearing and food for that day. When I remember them, I can’t help but think of what Paul wrote in his first letter to his friend Timothy. This is what he said:

“Now there is great gain in godliness with contentment, for we brought nothing into the world, and we cannot take anything out of the world. But if we have food and clothing, with these we will be content” (1 Timothy 6:6-8, ESV).

I hope this could be said about me.

I understand the human element of living by faith and being a steward. I know what it feels like to live with that tension between money management and stewardship. I understand the importance of contentment in every circumstance. In those moments when we feel like the ground is giving way and we are losing our grip, we can let go and find that he is waiting to catch us.

I am grateful to tell you that all these challenges did, in fact, work out for good. I booked the flights. The appliances have all been repaired. I am well rested and feeling better. And, most importantly, I am once again stewarding the riches of God’s kindness to me instead of trying to be a better money manager. I brought nothing into this world, and I will take nothing out of it. If I have food and clothing, with these I will be content.

This article was originally published in the November 2015 Newsletter.

Reflecting on the faithfulness of God

It doesn’t seem possible, but this month marks the completion of 25 years of itinerant ministry. I am dumbfounded when I consider all that God has done. A lot has changed in the past 25 years, and as I look ahead, I can see God changing things again. But as I look back, one thing has been consistent. God has been faithful. He has been faithful to meet all of my needs and the needs of the ministry as I have learned to follow him by faith. It is his faithfulness and kindness that I rely upon.

Most recently God provided in a very dramatic way.

In September, I wrote about how a sense of weariness has crept into my life over the past couple of years. I’ve grown weary of being on the road, schlepping through airports, waiting in line at rental car counters, checking in and out of hotels, and staying in homes, all while traveling to churches and ministries across five continents.

At the same time, the ministry has faced some significant challenges behind the scenes. With the problems in the US economy beginning in 2008, the total number of ministry events I do each year has decreased. During this same period, donations to the ministry have fallen sharply as well. At times I wondered if God were redirecting me somehow. Perhaps it was time to close down the ministry. I looked at a variety of other options but felt no leading from God. The weariness continued to grow.

At some point early this year, I considered taking some time off from travel to focus on the writing side of the ministry. I had started a new book last year but it was only partially completed. The idea of a sabbatical made sense. I could take some time off to focus on finishing the book. But while the time off the road was attractive, I also had to consider the consequences of no ministry events for six months. How would my financial needs be met if there were no income from live events? I considered renting out my house. I looked at a lot of other options. I put off making a decision because I just didn’t know what to do.

Finally, this past August I was able to take a week of vacation with friends. During that time I rested deeply. I didn’t do any work on my laptop, no email, and no ministry events for 7 days. It was so refreshing. But on Friday of that week I started to feel a sense of melancholy setting in. By Saturday, the day I was supposed to fly home, I was depressed. I did not want to go back to my reality at home. I realized at that time that I needed a break from the road and needed to make a decision one way or the other regarding the sabbatical.

I wanted to wait until the end of October to make the decision because then I would have a better idea of where I stood financially. I could look at the money in the bank and make my decision based on whether the funds were available or not. But God doesn’t work that way with me. Instead, he clearly said to me “No, Tim, you make that decision based on whether or not you feel I am leading you to do that and then you trust me for the finances.” And so at the end of August I took some time to fast and pray about the sabbatical. It was important to me to know that God was leading me to do this because I have never closed the calendar in twenty five years of ministry. It was a significant decision for me.

Very quickly into the fast I could tell God was leading me to do this. Once I had a clear word from God, I went online and cleared the calendar on the website. It was official. I would take a 6-month writing-sabbatical beginning in mid-November following my last scheduled ministry event for the year. At the time I made the decision, there was only enough money in the bank to cover the expenses for 2 months. I had no idea how we would make it.

What happened next was stunning. In twenty five years of ministry, I have never seen anything like it. Within 30 days of my making the decision to take the sabbatical, God provided all of the funds needed to cover our operating expenses for the entire sabbatical! And it wasn’t with one large donation. It was many small donations from individuals moved by the Holy Spirit to give. I can’t explain it except to say that God has shown his faithfulness in a remarkable way.

It was an incredible encouragement to me personally. When God provided financially in the dramatic way that he did, it was as if he were putting an exclamation point behind his name “Faithful!”. He was clearly telling me, “I have you in the palm of my hand.” The confirmation that he was indeed leading me to take the writing-sabbatical was significant. It gave me incredible confidence to move forward with the writing of the book.

I share this with you to remind you of the faithfulness of God. I also want you to have an idea of what I see God doing behind the scenes and to ask you to pray for me during this time. I value your prayer support. I believe the Holy Spirit will guide you into how you can best pray. I have been praying that God would give me influence over all of North America. I am passionate to see the church in North America returning to God. I believe the book will challenge many folks to love God with utter abandon and to love others selflessly. I continue to believe that if we would just do those two things, everything would change. Our lives would change. Our churches would change. Our world would change. All for the better.

This past week, I read one of David’s psalms and it ministered to me deeply. It is Psalm 103. I encourage you to read the entire Psalm. But let me share just a few verses with you that spoke to me personally.

“The LORD is merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. He will not always chide, nor will he keep his anger forever. He does not deal with us according to our sins, nor repay us according to our iniquities. For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his steadfast love toward those who fear him; as far as the east is from the west, so far does he remove our transgressions from us. As a father shows compassion to his children, so the LORD shows compassion to those who fear him. For he knows our frame; he remembers that we are dust” (Psalm 103:8-14, ESV).

Now you may think this is an odd passage to share when I have been writing about the faithfulness of God. But what jumped out at me is the line “he remembers that we are dust.” I am not God. I do not think like God. I cannot make my life work apart from God. But he is kind. He is faithful. He remembers that I was created out of the dust of the earth. He is okay with my just being Tim and his being God. He knows when I am weary. He knows when I need to crawl up into his lap to be held by him, and in his faithfulness he provides a way for me to do that.

I need a God like that.

Today, I don’t know what is going on in your world. Perhaps you need to be reminded that God is faithful. He does not treat us as we deserve. Instead, he gives us grace, mercy, forgiveness, and love. He knows what is going on in your life. He is aware. He faithfully takes care of his own when we rely upon him. His name is Faithful!

I don’t know what the next 25 years of the ministry will look like. I don’t know what God has planned to achieve through the writing of the new book. I do know that whatever lies ahead, God will be faithful, and that is enough for me. I’m content to follow him one day at a time, to love him, and to love others out of the overflow of his love and faithfulness to me.

This article was originally published in the November 2013 Newsletter.