Here is a post from a friend of mine on a message board I belong to regarding money:
Someone wrote: ‘I love my country….but sometimes I wonder if I love it *too much*! Would I be willing to give it up for the Gospel of Jesus Christ? Would I be willing to live under a bad government if that was God’s way of shaking up the church and ultimately spreading the Gospel? I fear that many of us don’t want to give up these ‘American’ luxuries!'”
Dear Brother,Thank you for your thoughts. You state something I have wrestled with a lot: the seductive power of material wealth and the numbing power of political security. I began my first course in the theology of wealth back in 1957.When my father’s sister died without any children, her estate was divided according to a formula she devised in the nineteen-sixties: one fourth to each of her three brothers, and the last fourth divided among her nine nieces and nephews. How well I remember being at her home back in late 1957. Her husband died on Christmas Eve, and the whole family came to Marlboro County in South Carolina — it was an odd Christmas holiday. While my aunt was mourning back in her bed room, her three brothers were going through their dead brother-in-law’s safe, adding up stock certificates and bonds. They were not secretive about it, and this went on for more than a day. They all loved their older sister deeply — she was a good deal older than her brothers, ten years older than my father, and was more of a mother than a sister to them. She had just gotten over breast cancer a couple of years before, with a double mastectomy, and she was now sixty-one and not expected to live long. But she lived to see the next Christmas.I learned a lot from what I saw and heard. During that Christmas friends and neighbors brought lots of food: pies and cakes and hams and fried chicken. We ate like kings, and my father and his two brothers sat, ate and counted somebody else’s money. As we drove back to Myrtle Beach, my older brother said to my father, “Daddy, you sure look fat.””Rich people are always fat, Son.” my father replied. I never forgot it.From that Christmas on, my father’s relationship with his sister was different. He still loved her deeply, sometimes I think more than anyone on earth, but her wealth and his quarter of it was never out of his mind. If I heard him say it once, I must have heard him say a thousand times, “When my ship comes in . . . this.” “When my ship comes in . . . that.” Up until my uncle’s death on Christmas Eve 1957, I never remember my father talking about money. I remember him as a relatively happy man who was pretty much content with what he had.Disneyland had opened in California a couple of years before. Some time later I asked: “Daddy, why don’t we take a vacation like other people?” “We don’t have any money, Robert, but when my ship comes in, we will.” It dawned on me early on that my father really always loved his big sister, but he always looked forward to her death, too. Unlike his two brothers and my mother’s siblings, Daddy never was a wealthy man, and it bothered him. His love for his sister’s money was like a thicket of thorns that grew up and choked his love for his kind and precious big sister. That love never died, but my father’s heart was divided and he halted between a desire to be rich and a deep affection for his sister. From Christmas 1957 on, my father’s relationship with his only sister was paradoxical. He found no release from it until he embraced another paradox.+One of my mother’s sisters was very wealthy, and my father and mother sometimes talked about her. Both Mama and Daddy came from long time Presbyterian stock, and this aunt, a daughter of the manse, had become a Roman Catholic. After I was converted to Christ, I began to feel a burden for people around me, and during my sophomore year in college I wrote a long letter to this aunt in Virginia, pleading with her to come to Christ. She was incensed and mailed my letter to another aunt with a cover note: “Can you believe what that little Robert Vincent wrote to me?” My other aunt shared it with my parents. Years passed and this aunt died. One day my father and mother were visiting with me from South Carolina; Daddy and I were walking around in the back yard of the manse, and Daddy said, “I’d have gotten some of Ann’s money if you hadn’t written that damned letter.” But he never got a penny from my mother’s sister. Nor from his — Daddy’s ship never came in because his sister lived to see forty-one more Christmases after 1957! She outlived all three of her brothers and died at one hundred, two and a half in March of 1999. I was with my Daddy when he died. The day before I told him that the doctor said he wasn’t going to make it. His response was, “I know, Robert. I can’t help it.” He died on Saturday night, September 26, 1987. Most of his dreams had died before him. Because of health, my parents had moved to Louisiana in 1983, leaving my father’s beloved South Carolina where his people had lived since the sixteen hundreds. My brilliant mother who once taught at Vanderbilt University now suffered from senile dementia. My older brother, a graduate of the Air Force Academy, had died two years before. I had to tell my parents before I flew to Georgia to do my brother’s funeral. In part because my brother owed my father some money and things had always been a bit strained between my parents and my brother’s wife, Daddy’s last words to me as I left him and Mama were: “Check on my damned money.” My father died without assets other than his monthly retirement check from the state of South Carolina and Social Security. His home had to be sold to take care of his and my mother’s medical problems. And his son whom he used to tell was going to be the next Billy Graham, was the pastor of a small Presbyterian congregation that went through a split before my father’s eyes the year before he died — he was embarrassed about it when he talked to his sister. Yet in his poverty, my father found the treasure hidden in the field. For the last four and a half years of his life, my father sat under Bible exposition that aimed at his conscience rather than under the Rotary Club, fifteen minute, moral pep talks given during Sunday morning worship at the Presbyterian Church where he had served as an elder for decades. Finally, preaching that focused on the person and work of Christ and that went out of its way to stress that we are right with God by God’s grace alone, received through faith alone, purged his mind of the moralistic drivel of our somewhat liberal minister. My father, a life-long Presbyterian who had been taught that he was always a Christian, finally abandoned the rags of his own righteousness, repented and put his trust in Christ alone for salvation — clothed at last in the spotless robes of Christ’s own righteousness.The night he died, I read the Bible to him. The last place from which I read as Revelation 21 and 22. As I closed this description of the Holy City, with its gates of pearl and streets of gold, my father spoke his last words: “I see it. I see it.” He never spoke again but went fast asleep and died about an hour later.My aunt lived on for over a decade. All three of her brothers pre-deceased her so my father’s portion went to my niece and nephew and to me. I inherited enough money to buy a home of my own. Right after I found out from her attorney the amount of money I would inherit, I was in the eighth chapter of Luke in my daily Greek reading. (It’s been my custom for many years to read and not move on until I can read the chapter without helps — a testimony to failing memory because I can’t retain it when I get back there several years later.) Well, here I was about to inherit what was for me a huge sum of money — by many people’s standards, not a lot, but it was enough to make a really big down payment so that a house note could be affordable on our budget. (Up to that time, we had always lived in a manse and had never had the means to scrape together enough money to put a down payment on a home of our own.) This knowledge weighed on my mind, and I began to feel conflicted, especially when I read Luke 8:14 days in a row and wasn’t able to skim over it the way I could if it were in English, “The seed that fell among thorns stands for those who hear, but as they go on their way they are choked by life’s worries, riches and pleasures, and they do not mature.” Also, for the next few months, no matter where I read in Scripture, words about money seemed to be written with neon ink.I wrestled and finally sought the counsel of a rich man whom I knew could handle money — they are few and far between. I asked him: “____, how do you deal with the seductive power of money?”His response has stuck with me. After a long pause, he said, “There’s only one way: you’ve got to give lots of it away very regularly. Otherwise it gets a hold on you.”The following year what my wife and I had prayed for for years, we finally got: a home of our own. On Saturday, July 1st, 2000, our prayers were answered, and we moved into our home http://www.rbvincent.com/Our_Home.htm. We are still paying for it, but Deo volente, when I reach seventy, we’ll own it outright. Fearing my paradoxical spiritual legacy, we have tried to possess it loosely, finding some resolution in another paradox.+ After all, the Bible does not teach the private ownership of property; it teaches the private stewardship of God’s property. So we let it be known, far and wide, that God had freely given us a house, and we have freely opened our doors to many people since we moved in . . . one of the most interesting of whom was a Korean family displaced from New Orleans in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. This family of four lived with us for two months. He was a Baptist minister working on a Ph.D. in New Testament at New Orleans Baptist Seminary, but I later learned that he already had a Ph.D. in nuclear physics and had left directing South Korea’s nuclear program to preach. No matter how early I woke up, I always heard him out in the yard, praying or singing in Korean. Even though I had to speak to him through his children, my life was profoundly blessed by his presence. Sometimes I almost felt as if I had to remove my shoes when I walked out in my yard where he had sat and knelt before God. I have never felt afraid sleeping in a house with an open door to strangers; I have felt profoundly secure and enriched. But even with all that, I still find this plant growing up, and I have to weed the garden of my heart regularly lest this weed choke out my love for Jesus and his people. There are times that I’ve worried because I now have to think about my roof when it springs a leak. Whereas, in the past all I had to do was call the deacon who was the chairman of the Property Committee, now I have to tend to this and figure out how to pay for it. Sometimes I’ve fretted because I didn’t put my property taxes and insurance into the house note, and I didn’t know how I was going to make the deadlines — I always have by God’s grace, as he has heard my prayers. But even with all that, I can sometimes hear the quiet creaking in the walls of my house as the tentacles of this noxious plant grow up into the planks, its deep roots and tiny tendrils prying their way into my home and heart. But it isn’t just material things that cause this plant’s tendrils to grow. Beyond the icy cold soil of things, there are people, even my spouse and children, my position, my country — these, too, nourish this choking weed. When I think of the grip of this world, I have often thought of Cotton Mather’s admonition to love the world with weaned affections.+ Being an American is so very comfortable. I can write critical pieces about the current Administration’s foreign policy and not have to fear the boots of the Cheka kicking in my door, at least not tonight. I love my country with its great beauty, variegated people, material abundance and Bill of Rights, but I, too, fear that it is not good soil for growing real Christians. When I think about the Church becoming Wal-Marted and John Maxwell’s leadership books replacing Scripture, I wonder if all Christians have built here after almost four hundred years won’t prove in the end to be mostly wood, hay and stubble.May God grant it not be true for me, but I live with a keen awareness that that such a building is dazzling from a distance and a real danger to me.
Cordially in Christ,