Tag Archives: investment

Four blue words about making the most of your money

The death of Antonin Scalia has people talking about his legacy. Most of the comments start with “love him or hate him, he made an impact.” An oAntonin Sclaiap-ed in the New York Times says: Justice Scalia’s most important legacy will be his “originalism” and “textualism” theory. But it also says his attitude of calling opponents “idiotic” or worse may also be as memorable. He often made a point that recycled a 19th century slogan about Native Americans:  “The only good Constitution is a dead Constitution” — that may also be the kind of thing history recalls.

Scalia and ReaganWhen Ronald Reagan nominated Scalia in 1986 I was not thinking too clearly about my legacy. I was creating one, but I was a bit in denial about being actually responsible for it. I was the father of toddlers and in the throes of planting a church, so I had a lot to influence. But I consciously left the future in God’s hands and lived as radically as I could imagine. I am sure I also thought my opponents were idiotic at times. As a result, a lot of good happened and no small amount of bad. I think I could have used some more consciousness about what I was trying to build that others might live in.

I always say things like “We’re not building the pyramids here,” meaning that we know we are being shaped by God all the time; what we do is temporal and subject to development, like we as people are subject. But that can be taken too far, since we are made to influence one another and what we do also has eternal value, or at least long-lasting ill-affect. So I am glad we have a seminar coming up this weekend that will teach us about considering our legacy a little bit. It is called The Color of Money: Blue. Blue is the color of water, the season of the Way of Jesus devoted to people who are exploring the depths of being a Jesus follower. What do mature Christians do with their money? What legacy will they leave?

Last year the Capacity Core Team did some good thinking about money. Some of it will be worked in to the upcoming seminar. They came up with four words that I think we all have to ponder when we are making decisions about what to do with our money and what our money might do for others.

Four words to ponder when making money decisions

Character. How we use our money is a sure indicator of whether we are acting out of our true self in Christ, or not. Our goal is to become a sharer, like God. Most of the time, if we have a twenty in our hand, a choice is being made. That might be why our creditors love paperless, automated systems, so we never see that money at all and can’t figure out what is going on! We like not knowing, too, since it is hard to be responsible and the machine makes us think everything is taken care of.

Community. Having a common fund with the other believers is such tangible faithing that it is irreplaceable. It might shape us more than anything else; sharing like that quickens latent discipleship. Not sharing like that is also shaping everyone staying on the outside, right now. Being a sharer implies that we have a personal connection with someone. Bill Gates is a sharer too, but mostly with spreadsheets, with masses. We are sharers with each other, first. Our common fund is the basic tool of our love since it is built with love. Building one makes us something even as we are making it.

Resistance. We’re taught a lot about money in this society/economy that oppresses us. Basic money management rules never change: Spending less than you earn will always be beneficial. Investing your money will always be better than doing nothing with it. And planning for the future will always be better than blowing your paycheck as soon as you get it. But in the U.S. those management ideas are usually applied to becoming wealthy not pursuing God. Some of us resist the pursuit of wealth by refusing to seriously deal with finances. Some of us resist resisting and try to Christianize the pursuit of wealth, or at least avoid talking about our preoccupation with it. Alternatively, we want to have a godly resistance, not just resistance of some sort. We need to address the use of money (which is a subject often laden with taboo or fully enslaved to some godless philosophy) with love and in the presence of God.

Investment. This is a very “blue” word, since it implies that you have something to invest: a character that makes godly choices, a community that is worth your heart, a conviction that frees you from slavery to the world’s ways and an imagination about what might be growing. Investing money is about creating wealth for most people — that is the goal of capitalism, right? But investment should be about one’s spiritual legacy: What we are given to give to the world? What is our best shot at moving transformation along? Investment is about building something that is bigger than just our own wealth. Our church is our most immediate “something” that we build together. But that tool we have builds something bigger than itself, too. We can see what it builds when we explore what our investment in MCC does, or when we can dare to spend our savings to plant another congregation, or in how we invest in the lives of our leaders and staff and manage to maintain our properties.

Sharing money is where we answer two of the most important questions in life: “Where do I belong?” and “Am I important?” Sharing what we have expresses our unity within the body and in our common purpose. What we have matters because we each matter. We need each other. Without each other we wither.

Antonin Scalia spent his whole life trying to get the cap back on the societal bottle that blew its top in the 1970’s.  Most Christians have been doing the same thing, in vain, right alongside him — no doubt some with great motives. We, as Circle of Hope, have been trying to do something else. Like our song says, we like that “new wine.” It is not new like it is an innovation. It is new because the world is, like Scalia said, a bit “idiotic” and life with God seems new to us. Each generation needs its own taste of the new life Jesus is bringing to an ever-dying world. How we handle our money is a great test of the faith we bring to living in that world. How we share is one of the most tangible ways we get to demonstrate that something new in the world is not only possible, it is being built.

My own embarrassment of riches

Both of Gwen’s parents died in 2012. The loss changed our lives in significant ways. One of the greatest changes was financial. After surviving since we were eighteen by our own ingenuity and living most of our marriage in something of a voluntary poverty, we got slammed with a significant boatload of money to manage. Now, among the things my spiritual director and friends hear about, are the new experiences Gwen and I are having, now that her inheritance from her parents has arrived. My director convinced me to embrace it and see where God is taking me now rather than avoid or resent the new reality.


The embarrassment of riches is upon me. For a year I have been keeping our new circumstances mostly to myself, just like you keep your finances to yourself. But, I recently rediscovered that I live in a pastor fish bowl and most people who were interested were peering right into my decisions. So I might as well talk about what other people have been talking about. While I am not sure you need to know everything about me; I’d also hate for my loved ones to get the wrong idea because I just left them alone to make things up for themselves.


Even before we received this windfall, I felt unspeakably rich. The $90K house we bought when we moved to Philly got Penntrified. When we bought it, our boys were all teenagers living with us, plus a single guy moved to Philly with us, and a family of four moved in to help with our church planting effort. Later on we invested most of our savings in a building for Circle Counseling and it got gentrified, too. Then we used equity from our house to buy a home for Shalom House and even that building went up in value. Most of our investment has been in our mission. We were major donors to Broad and Washington’s rehab, too. As a boy who grew up with parents who were straight off hard-scrabble farms, I felt wealthy beyond my expectations. As a Jesus follower who had taken constant financial risks to fulfill my calling, I felt like the Lord had taken care of me very well.


Now we have even more wealth to consider — and I find that others are considering it, too. I am a little uncomfortable dealing with it in public, but God called me to have my faith in public, just like you, and I ended up a pastor to boot. So I hope what I do doesn’t make Jesus look too bad. It’s not that I think everything I do can be or should be an example someone should follow — but what I do gets noticed. As one of your leaders, you can discern whether what I do is imitating Christ and then imitate me.  As far as how I handle our inheritance, I don’t think we have all the answers yet for you to imitate. But I am sure you will help us figure them out.

General investment principles

We have a couple of general principles we’ve been working with so far. We don’t trust the stock market and most retirement funds because we think they are run by the one percent for their own profit. I like to buy property and to see how debt free I can get it so that when the system collapses on its bloated self, at least we will all have some place to live. So we decided to put most of what we inherited in useful pieces of property. The properties also seemed like good places to store up some of the inheritance for the uncertain future of our grandchildren. Some of them might be in need later on. We have already decided on two properties. They are what I discovered many of you have been talking about


The first piece we bought with the new inheritance money was a retreat in the Poconos. It is on a gigantic swimming-pool of a lake on a little, wooded road called Hallowood Drive: the holy wood drive. We see it as a great place to contemplate, and we already laid out the outline for a labyrinth in a little meadow. It is also the clan’s vacation home and has a bed for everyone, if we can get them all together.


The second building we are working on buying has been condemned to rezoning and is expected to be redeemed on June 17. We decided to invest in another site for Circle Counseling, which has grown to full capacity in West Philly. It is at 1226 South Broad, just a block away from Broad and Washington’s meeting place. Not only will this allow us to engage new counselors (some we may have in our own network!), we may be able to incorporate some Christians who are doing a good work on their own and would like to join in with us. It also gives room for Gwen to create an institute to explore how Christians use psychotherapy and for us to provide a more professional level of spiritual direction.


When I was digging in to this story with my spiritual director, at one point his face kind of wrinkled up in puzzlement. I think I was expressing my fears about what spending money looked like to others. How I talked about it concerned him, and how he talked to me sort of calmed me down. Basically, I liked the righteousness of relative poverty more than I like this embarrassment of riches. But talking about where I find myself now made me remember Romans 14:8: “If we live, we live for the Lord; and if we die, we die for the Lord. So, whether we live or die, we belong to the Lord.” That goes for being rich or poor, too. Whether we are rich or poor, we belong to the Lord.