• Steven Marsh

Giving–Budgets and Values: a Reflection on Psalm 19, James 3:1-12, Mark 8:27-38, and Proverbs

Say no to say yes. According to an unknown source, “Being lost is living by a set of values that systematically dismantles your life.”[1]We need values that guide our thoughts, words, and deeds. Loving God. Loving others. Two values Christians hold dearly. And, Jesus told us that they are the greatest commandment. But, we need to learn to say no to say yes.

There is wisdom here, my friends. Remember, wisdom is knowledge that has proven the test of time. I find wisdom compelling, in that it beckons me to keep hearing its voice searching me out, calling me to a deeper experience of God and others, and challenging me to trust the leading of the Holy Spirit. I hear wisdom’s voice propelling me to respond not react in the public square as racism continues to raze its ugly head as it did at the Aliso Niguel and Santa Ana football game on September 7 at Aliso Niguel High School; at intersections when a driver gets angry at me for not driving fast enough; and the busy workplace where the bottom line temps me to compromise my values. More and more, I hear the challenging voice of the Spirit to say no to react to say yes to respond in the way of Jesus.

When it comes to give for the sake of others, wisdom is essential. At the foundation of God’s wisdom about giving fully of ourselves rests this truth from God’s Word. Proverbs 1:32-33 reads, “For waywardness kills the simple, and the complacency of fools destroys them; but those who listen to me will be secure and will live at ease, without dread of disaster.” Note these important initiatives of wisdom. First, wisdom always shows up in a moment of need. On October 2, 2006, a killer entered the one-room schoolhouse in the Amish community of Nickel Mines, Pennsylvania. The killer lined up ten young girls and shot each of them at point blank range. Five were killed. In that moment of need, wisdom beckoned the members of that community to forgive and not seek revenge. Second, when we do not listen to wisdom the intended and unintended consequences of panic overtake us. And third, when we forget the ways of God’s wisdom, we often end up saying and doing things we regret. Wisdom consistently shows up and pleads with us to say no to reactive behavior and yes to responsive behavior. Wisdom leads us to a budgeted wallet of intellectual, emotional, spiritual, and financial capital so we can avoid being overdrawn or spent.[2]Our lives are Christian wallets. H. James Hopkins writes, “To walk in wisdom is demanding. The promise that wisdom makes when she says that good things come to those who walk with her needs to be qualified by the words ‘often,’ ‘sometimes,’ and ‘it is not surprising when.’”[3]

Oh, we often say yes to things that we resent. Why do we have such a difficult time saying no? Oh, we don’t want to hurt someone’s feelings. We don’t want to be irresponsible. We don’t…say no for a variety of reasons. Ah, for the very same reasons, we often do not say yes, either. You know, we only have so much time in a day. We better examine our values and budget time for the things for which we have passion and our spiritual gifts match, so that when we say yes, we are more confident how the yes fits in to the grand scheme of God’s will. Mike Slaughter in The Christian Wallet emphasizes the importance of budgeting with a strong inference to all aspects of life, not just money, when he writes, “It’s common sense that you can’t reach a destination or hit a target that you haven’t identified, and budgeting is no exception.”[4]We need to budget all aspects of our lives around God’s passion and gifts in us for use in our relationships with God and others. The baseline in Psalm 19 is that the goodness, glory, and wisdom of God give us dignity as humans and lead us into yeses (responses) of gratitude. Haddon Robinson, a fine Christian and professor of homiletics and preaching writes,

Dorothy Sayers, the mystery writer, was also a devoted Christian. Dorothy Sayers was attempting to explain the moral law of God. She pointed out that in our society there are two kinds of laws. There is the law of the stop sign, and there’s the law of the fire. The law of the stop sign is a law that says the traffic is heavy on a certain street, and as a result the police department or the city council decides to erect a stop sign. They also decide that if you run that stop sign, it will cost you $25 or $30 or $35. If the traffic changes, they can up the ante. That is if too many people are running the stop sign, they can make the fine $50 or $75, or if they build a highway around the city, they can take the stop sign down, or reduce the penalty, making it only $10 if you go through. The police department or city council controls the law of the stop sign. But then she said there is also the law of the fire. And the law of the fire says if you put your hand in the fire, you’ll get burned. Now imagine that all the legislatures of all the nations of the entire world gathered in one great assembly, and they voted unanimously that here on out that fire would no longer burn. The first man or woman who left that assembly and put his or her hand in the fire would discover that the law of the fire is different than the law of the stop sign. Bound up in the nature of fire itself is the penalty for abusing it. So, Dorothy Sayers says, the moral law of God is like the law of the fire. You never break God’s laws; you just break yourself on them. God can’t reduce the penalty, because the penalty for breaking the law is bound up in the law itself.[5]

Loving God. Loving Others. It is the law of God. Say no to say yes to a budgeted life that loves God and others. And a budgeted life, like the writer of James states, is steady in its practice of faith. What? That’s right, saying no to say yes brings equilibrium to our craziness. Will we say no to our ways to say yes to God’s ways? The radical truth of Jesus will not confirm the Jesus we try to shape him to be. As Jesus told Peter in the Gospel reading, we are to deny ourselves, pick up the cross and follow Jesus in his way of life. Jesus shows us how to say no to a life of self-promotion to say yes to a life of self-giving. Say no to say yes.

[1]This quote is of unknown origin; submitted by Lee Eclov, Vernon Hills, Illinois. The citation is found on http://www.preachingtoday.com.

[2]Some ideas in this paragraph were encouraged by H. James Hopkins in David L. Bartlett and Barbara Brown Taylor, editors, Feasting on the Word, Year B, Volume 4 (Louisville, Kentucky: Westminster John Knox Press, 2009), 51, 53, and 55.

[3]Ibid., 55.

[4]Mike Slaughter, The Christian Wallet (Louisville, Kentucky: Westminster John Knox Press, 2016), 24.

[5]Taken from Haddon Robinson, “Crafting Illustrations,” PreachingToday.com.

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