(Zacchaeus) "If I have cheated anyone, I will pay him back four times as much." Luke 19:8
I have been teaching Integrity and Finance this past week at the Africa Theological Seminary in Kenya, and next week I will start teaching it at the Evangelical Theological College in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. In the meantime, I'm receiving homework assignments daily from Nigeria where I taught the class. I'm getting lots of exposure from multiple countries and denominations on this subject.
I really hate to say how much I am seeing that this course is needed. Pastors who are learning so much about theology, know very little about record-keeping, finances, budgets, and the like. The finance part of this course is so important if pastors want to achieve the strategic plan of the church, which is often prayed over intensely, but then needs to be lined up in the budget and planned for in order for it to be successful. But too many students tell me that budgets indicate a lack of faith. That God will provide. That budgets constrain the Holy Spirit. And so we go to Luke 14 where Jesus is talking about the cost of being a disciple, but his example has to do with building a building without planning and when unable to finish it, the person is ridiculed. Not to mention the hundreds of other texts throughout the Bible where we are advised on how to handle money. There are more than 2300 verses on money, I'm told. It was Jesus' most talked about topic in the parables. It matters.
I teach personal budgeting as well as organizational budgeting, and some of my students have 75% of their income going toward debt. That's right. 75%. I was told that the only financial teaching that their parents gave them was this: "Once you get a job, join a savings and loan group so that you can get loans." A culture of loans. Almost everyone is carrying multiple loans and they take loans to pay other loans. Loans are taken for consumption (school fees, household furniture, etc) - things that don't bring back more profit. It's much more insidious than I knew. It breaks my heart because I know the burden and sense of bondage that these loans bring.
One of the pastors in my class this past week shared how convicted he was through this class - not only for himself and his personal finances, but also for the lack of teaching his members how to have financial integrity, yet the church continues to ask for tithes and offerings. He is determined to change this, and will start by teaching the men's ministry in his church.
But beyond the need to teach finances, integrity is also an issue. We look at how a conscience is developed, and the impact of culture, education, and society on our conscience. We look at the definition of integrity, "the alignment of our inner character with our outer character regardless of consequences" and look at what God says about integrity. There is often a culture of corruption in places where there is much poverty, with the idea that "I must do it to survive" at the root of it, but as we develop that practice, our conscience begins to change to believe that it is actually right.
But where-ever we are, there are temptations to take short-cuts, to skim off the top, to take something here or there that doesn't belong to us. I love this story from Rick Warren as it relates to making restitution and I think it's something all of us can examine ourselves for so that we too can have a clear conscience before God. 2 Corinthians 8:21 encourages us to do what is right not only in the eyes of the Lord but also in the eyes of man. Read Rick Warren's story:
A number of years ago, I decided that more than anything else in my life I wanted God's blessing. I wanted God to bless and use my life. I sat down and said, "If I'm going to do this, I've got to clear up my past and make restitution with some people. God, will you help me remember the people I need to make things right with?" I started making a list and the list was about three pages. It was amazing when I asked God to help me remember. He did! I remembered things that I had forgotten for years. Things that went clear back to childhood. Like the time I used to rip off my sister Shandell's piggy bank. Every week she was putting the money in and every week I was taking the money out. God said you need to get that right. It's pretty embarrassing for a grown man to go to his sister and say, "I was ripping off your piggy bank." but I did it.
And there were other things, like when I was a teenager with some other teenagers in a car and accidently backed into a car in a parking lot and smashed in their fender. We didn't stay around. We just split. We were scared. I said that I'm going to go back to the police station in that town and see if I can find that traffic report, find that person and repay them.
Maybe you need to make a list. Maybe you need to say, "God I want to have a clear conscience before you and before man." Maybe you need to wrap up some stuff and mail it back, put it in UPS; maybe there are some items you need to return: office supplies, books, DVDs, CDs, your neighbor's ladder, motel towels, whatever. Maybe you need to write a check -- or so it will be anonymous, a money order -to an employer and say, "I took some supplies". I would suggest you use it as a witnessing opportunity, send a letter, a note, with it. You don't have to sign it. You can send a money order to your employer and say, "I am making restitution for ________________ because I am a follower of Jesus Christ and I want to do what's right." Sign it underneath, "A cleared conscience." You can't buy that kind of feeling. The freedom and joy that comes from a clear conscience. You can't buy it and I can't explain it to you - the joy of knowing that I can go into any city in America and say "I am Rick Warren and I have no skeletons in my closet. I have nothing that I have not dealt with, nothing to hide." That is confidence when you know that nobody is looking over your shoulder and you're wondering if it's going to hit the front pages tomorrow. You know that everything in your life has been dealt with. There is no greater feeling. To know that nobody can accuse you. Make restitution.
Graduation at Africa Theological Seminary yesterday, where I serve as an adjunct faculty. Beautiful day!