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The story of the rich young man who comes to Jesus seeking eternal life has been coming back to my mind over and over lately. (Mark 10:17-31)  It is a poignant message to our culture of consumerism and wealth accumulation. But more recently I have been asking questions of what Jesus might say to the church in the western world in this generation.  As so many congregations struggle with questions of property, ownership, resources and assets, I am grateful to be part of Living Stones and a mission that is ‘bare bones’ in terms of finances. Even so, being a church and serving as a missionary/pastor in Canada today still means that I have more wealth and benefits than my brothers and sisters in so many places across this globe.  As Living Stones grows and develops I long for us to put property and assets into a gospel place in our hearts, minds and priorities.

This young man was I assume, very sincere in his desire for eternal life. He had done all the works of the law to the best of his ability. Somehow though he either knew something was missing or was looking for confirmation that his actions were enough to please God.  He asked Jesus what he still needed to do.  Jesus saw into his heart and told him to sell everything, give it to the poor and then follow him.  The scripture tells us that he went away sad. This story in Mark’s gospel shows us the outcome of one of Jesus’ teachings in Luke’s gospel.  (Luke 12:16-34) Jesus told a parable about a rich man and his barns. He stored up so much wealth only to lose his life. Luke follows that with a number of sayings about not worrying; God’s provision; seeking first the kingdom; and finally the words “for where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” (v. 34)

Taken together, all of these passages are both challenging but also comforting for those of us called to stand for the truth of scripture, the authority of the Bible, the Lordship of Jesus Christ in ways that may jeopardize our resources and wealth as churches or individuals.  They challenge us as we wrestle with decisions between assets and properties and God’s call to us to be a faithful witness.  They should comfort us to know that the values of the kingdom are not the values of this world and that our awesome God, Creator of all that is good is able to keep us and promises that when we let go of what we have, we will gain so much more (along with persecutions) even in this life.

Though I do not want to focus on where we have come from but on where God is taking us, I hope that our story in the Cariboo can be an encouragement for you if you are facing decisions for the future.  When questions of changes in the doctrine and practice of the Presbyterian Church in Canada (PCC) arose, the elders in the Cariboo began to talk and pray about how we would respond if those changes were adopted.  It became clear quickly that we were of one mind and could not see ourselves functioning effectively for the gospel if we remained in the denomination.  As time went on that was confirmed by many actions of the church.  We knew from the beginning that to leave the PCC would mean giving up a large portion of the funding that was sustaining us as a mission.  We would be walking away from $75,000/year in grants and another nearly $20,000/year in other funding. Besides that, many people and churches who supported us financially could stop, leaving us in an economic crisis.  While we recognized these realities, it was not central to our decision-making process.  It was seen as part of the fall-out that was inevitable from a decision to leave, but not a factor in whether to leave.  We were grateful to have the fellowship of Living Stones to look forward to and invest in but realized that there might never be any funding from the movement in the way there was in the PCC to keep us afloat.  We knew we were to walk in faith and trust in the God who had led David and Linda Webber to move to the Cariboo over 30 years earlier with only 6 months of funding promised to start up the work.

I don’t want to give the impression that our decision was easy.  For Jon and I, Presbyterians for generations (5 for me) it was heart-wrenching.  All along the way however, God was making it clear that we were to step out in faith and see what God would do with our faithfulness.  As of November 1, 2022 we were no longer a mission of the PCC and instead were one of the first ministries in Living Stones.  We were prepared to have no funding for our stipends within 2 months of that transition.  Here we are 18 months later and seeing the great goodness of God in providing for us.  We finished 2023 with a deficit of only $14,000 – a miracle in our eyes having stepped away from so much more in PCC funding.  We are facing another test of faith this year as our expenses have returned to a normal level while donations are down leaving us with a significant deficit for this year already.  However, our elders are not responding with panic or fear, but with faith and trust that God can and will do all we need to continue to proclaim the gospel in our context.

I’m so thankful that buildings, trucks, assets etc did not become the focal point of our decision to follow the Lord’s leading in moving into Living Stones.  We are enjoying a freedom in our ministry because we are not tied to any of it even though 4X4 trucks and some finances are necessary to carry out our calling here.  So many scriptures remind us that we are to hold ‘lightly’ to the things that God blesses us with.  In the western church with our history of Christendom we have learned to depend on things that are not essential to living out the kingdom. Our grip can be tight which leaves our hands clenched rather than open to receive all that God has for us.  What is the good news worth to us in our comfortable situations in Canada?  Is it still a pearl of great price – one which we are willing to sell everything in order to gain?  Are we tempted to store up in barns or investment accounts what God has blessed us with but then lose it because we have to close the doors?  Is Jesus continuing to call the rich (most North Americans) to sell everything, give it to the poor and follow him?  My prayer for Living Stones and our churches is that we embrace that invitation so that we do not go away sad.

Our God can meet all our needs.  Buildings, property, bank accounts and assets are useful tools for us, but they are not the church.  They are not where our treasure is. They should never be where our hearts are.  Let’s together build a church that hears the call of Jesus Christ to follow him, seek first the kingdom and allow God to add all these things to us in God’s time, on God’s terms, and for God’s glory

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