Ask a Pastor Ep. 54 - Personal Devotions, Cremation vs. Burial, Managing Wealth

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This episode our Strip Disctrict Campus Pastor, Joel Haldeman, talks with Butler County Campus Pastor, Brady Randall, about having personal devotions and quiet time, the debate between cremation vs. burial, and managing your wealth.

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Transcript

This is an auto-generated transcript. Please excuse any errors.

Joel Haldeman: Hey and welcome to our podcast Ask a Pastor. We are answering questions that people write in about theology and life and faith. If you have a question, we would love to receive those and look at those for future podcasts. Just send an email to askapastor@orchardhillchurch.com. I'm joined today by Brady Randall. He's our campus pastor in Butler. If you are up around the Butler area or not, you should check out their service. Service times and location is all on our website. Brady, our first question here is this. Something that probably talk to a lot of people about regularly. I struggle having personal devotions. What have you found to be the most helpful?

Brady Randall: Yeah, and I think what the writer is asking, a personal devotion is typically time spent with the Lord reading the Bible or praying and the fact that this person says they are struggling I think is a good admission. I struggle with having personal devotions and I think what people often struggle with is one, is it worth making time for? If it is, what's the best time? And if I do make time for it, how can I avoid it sort of like a checklist? And for me, what I've found is I'm not a super morning person. Some people they make time right as soon as they get up in the morning. For me, my best time is sort of when my son goes to bed, I have about a half hour with myself. And so what is sort of your best time? And I just think about any sort of human relationship, especially like a marriage. You can be sort of humming along, but if you don't make time to check in, see how the other's doing, communicating, something can get stale in a relationship.

Brady Randall: And so while I don't know if it's a sin that you don't have, you know, a 15, 30 minute devotion time with the Lord, I think it's good for us. It's good for communication with the Lord. And so for me, what I found to be most helpful is that I need to go through whole books of the Bible. So, for example, Joel, if I were to write you a a one page letter and you just started reading the middle and then the last, you'd sort of miss the whole thing. And so for me it's been helpful to... What I'll do is go through one book of the Old Testament, one chapter a day, and one chapter day in the New Testament. Just kind of go through a book.

Brady Randall: And what I found to be helpful is to start journaling. And so if there's a sentence that really hits me or convicts me, I'll just sort of jot that down. And then the other thing that I found really helpful to journal is prayer requests. And so I don't write out a whole list, but I'll just bullet point some prayer requests and then it's really cool for me to be able to go back even some months later and look how the Lord has answered that prayer, not always the way I wanted, but the way that was even better than I expected then. So it's a document of sort of answered prayer, which is really, really cool.

Joel Haldeman: Yeah. What would you say to somebody who just feels like they have no time in their life? I mean most people who don't do personal devotions but want to generally just feel like they're too busy to do it. So what kind of advice would you give to that person?

Brady Randall: Yeah. I don't know that this is necessarily true, but I heard one person say this that discipleship is 70% a good night's sleep and so really maybe I would start with saying, "God, how can I get 15... how can I go to bed 15 minutes earlier the next night, the night before," and then I would just take some time and pray. "God, what is my best time? I'm so busy." There was a guy in church history named Martin Luther. He was really busy. If you ever heard of the 95 theses, this was a really busy guy in the church and he was famous for having two to three hour long devotions in the morning. And someone would go up to him and say, "How in the world do you have so much time with all that you're doing?"

Joel Haldeman: Yeah.

Brady Randall: And what he said was, "I'm too busy not to." In other words, I think we have to come to that conviction like, "I need this. It is good for my soul. It is good for everything else that I'm busy with." And if you can come to that realization, then I would say, "God, what is my best time?" For a lot of people it is first thing in the morning.

Joel Haldeman: Yeah.

Brady Randall: Maybe it's after the kids go to bed, maybe it's after the kids go to school. And then maybe what's helpful is find someone else in your life, maybe a spouse, maybe another mentor or a friend that can maybe hold you accountable and not in a way like, "Hey, did you have your devotion today?" But more, "Hey, what's the Lord been teaching you in this last week?" And so finding the real value in that says, "Okay, I've got to make 15 minutes for this."

Joel Haldeman: Yeah. One of the things that I always think is really helpful for somebody who does not have like a habit right now is to just sit down and just make a decision and to write it out. because just simply the act of writing something out... You know, I forget the statistic, but you're like, you know, crazy amount more likely to do it if you write it out. And specifically write out what am I going to do, like what am I going to read or listen to or whatever? When am I going to do it? Where in my house or my office or where am I going to do it? And all the little details because you're just that much more likely to do it. What would you say if somebody wants to start, where could they start?

Brady Randall: Yeah, I would... I think the best place to start is probably one of the gospels, Matthew, Mark, Luke or John. The gospels are sort of the story of the life of Jesus. And I think just starting somewhere, even like the gospel of Mark and going through. And if you don't have a good study Bible, I think that can be helpful. A study Bible, it has the biblical text and underneath it has some of the background. It has some of the meanings, some of the interpretation. And not that the study portion is infallible, but I think that can be a really helpful thing. And really, you know, even starting in community, you know, whether that's... Now I know being a part of a life group is different than having a personal devotion, but reading the scriptures in community can... Maybe you have a question that someone else can answer.

Brady Randall: I think that can be really helpful because it can be like... You know, you've ever heard the drop and plot method where someone's like, "Okay, I'm just going to start here." And I'm not saying that's terrible. I mean, I believe it's the word of God and God can speak in that sentence, but if you really want some good context I think starting, like I said in the Gospel chapter one until the end, maybe having a good study Bible and then having someone maybe who's further along in the faith that you can write down your questions. Like there's some things I don't understand. And see and pray, "God, I want to know this." And so see how the Lord will answer through other people, through his word, through a mentor. I think that can be a really helpful thing as well.

Joel Haldeman: So generally we act on what we believe, right? Like we eat a certain way because of what we believe. We drive a certain way because of what we believe. If people don't read the Bible, it really gets to the core, not of... They don't have a discipline problem, they have a belief problem. So give us just for a minute why bother reading the Bible? I mean, I guess somebody could argue that for centuries in the Christian Church, people didn't have access to a Bible. And so they did just fine without having a personal bible in their house. So why does it even matter?

Brady Randall: Yeah, I think first it goes down to what do you say the Bible is? And for me, I'm convinced that it is God's word to us. And you know, God can speak in a variety of ways. He can, you know, speak... In the Bible, he spoke through an animal, he can speak through dreams and visions, but the primary way that God has spoken to us is through Jesus. In fact, in Hebrews it says in the past, God spoke through a variety of ways, but now he has spoken to us through his son. And what we have recorded in the Bible is God's word to us. And if you think about it, if there is a God and if God created everything that you and I see and if in fact that God wants to communicate with us, wouldn't it be cool to know what he said and what he wants from us and that where I think you said, Joel, is what is your conviction?

Brady Randall: And God says that the Bible is the living word of God. It's the way that he speaks to us. It's the way that he counsels us. It's the way that he shows us how much we are loved and when you [inaudible 00:08:26], "Wow the God who made everything we see, he wants a relationship with us? He wants to talk to us? And I was like, "Wow, how can I not get into the word of God if that's in fact what is."

Joel Haldeman: Yeah. Yeah. I was thinking of Romans 12:2 which says we're changed by the renewing... We're transformed by the renewal of our minds. And it's that those couple of moments in a day that we spend in the word where God is renewing our... Like literally remaking our minds new again so that we think differently and we value things differently. And it's like He's bringing us back to that moment in the garden before sin entered into the world, before sin corrupted our mind. And that's obviously a beautiful thing. Yeah. Great answer, Brady. The next question that we have here is how should the church address the issue of cremation versus burial? What do you think, Brady?

Brady Randall: Yeah, yeah. Well, and I think one of the reasons this is a big question now is one, is because of the cost difference. From what I understand, a typical burial funeral will cost between $8,000 to $10,000, which is very expensive. And cremation may cost somewhere around $2,000 and so people are asking the question, "What's more biblical? What honors the Lord?" And in fact, this was a really important question in the early church, the first couple of centuries of the church, when people who were Christians were being martyred and murdered for their faith. They were being ripped up by lions. They were being thrown into the fire. And the big question for the early church is what happens to a body that's been burned up or mutilated? This was a really big deal. And people today, you know, death has a sort of a... There's something I mean very depressing about death and thinking about "Well what happens to a body if it's cremated versus if it's burial?" And you know, the reality of scripture says, you know, "From dust we were created and to dust we will end up," which is sort of a very humbling thought to think about. We're made from dust, we'll be dust again.

Joel Haldeman: Yeah.

Brady Randall: If you look throughout the scriptures, the emphasis is on burial. You know, there's around 200 references, either in the Old Testament or in the total scriptures, and it's almost always for burial for people who are believers. In fact, the very first mention of cremation happens in First Samuel 31. It says this, "But when the inhabitants of Jabesh Gilead heard what the Philistines had done to Saul, all the valiant men arose and went all night and took the body of Saul and the bodies of his sons from the wall of Beth Shan. And they came to Jabesh and burned them there and they took their bones and buried them under the tamarisk tree in Jabesh and fasted for seven days."

Brady Randall: So I think there's another reference as well. And it's typically a negative reference to have a body be burned. But you know, the reality is it... Scripture doesn't say that one is sinful or one is the other. I think the really important piece is, what happens to someone who puts their trust in Jesus that they go into the ground and whether they're burned quickly, which is maybe just hurries up the inevitable process anyway, that those who trust in Jesus that God will raise their body, whether it's been burned or mutilated or buried, and that's sort of the important point. And if someone were to come up to me and say, "Brady..." First, I would also say this, "You need to talk as a family, what is your desire and why?"

Brady Randall: That's a really important piece. But if someone were to come to me and say, "Brady, so-and-so would like to be cremated and we're going to take the $6,000 to $8,000 that we're going to save in the process and give it to the mission of God." I would say go ahead for the glory of God. And so I don't think we want to get legalistic and this is sin or this isn't. What is your motivation behind why you're doing it and why? And remembering ultimately for those who trust in Jesus, God will raise any form of body from the dead.

Joel Haldeman: Hmm. So you're saying, you know, ultimately it doesn't matter. What matters is the heart that that is behind the action.

Brady Randall: Yeah. I think that's true. Again, I think it's worth doing a study. And like I said, the biblical witness, almost all believers are buried. And I think that gives a good picture of a body going to the ground. Like Jesus was buried. And when he was buried, three days later he rose from the dead. So there's sort of a picture of what happened with Jesus, which will what happen to us. But ultimately I want people out there to know if you're concerned, "Man, so-and-so, this happened to his body or her body and she was cremated." God can raise anyone, any form from the dead, which I think is the main issue.

Joel Haldeman: I think you're right on. And that's a really important thing to point out. I've heard people say before that for a Christian, burying the body in the ground is the best picture of the future because we have this hope that God is going to return. He's going to resurrect our bodies so then he's going to give us new bodies. And there's this hope that our bodies are not in and of themselves evil, that God's going to redeem them in some way. And so it is this beautiful picture that resurrection is coming.

Joel Haldeman: But on the other hand, I've heard people say, "Man, we can't sustain this. I mean, can we got a lot of people on this earth and we just can't keep, you know, putting all these plots in the earth that we can't build things on and somebody's got to mow that thing forever." Right?

Brady Randall: Mm-hmm (Affirmative)

Joel Haldeman: So, it's definitely a complicated issue, but at the same time it's also very simple. That our hope is in the resurrection and no matter what has happened to that body, we believe that God can resurrect.

Brady Randall: Yes. Yeah.

Joel Haldeman: All right, good deal. Third question, one that is guaranteed to bring you some disapproval. No matter how you answer this, how much money is too much to keep?

Brady Randall: Yeah, that's a really good question. And this is another area where I think people, and especially Christians, can sort of get legalistic. And I think what's in the background here is in Christian circles, you may have heard of what's called a tithe, which is sort of a 10% of your income would go toward the ministry. And in the Old Testament, the first fruits, oftentimes it was actually food, went towards, you know, feeding those who were in ministry. It went towards the work of the Lord. The first 10% in addition to other offerings. And so Christians have asked the question and I think maybe what's behind this is how much is too much to keep, you know? Is it... Do I have to give away 10%? can I live on 90%? Is that even a thing in the New Testament? And so we get to be sort of legalistic.

Brady Randall: I think Jesus assumed at the minimum a 10% because the pharisees are asking him things and he says, "Okay, yeah, you tithe, that's good. But what you should be real concerned about is this matters of justice." But maybe a better question rather than how much do I get to keep is how much can I give away to the mission of God?

Joel Haldeman: Yeah.

Brady Randall: You know, my wife and I were sort of struggling with this before we got married. We had to have these conversations. What percentage of our income will we live off of? What percent will we give away to the ministry, the mission of God? And about that time, I ran into a story from a guy named Rick Warren, who sort of a well known author. He wrote Purpose Driven Life, which was one of the best selling books of all time.

Brady Randall: And he said he and his wife came to an agreement that they wanted to not only tithe, so start with 10%, but each year they wanted to increase that percentage for as long as the Lord allowed them. And so some years were better than others. And so maybe the next year they went to 11%. Maybe there was a good book sale, they went up to 15%. Maybe it was a really hard year, so they were only able to go 0.5%. Now this was a while ago, and at that time they became reverse tithers. In other words, they gave away 90 plus percent of what they brought in. And someone, a skeptic might say, "Well yeah, if you're making, you know, millions on book sales, that'd be easy to do." But I think that the Lord honors that. And the real principle behind giving and what you want to keep is... You know, God says in the New Testament, "I love a cheerful giver."

Brady Randall: He says, "Take your income." So it's based on what you make. Some people don't make much. In fact, there was a story of the widow's mite where Jesus was in the temple and many people were giving away large amounts of gifts. And what Jesus was most impressed with, if you want to use that term, is a widow who gave just a couple of coins worth in today's day probably, you know, about a penny or so. And he said about her, "She gave away more than anyone else." And so more than just a percentage, it's what the attitude of your heart? What can I keep? But what can I give away? And just one other thing, Joel, is there's a guy named John Wesley. I thought he said it really well. He said this. He said, "Make all you can. Save all you can. Give all you can." And that's always sort of really stuck out to me as well. What would your council be?

Joel Haldeman: You know, I read this question not so much as a percentage, you know, to tithe or give, but more as a question about saving. How much is too much to keep like in a savings account. And I knew a guy, this was more than 10 years ago, and he was probably 55 at the time and he was so convinced that the Lord was going to return during his lifetime that he said, you know, "We have no savings for retirement." Now I haven't checked up on him to see how that's going. What would you say to somebody like that? I mean, obviously he's got faith in God that God's going to take care of him, but is that wise?

Brady Randall: Yeah, you know, I think doing a whole study... Oftentimes when you talk about money in a church, probably 90% of the topic is on giving. But really the scriptures have a lot to say about saving, investing, being a wise steward.

Joel Haldeman: Yeah.

Brady Randall: And part of being a wise steward is not saying, "This is God's money and this is my money." It's to say, "It's all really God's money." And so if you view with that mindset, it can be easier to view everything with an open hand. And so there is, you know... Jesus, when he tells a story about a shrewd manager, there's something to be said about what are the best biblical practices for investing? How can I multiply and grow? Not my money, but God's money.

Joel Haldeman: Yeah.

Brady Randall: You know, God doesn't bless us. I heard one person say one time, "God doesn't bless us to increase our standard of giving, but living... Increase our standard of living, but to increase our standard of giving."

Brady Randall: But I do think there's something to be said about being a wise steward, thinking about retirement, thinking about investing for college, thinking about growing the money that you have, but is it for yourself so that you can have a big nest egg and retire and live life easy? Or is it so that you can be a wise steward and be generous not just to the church, but to neighbors and friends, to your own family.

Joel Haldeman: Yeah.

Brady Randall: I think Paul says, "If you don't take care of your family, you're worse than an unbeliever."

Joel Haldeman: Yeah.

Brady Randall: And so the scripture has a lot to say, not just about giving, but saving, investing. But being a steward of all of the money and not seeing it just as yours, but really as the Lord has lent it to you.

Joel Haldeman: Yeah. When I was a teenager... No. Younger than a teenager. I remember getting an allowance from my parents. And at one point it was a 50 cent allowance. And when they would give this to me, they would always make me take 10% of that and set it aside to give away. And that is one of the best gifts that my parents have ever given me, is teaching me that. Because, and I don't... I say this not to brag, but giving away 10% has never been a struggle for my family simply because both of our parents just ingrained that in us. And it's almost too easy. Like we have to, you know, still make sure our hearts are in it and be, you know, generous beyond that. And so to the parents, you know, get those habits ingrained in your children. But what would you say to somebody who, you know, basically doesn't give much away at all except, you know, $2 at the Giant Eagle checkout here and there, $100 when they get a thing in the mail, but they have no regular habit of giving? How do you even start?

Brady Randall: Yeah. Well one of the things it's helpful to sort of get your financial house in order. And I know that debt, credit card debt, other kinds of debt are so prevalent among so many Americans. And so even sitting down with a financial planner, just laying out your whole assets, "Here's my debt, here's what I owe, here's what I make." Just getting a big picture and then saying, "God, I know it's your desire, one, that this is all of your money, but two, that you want me to be generous in giving it away. How can I do that?" And so what I would tell people is start somewhere. Say, "Here's my income. I'm going to start this week and give 2% unto the Lord."

Joel Haldeman: Yeah.

Brady Randall: And then say next week, "God, by your grace and by wise financial counsel, I'm going to try and go to 3%." And then maybe the next month is a little rough. Maybe I go to 3.5% and see if the Lord doesn't come through, not by, you know, a $1,000 random check. Though He could do that.

Joel Haldeman: Yeah.

Brady Randall: But this is one of the areas where the Lord says, "test me" in and it's not, "Okay if I give God's going to bless me financially." That's not necessarily the case. But I can tell you, just personally, that when my wife and I have decided, even when it's hard to be generous, we've seen the Lord come through time and time again. And again, I don't say that like, "Okay, I give 10% of that. All my finances are going to be great." I do believe that God can do more with your 90% left than 100% of just you. I've seen that to be the case as well, but I believe... I've seen time and time again in my own life and other's lives that when we say, "God, we want to honor you with our best, with our first fruits, with this money" God has come through.

Brady Randall: And I don't say that to be trite like, "Oh yeah, God's always going to come through." And sometimes the blessing is not necessarily in the form of money, but in contentment and we can be more content with less. I think that's a real blessing that comes as well.

Joel Haldeman: And I think the other thing is seriously think about automated giving. You know, science has already told us that we get decision fatigue and to have to make good decisions over and over and over again. It is such a blessing to just be able to schedule it in the bank account and it just happens. And then of course, you know, you want your heart to be in it, but it happens and then you figure out how to live on what's left. Well, thank you, Brady. I really appreciate your answers to these questions. And again, if you have any questions that you'd like to send in to Ask a Pastor, you can send those to askapastor@orchardhillchurch.com.