Tag Archives: money

False Ideas Christians Believe About…Money

13 Jun

Today, as continue our series on False Ideas that Christians believe, we are fact-checking statements about money and generosity.

  1. You can’t outgive God.
  2. Give and you will receive.
  3. It’s my money; I worked hard for it.
  4. Money is the root of all evil.

Let’s start with…

On the surface, this one is true.  God is infinitely generous. 

The primary example of God’s generosity, perhaps, is Jesus.  I love how the Apostle Paul puts it in Romans 8:31-32. There he reminds us that God even gave his son!  And if he gave his son, how will he not also graciously give us all things?  Think about it.  If he already gave us his son, anything else in life that he could possibly give us would be far less valuable.  Infinitely less valuable.  So in that sense, you can’t outgive God because he already gave us Jesus. 

Imagine with me that was a giving contest, in which it was us versus God, to see who would give the most.  He could just make more money appear, and he could give more away, even more than all the wealthiest people in the history of the world combined.  It’s a no-contest. But that’s a made-up situation.

How does God give?  Primarily, God gives through his people! 

Let me explain.  The phrase “You can’t outgive God” could potentially be used as an excuse for not giving to the church because we could think in our minds, “I don’t need to worry about giving much to the church, because God will provide.”  But that excuse is incorrect because God’s primary method of providing for the church is through the generosity of his people.

Over the last two and a half years since Faith Church started our Capital Campaign, we have seen this in action.  God has provided amazingly, through his people.  We like to think of God’s provision as miraculous, like the contest I envisioned above, that God will make money drop out of the sky, or out of thin air.  He can do that. But know this: it is no less miraculous and astounding to say that God works through is people.  It has been incredible to see this through the Capital Campaign.  First of all, many individuals in our church family gave generously.  That was God providing through them.  Then we also received some surprise gifts from Christians who are friends of Faith Church.  First was a $40,000 matching gift, and then two gifts from another church, one for $20,000 and then one for $65,000.  Just because those unexpected gifts are large amounts, that doesn’t mean they were more miraculous or better than what we all together from Faith Church gave.  It all was part of how God provided through his people.  You can’t outgive God.

Why, then, are we fact-checking this statement, if it is clear that God is so giving?

Because sometimes there is another side to the story.

I recently came across a true story written by a man who described a situation in his life that happened ten years before he wrote the story.  Ten years before, he was a student in seminary.  Finances were really tight.  Going to school full-time meant that he didn’t have the benefit of a regular income.  He and his wife also had children, so she wasn’t bringing in a ton of money either.  In other words, their expenses were greater than their income.  At one point they were facing $5000 in overdue bills and they were at their wits end, with no means to pay.  Amazingly a $5000 check from one person came in the mail!  Fantastic, right?

Well…here’s how the author continues the story.  

“Take a detour with me for a moment. I have heard many Evangelical sermons on giving. I have listened to testimony after testimony from those who had prioritized the Lord in the tightest financial circumstances. I had read the passage about the “widow’s mite.” You know, the one where the lady was commended by Christ for giving her last two dollars to the Lord. I knew all the clichés: “I just keep shoveling out, but God has a bigger shovel!” Or, my favorite, “You can’t out-give God.” And, yes, how about our Evangelical go-to passage in Malachi 3:10: “‘Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, so that there may be food in My house, and test Me now in this,’ says the Lord of hosts, ‘to see if I will not open for you the windows of heaven and pour out for you a blessing until it overflows.’” Test the Lord and see if he does not bless you.

“Now, back to my story. I tested the Lord that day. I gave to him of my first fruits. I gave to him before the late electric bill, the car payment, and the bread box. I prioritized Him above my children, wife, financial integrity and all else. I had just enough to catch up on my bills so long as I put his claim on hold. But I gave to him part of what I needed. Why? Because he is faithful. Why? Because you can’t out-give God. Why? Because he called on me to test him.

“However . . . Two weeks later, threats of collection, electricity cut-off, and growling stomachs of my family made me wonder: Did he just fail the test? Did I just out-give God?”

How about that? Here is a man studying in seminary so that his family can enter ministry.  They believe “you can’t outgive God”, and so it is the right thing to do to give money to the Lord, and watch God provide.  The give to the Lord, perhaps through an offering at their church, and thus they no longer had the money to pay their bills. Then their electric got cut off.  The bill collectors start calling.  And the man can’t provide enough food for his family.  What do you think? Did he outgive God?

I appreciated the author’s conclusion:

He says, “I do believe what I heard a pastor say the other day: “There is no greater indication of your spiritual life then your giving habits.” He went on to say, “It is impossible to be a good Christian if you are not giving.” The old saying, “If you want to know where someone’s priorities lie, thumb through their checkbook,” is true. However, I do not believe that we are to give with some idea that the bank account of heaven is obligated to wire transfer directly to our earthly bank accounts when we give sacrificially. God may or he may not.

So we Christians should be known for our generous giving to the Kingdom of God.  In many places in the New Testament we read about how disciples of Jesus should be living simply so that we can give generously.  But when we give, know that God is not obligated to shovel even more financial blessings right back into your life.

Another way to look at this is to ask the question, are there any instances in which people give more than what God has asked?  If he asks for 10%, are their people who give 20%?  Sure are!  This relates to the confusion about tithing.  In the Old Covenant that God had with the people of Israel, he did  command them to tithe.  A tithe is a giving of 10%.  But in that Old Covenant, there were actually three tithes for the nation of Israel: two annual tithes, and one every three years, amounting to 23% annually.  But again, that was God’s agreement with Israel.  We are not under that agreement, and we have no covenant binding us to give a certain percentage of our income.  Instead we are taught to live simply, so that we can give consistently and generously.  Each person needs to decide before the Lord what that will look like for their family.  For some people that will be well below 10%.  For others it could be way above 10%.

I’ve written about this before, and I think it is so helpful I will repeat it: our evangelical forefather John Wesley had a phrase that we would do well to follow: “Earn all you can, save all you can, give all you can.”  Here’s what he meant. 

Earn all you can.  Work hard.  Be diligent in your employment.  Use the gifts and abilities God has given you to earn an income.   And for some of you, you will find that you are really good at making money. 

Next Wesley said, save all you can.  He was not talking about starting a savings account or an investment portfolio necessarily.  Those might be good things, though.   What Wesley was talking about was living simply.  Don’t spend money on yourself beyond your needs.  Reign in your wants and your desires.  Don’t believe the American consumer system.  Don’t spend your money.  Why? 

So that you can do the third thing Wesley taught: Give all you can

There are times to celebrate and spend on yourself and your family.  But we American Christians need to allow God’s Word and Jesus’ pattern of life and his teaching to guide us, not our the spending habits of our culture around us.  Is it possible that we American Christians have been co-opted by our society?  Who would be willing to take a hard look at it?  Rather that make money in order to spend it on ourselves, we should make money to give to the Kingdom of God.  How do we give to the Kingdom of God?  Give to those groups in line with growing the Kingdom of God, give to your local church, give to a family in need. Remember what I mentioned above, about how God uses individuals to care for those in need.  Remember the story of the Good Samaritan, who gave his time and financially to the stranger/the enemy along the side of the road.

And that brings us to our next phrase:

This is a picture of the World’s Largest Shovel.  The Garden-Ville shovel, which is made from all recycled materials diverted from the landfill including scrap metal and telephone poles, has some amazing dimensions.  Total Length – 40 Feet 8 Inches, Spade Width – 7 Feet 4 Inches, Weight – 5,000 pounds!

There is a companion phrase to “You can’t outgive God,” which we just fact-checked, and the phrase “Give and you will be blessed,” and that is the idea that “God’s shovel is bigger.”  Even bigger than the one in the picture.  But that phrase “God’s shovel is bigger” is using figurative language.  Some famous Christians like JG LeTourneau used this phrase to describe a situation where he gave 90% of his income and lived on 10%.  And the more he gave, the more God blessed him, and so LeTourneau was able to give more and more.

Does God work like that?  Does he promise that?  There are a couple passages of Scripture we can turn to that seem to say this.

Luke 6:38 – Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.

2 Cor 9:6 – Sow generously and you will reap generously. 

But what does these phrases mean?  Are they guarantees that if we give, we will get?  Do we just need to shovel out money and generosity back to God, and since his shovel is bigger, he will give us even more blessing? 

Remember the seminary student who miraculously received $5000 to pay his bills, but gave some back to his church and then had his electricity shut off?  Here is what he concludes:

“Won’t we experience “blessing” when we give, even if it is not financial? I suppose. But it really depends on how you look at it. When we give sacrificially to the Lord without expectations, we are acting out the blessing that we already have been given: a perspective that is in alignment with reality. The widow gave because she knew that this was not her home. She gave all she had because she was already sold out to God. She knew that the treasures of this earth are nothing to be compared to the glory that is to follow. If you believe this—if you truly believe this—you are already blessed. The belief itself is the blessing. Maybe God’s shovel becomes bigger than yours and maybe it does not. Our blessing is our ability to trust God. Our giving is an expression of that trust.  We should expect to suffer in this life. Sometimes that suffering will come in the form of financial suffering. Sometimes it will be other things. But to think and preach that there is some guaranteed way to avoid the cross of financial suffering is not a message that we carry.”

So we disciples of Jesus are people who should be known for a kind of generosity that is so different from the culture around us.  The reason why we live that way is because we have a different view of money. 

If you have bills, one of the most faithful things you can as a Christian is to pay those bills.  If you have loans, pay them off.  That is faithful spiritual discipleship work.  What was so hard for this seminary student, and what is difficult for many of us is when our income is not enough to pay the bills and give money to God.  What do you do? Pay the bills or give money to God? I can’t tell you how to make that choice.  The seminary student is right.  Just because you give, God is not obligated to pay you back more.    

One way that Christians deal with this quandary is the next phrase:

We do work hard and earn money.  But the Bible teaches the principle of stewardship, meaning that we are God’s stewards.  It is his money and he owns it.  Every cent of the salary we earn, every cent of the hourly job, every cent of the money we receive from the government, it’s all God’s money.

Yes, you work hard, and as we already heard John Wesley say, we should work hard to make money.  But we are still stewards of God’s money.  God gave us the ability to work, whether that is brain power or physical ability.  Gave provided all of our ability, and he provided our jobs.  How many of you got jobs because you knew someone….or knew someone who knew someone…how many have connections or have given connections? Not one of us got where we are at solely by ourselves. We have all been helped along the way in some way.  It is not our money.  We live in community and we are stewards of God’s earth and the money he gives us abilities to make.

Sure, hard work, living simply and wise spending and investing will almost always result in financial blessing.  But, not always. And when it does, it doesn’t mean it is your money.  It is all God’s, and we are simply his stewards.  We should use his money, therefore, like he wants it to be used.

Where this gets confusing is in evaluating how we should use his money, especially when most everyone in the culture, even Christians, use their money as if it is their money!  As if they worked hard so they can spend hard. Yeah, they give a bit here and there, but they spend quite a bit on themselves.

What will it look like when people see themselves as stewards of God’s money?  Turn to Acts 2:42-47. We need to see how the earliest Christians handled their money, and we will see that they saw themselves as stewards of God’s money.  Go ahead and read that before continuing this post.

Did you see how the people generously shared their resources with one another?

Where did they get this idea?  From Jesus!  He taught it to them.  For example, he told the Rich Young Ruler to sell everything he had and give it to the poor.  Jesus taught many parables about money, clearly showing the people that they were God’s stewards, and they should use God’s resources like God wants it to be used. 

A few months or maybe years later, after what you just read in Acts 2:42-47, but when the church was still really, really new, we read more about this selfless generosity.  Turn to Acts 4:32-5:11, and read that story.  Clearly what Ananias and Sapphira did went against the teaching of God.  It seems that they sold a property and then gave money to the church saying that it was the full amount of the sale of the property.  But they actually held some of the money back.  Their sin was selfishness and lying about it.  Have we done this?  Have we selfishly held back the Lord’s money so we can use it on ourselves?  When we already have enough?

This relates to the final phrase we are fact-checking today:

1 Tim. 6:10 is where this phrase comes from, and it is close, but no cigar.  The phrase is actually, “The love of money is the root of all evil.”  In other words, money is not the issue. The issue is our heart.

And this is where it gets real.  Let me illustrate.

On the podcast I recently created, one person, Kevin Ressler had the idea that we Christians should consider opening up our books to one another.  He was referring to our checkbooks. Submit your financial choices to the church community!  Assault the idea that our finances and expenditures are personal.  They should all be laid bare before God.  So in our new Faith Church pictorial directory we are going to list everyone’s previous year gross income.  Just kidding!  But what about you? Would you be willing to have others hold you accountable on your use of your money?

I think the assumption is that opening the books would be harder, or more confrontational, for those of means.  I would suggest that this assumption is not true.  As much as we would confront the person who dropped $25K on a big vacation, we could also confront the person who can’t pay their bills but buys drinks and snacks at the convenience story every day. After worship at Faith Church we have a sermon discussion class, and the day I preached this sermon, one person noted that for many people, the convenience store is basically their only option. They would love to be able to purchase in bulk, or organics, or other healthy options but their life situation simply doesn’t allow it. We do need to be sensitive to that. That said, I would submit that the larger point remains. We would do well to be people who have healthy, loving, gracious, but truthful and firm accountability for our financial decisions.

Selfish spending and lack of generosity is in all of us. Rich and poor.  And everyone in-between.  Young people, older people.  Teenagers who just got their first job, all the way up to older adults in retirement.  We are all swimming in the waters of American capitalism and consumerism, and we have been sold a bill of goods that we will feel better if we buy, buy, buy and treat ourselves.  It does feel good for a while.  But there is within all of us the empty self and it is insatiable, hungering for more and more stuff and experiences and clothing and vacations and coffee and it cannot be filled.  You cannot buy happiness. We need to tend to our heart.  Out of our heart flows greed. Money is not the issue.  Greed is. 

This is why Jesus taught, “Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”  Matthew 6:21.  Therefore, he says, store up treasure in heaven. Because our hearts follow our treasure.  Invest in God’s Kingdom, Jesus says, or seek first his Kingdom, and our hearts will more and more align with God’s heart

In conclusion, God does not promise you to be wealthy.  Some who follow him are wealthy and some who follow him are not.  Wealth is not a way to measure if you are loved by him and being obedient to him.  He does not promise to give us more wealth when we obey him.  He does call us to give generously and to be loving and caring for other brothers and sisters, to our neighbors, and he reminds us that we are simply stewards of what we have.  This is not our home.  So let us not live lavishly here, but instead store up treasure in heaven, as Jesus taught.

How to have a good relationship with money – Part 2: Be Rich Toward God – Luke 12:13-21

23 Nov

 

 

 

How is your relationship with money? I wrote this question on the welcome board in our church lobby.  We always have a question of the day, hoping to get people thinking as they walk in for worship.  As I conversed with one person yesterday, we started joking: “My relationship with money?  We don’t see each very much!”  Whether you love money, hate it, there are so many of us that are very frustrated in our relationship with money.

But here is the good news. It is possible to have a good, even great relationship with money right here, right now.

In Luke 12:13-21, Jesus told a parable about a farmer who had a killer harvest one year.  He thought with excitement that he could build bigger barns, and retire early.  He was going to live it up!  But the Lord came to him with shocking news, “Tonight you will die.  Now who will benefit from your harvest?”

The story reminds us to consider the shortness of life.  In so doing Jesus gives us the secret to having a right relationship with money. In verse 21, he leads us to consider, are we storing up things for ourselves?   Are we amassing possessions?  Or are we rich toward God?

We can be so filled with love toward God that we are not enamored by riches, possessions. When we are enamored with God, we’ll see how inferior possessions are to him.

The band U2 has a song titled Walk On that has a wonderful message about possessions in light of the suddenness and shortness of life.

What U2 is talking about is right in line with what Jesus is talking about. It is the right relationship with money. Money will be left behind. But there are riches that will not be left behind. And Jesus is saying that we should invest our lives in those riches. He says in verse 21 that we should be rich toward God.

How do we focus on being rich toward God? It is an attitude, a heart attitude that leads to action. If your attitude is right, God is glorified.  Here’s a question to ask if you’re not sure how to evaluate your attitude:

By what do I want to be remembered? If you stand before God, we should want to hear him say that we used our time talent and treasure to advance his Kingdom. Jesus does not say that being rich, amassing wealth is in and of itself wrong. What is wrong is if we amass wealth and are not also rich toward God!

So the gaining of wealth is not the issue. It is the heart.

John Wesley famously said “Earn all you can, Save all you can, Give all you can.” There is nothing wrong with being able to make a lot of money. If God has given you that gift, then by all means, amass wealth.

BUT, save it! Don’t spend it. And by “save it” Wesley did not mean what the farmer in Jesus’s story meant. The farmer planned to store his wealth away so he could have a comfortable life. But Wesley meant “do not spend it on yourself.” Instead…

GIVE all you can.

In the wonderful little book, The Treasure Principle, we read about R. G. Letourneau. In the early 1900s he made a fortune in the earth-moving business. He was a committed follower of Jesus and made the decision to give 90% of his income, he lived on 10%. And you know what he said? “As fast as I gave it away, God shoveled it right back in.”

It’s not wrong to amass wealth. If your heart is right, if you love God, amass wealth so you can be lavishly generous with it.

Plan an investment portfolio to be rich toward God.

Pay off debt, so you can be rich toward God.

As people earn more, stats have shown that they are less generous. So fight that trend and give more.

Practice a generous lifestyle. Give your time, talent, treasure.

What do your private choices tell about you? If we could display your bank account transactions on a TV show about your life, what would we learn about you? Would we be able to tell that you are being rich toward God?

If we could display your calendar on that show, what would we learn about you? Would we be able to tell that you are rich toward God?

If we could have camera footage of what happens in your home, what would we learn about you? Would we be able to tell that you are rich toward God?

Let us be a thankful people. People who are thankful remember that he is the giver of all good gifts. Let us not fool ourselves into thinking that we created our wealth, that it is ours. Instead, it is God’s, and he owns it. The capabilities of your mind, your body…not yours. They are gifts given to you by God.

This past summer when a group from our church took a mission trip to Kenya, one of the phrases that we used was that we hit the geographical lottery. We Americans have hit the geographical lottery. We are so blessed here.  We have opportunity.

Why are we rich?…Paul says in 2 Cor 9:11, we are rich so we can be generous. As Jesus will say later in Luke 12:48 “To whom much is given, much is desired”

Maybe you’re thinking, “I’m not rich. I can barely pay the bills, and sometimes, I can’t even pay the bills.”  I understand. My family is carrying some debt right now that bugs me to no end. I want to pay it off.

Remember that we have opportunity here in the USA. Work hard, pay off debt, so you can have more financial space to be generous. For many of us, it is our debt that is keeping us from being generous.

And perhaps, like some good friends taught us, when things are tight, that is the moment we need to show our trust in God and give. Watch him provide.   Plan your life so you are rich toward God.

How to have a good relationship with money – Part 1 – Love it or hate it?

19 Nov

Do you love money?  This guy really does:

As he’s hugging that money, he’s probably singing this song:

Or do you hate money?

Have you ever said “I hate money!”?

I have. It’s usually because I actually love money, but I feel like I don’t have enough of it. I want more. I love money when I can spend it. But when it seems that there are too many expenses and not enough income, I can say “I hate money!” Our microwave recently broke, and immediately I think “I hate money.”

Do you hate money? Or do you really love it, but you feel you don’t have enough?

Jesus talks about money a lot. I’ve often heard, and maybe you have too, that Jesus talks more about money than he does about salvation. I’m not certain that’s true. I did a bit of research and it appears he talks about the Kingdom of God most of all. But there is no doubt he talks a lot about money.

What is fascinating is to compare the topics that Jesus actually spent a lot of time on, like money, and then look into what topics have dominated Christian discussions in the last 50 or so years?

What have we Christians in America fixated on?  Money? I can’t prove it, but I don’t think so.

Instead, when you consider the topics that have been popular in politics, media and, in recent years, social media, what do you find?  Most of the talk has been about abortion, homosexuality, and immigration, to name a few hot topics.

These are all important subjects that that we need to talk about.  They are complex and important in our time.  But while Jesus talks about money repeatedly, those other hot topics of our day pretty much don’t come up in his teaching. Those topics are hot in our time, but they really weren’t issues in Jewish culture. Roman culture, yes. But not so much in Israel, and Jesus primarily ministered in Israel.  It makes sense, therefore, that he wouldn’t talk about them.

And yet, money was a big deal then, and still is today.  It has always been a big deal.  Perhaps that’s a good indication why Jesus spoke so frequently about it.  Why then are we so loathe to talk about it?  There can be a lot of fear in pastors’ hearts when it comes to sermons about money.  We don’t want to offend people.  Money is considered to be a private matter.  We don’t talk about each others’ salaries.  It is striking, then, that Jesus was so bold about money!

That said, we do have to consider why money was so important to him.  Disciples of Jesus, he was intimating, would have a good handle on how to relate to money.  What should our relationship with money be like?  Should we love it or hate it?

This Sunday at Faith Church, we’re going to see a bit of Jesus’ heart toward money. If you want to prepare, read Luke 12:13-21.