A Non-Owner's Perspective (Luke 16:1-14)

For the past few weeks, we've been talking about a subject that's so highly personal, it's almost in your face. I've heard that radio shock-jock Howard Stern was once about to run for political office, until he found out that he would have to reveal his finances. He refused to, saying it was too personal. If you've ever heard Howard Stern on the radio, you know that he doesn't mind talking about personal things. We tend to keep our finances to ourselves.I once saw a cartoon of a guy getting baptized. The pastor said, "When I baptize you, everything that goes under the water will be dedicated to God." The next frame showed the guy under the water, but holding his wallet up in the air. There's part of us that wants to give God everything; part of us holds back.We're wrapping up this series today. The first week we looked at Agur's strange prayer in Proverbs 30, that essentially said, "Lord, don't give me any more than I absolutely need." Then, the week after, Dwayne Cline came and talked about God's concern for the poor, and how that affects us. Last week we looked at the reason why many of us think we can't help - because we don't have enough. We discovered that all it takes is two cents.It would be a huge mistake to end this series feeling guilty or beaten down about our finances. That's not God's intent. God does want to transform our thinking on this subject so we look different - but it's not a guilt thing. It's a freeing thing.There's one picture I'd like to paint that completely changes the way we look at our money. The picture's found in Luke 16. It's one of those stories that Jesus told that's so different from what you'd expect to read that it blows you away. It's not a story that needs a lot of explanation, but I do want to set the scene. The wealthy back then usually had servants, and one of the servants would usually be in charge of the finances. This was great for the wealthy person, because the servant was legally responsible for any actions he took. The master would be off the hook; the servant would be responsible.Jewish law prohibited charging interest, so they didn't. They found a loophole. If they loaned somebody, say, $10,000, they wrote up a note saying the guy owed, say, $14,000. No interest, just few thousand more. Sometimes they even hid this fact by making it non-cash, such as wheat or oil.The story Jesus told involved a money manager who botched his job:
Jesus told this story to his disciples: "A rich man hired a manager to handle his affairs, but soon a rumor went around that the manager was thoroughly dishonest. So his employer called him in and said, 'What's this I hear about your stealing from me? Get your report in order, because you are going to be dismissed.'"The manager thought to himself, 'Now what? I'm through here, and I don't have the strength to go out and dig ditches, and I'm too proud to beg. I know just the thing! And then I'll have plenty of friends to take care of me when I leave!' (Luke 16:1-4)
What happens next is so bizarre, you don't expect to hear Jesus commend it. You get the impression the money manager didn't even know who owed how much. He decided to turn the situation to his own advantage:
"So he invited each person who owed money to his employer to come and discuss the situation. He asked the first one, 'How much do you owe him?' The man replied, 'I owe him eight hundred gallons of olive oil.' So the manager told him, 'tear up that bill and write another one for four hundred gallons.'"'And how much do you owe my employer?' he asked the next man. 'A thousand bushels of wheat,' was the reply. 'Here,' the manager said, 'take your bill and replace it with one for only eight hundred bushels.' (Luke 16:5-7)
The amounts we're talking about are huge - anywhere from three to eight year's labor for the average person. The servant saw a way out. What if he discounted the debt, probably to what the person actually borrowed? No interest, no surcharge, no commission. The debtors would be happy, of course. You'd expect the master to be angry, but his financial reputation was so bad, this would make him look better. Amazingly, the plan worked. Read verse 8: "The rich man had to admire the dishonest rascal for being so shrewd."I love this story. It says to all the money managers out there who have made bad financial decisions: there is hope. You may have made mistakes in the past, but you can recover. There is a way out.Then Jesus adds his comments: "And it is true that the citizens of this world are more shrewd than the godly are. I tell you, use your worldly resources to benefit others and make friends. In this way, your generosity stores up a reward for you in heaven" (Luke 16:8-9).This story changes the way that I look at my finances. I used to think that God gave me everything that I have, and I have to use it well. That's not really an accurate picture. It still treats me as the owner. Jesus gives us a new picture. I'm not the owner, I'm the money manager. I'm managing God's accounts. Everything that I have - not just 10% - everything belongs to God.God also gives me the goal. Just as the dishonest money manager used the finances to make friends, so can I - in heaven. I can use God's money here so that when I get to heaven, I have friends because of how they've benefited by my financial decisions. The way that I invest my money, giving to the poor, giving to meet needs, giving to support ministries, can touch lives in such a way that when I get to heaven, I'll meet people I've never met before because of the ways that I decided to invest God's money.The way that we handle our money really does matter. It matters, not just for ourselves and our own wellbeing. It matters because it has so much eternal potential. It matters because it's somebody else's money. It's in our hands, but it's not ours. We're only managing it for someone else.Then Jesus says:
"Unless you are faithful in small matters, you won't be faithful in large ones. If you cheat even a little, you won't be honest with greater responsibilities. And if you are untrustworthy about worldly wealth, who will trust you with the true riches of heaven? And if you are not faithful with other people's money, why should you be trusted with money of your own? (Luke 16:10-12)
Now I know why money's so important. It's not mine. It has so much potential to change lives. But here's another reason: it has so much potential to influence my own heart. Jesus says that if I can't figure out how to handle money, God won't be able to trust me with real riches, spiritual riches. My finances are really God's business.Jesus concludes: "No one can serve two masters. For you will hate one and love the other, or be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money" (Luke 16:13). Nobody admits to serving money (literally Mammon or "stuff"). Reality check: we are serving money if we think about it or worry about it frequently. We're serving stuff if we spend a lot of time caring for possessions, or if we have a hard time giving stuff away. We're serving stuff if we're in debt. A lot of us are serving stuff without even knowing it.I'd like to present a radical model for how we can put this picture into practice. Somebody asked me the other day if I was going to be a little different or radically different from the world in the way I handle my money. That's a pretty good question. If we follow the picture that Jesus gives, it's going to be radically different.Ron Blue says there are only five things that we can do with our money: pay taxes, spend it, repay debt, save/invest it, and give it. That's it. I thought this week of the worst financial manager that I know of, and this is what they do: spend it. They don't do any of the other four. They don't even pay taxes - at least not yet. They haven't been caught. They spend more than they make, and all they do is spend.Most people take an owner's approach to their money. Here's how it looks. In order of priority, they take their money, and first pay taxes, then spend it, then repay debt. If there's anything left over, then they save/invest it, and then, if they feel like it, give it. That's probably the average way a financially responsible person operates. If they're really good with money, they put saving ahead of spending. That's the owner's approach to money.What about a trustee's approach? What if we really believed that we're just money managers for God? What if our primary goal in our spending was how our financial investments would pay off in eternity? I don't think you'd have to take a vow of poverty to do this. It would involve a different set of priorities. This is what it might look like.First, give. Give even before you pay taxes. Why? It's not ours. It's God's. It's the first fruits, the best right off the top. This is the one thing we can do with our money that will have eternal benefits. John Wesley said, "Earn all you can, save all you can, give all you can." If we're God's money managers, this always comes first.This is about more than a tithe. The Pharisees tithed, and look how they grumbled at Jesus' story: "The Pharisees, who dearly loved their money, naturally scoffed at all this" (Luke 16:14). Here's the problem with a tithe. The late singer Rich Mullins put it best: "If you give a tithe, you get rid of ten percent of the root of all evil. You should be giving ninety percent because God can handle money better than we can."I've heard of one couple who lived on a reverse tithe. They kept ten percent; they gave away ninety. They had a blast. They're investing for eternity.Nobody can tell you what this number should be for you, but if we see ourselves as God's money managers, this is going to come first. It's going to be our highest priority in life.Second, pay taxes. The Bible says to do this. We do get benefits from our government. Besides, if we give right and save right, our government lets us pay less taxes. Most of us don't have a choice about this. It's not discretionary. It's taken right off the top without us even thinking about it. The important thing to remember is that this isn't our first priority. We have to do it, but we have a more important purpose. Our first priority is to give.Third, save it. Even if you're in debt, start to save. This establishes a habit of preparing for the future. You can get carried away with this, but most believe it's prudent to prepare for our future, and for any unseen emergencies that may arise. Most of us aren't out of balance because we're saving too much. Some are, but for most of us, we could learn to save a little.Fourth, repay debt. This isn't a lot of fun, but every debt payment that we eliminate goes right to the bottom line. If we don't repay debt, the consequences are staggering. If you owe $1,000 on a credit card, and only make the minimum payment, at 18% interest (which isn't unusual) it will take you 94 months and $1,880 to repay that debt. The best part is that when we eliminate debt, then the fifth and last priority (us) is bumped up a place.Here's the last priority: spend it. We usually put this first, but it belongs last. After we've given, after we've paid taxes, after we've saved, and after we make payments on our debts, then we spend. That obviously means that some of us will have much less to spend. The reason we're in trouble is that we've made spending a higher priority. This is where the spending category actually belongs.There may come a time when it moves higher. When we've repaid our debts, it moves up. When we're retired, we may not be paying much in tax, and we may be no longer saving for the future. Great, it can move up. But it always comes after giving.It's not really a matter of math; it's a matter of trust. I realize that this may be so far away from where some of us are that it seems unworkable. Still, this is the goal. It's where we can begin to move. It begins with moving away from an owner's approach to a trustee's approach.Later on, we'll be bringing Crown Ministries in for a one-day training seminar. They exist to "teach God's people financial principles." They don't sell investments or make money off of your decisions. They'll be coming in for one day to help make some of this more practical.But we can all start today. If nothing else, we can start by putting giving first rather than spending first. It's not to help the church - that's the least of my concerns in teaching this. It's so that we can put God first in our finances. It's so we can make friends in heaven, so when we get there, we'll hear God's well done, and we'll meet people who say, "You may not know me, but the way you invested God's money on earth is the reason that I'm here. Thank you."
1. Give it 2. Pay taxes 3. Save/invest it 4. Repay debt 5. Spend it

I'd Like to Help, But... (Malachi 3:6-12)

Last year, I took a course for my master's degree. The course was on evil. I partly took the course because I was curious what they would say. Actually, I thought it would be funny if you could major in evil. I also took the course because I thought I would do okay, based on my theological education, as well as my personal experience. (The course I'm taking right now is on love and friendship. I'm worried that I won't do as well.)

Out of 28 courses I've take so far, this one influenced me the most. I always thought that evil was something about personal choices - actions and attitudes that displeased God. I usually think of sin as being a private offense about God. But there's a whole other side to evil that I hadn't really considered. When a moral person goes to work as a train engineer, there could be a problem - if that train engineer is working on the route to Auschwitz in the early 1940s. When a plantation owner works his property, there's a problem, no matter how good a person he might be, no matter how nicely he treats his slaves, if he is in fact a slave owner. It's not enough to be a moral person. We also participate in structures and organizations which may be evil, even if we act in a very moral way within these structures.

This really began to mess with my head. I began to wonder what structures I participate in that are evil. One of the issues I began to wrestle with was my view, and society's view, of evil. I began to re-read the Scriptures that talked about justice, of God's concern for the poor. I read passages like Amos 5:24: "But let justice roll on like a river, righteousness like a never-failing stream!"

I still don't have a lot of answers, but I began to realize that this was a blind area. What if society as a whole lacks compassion for those who are poor? What if I've bought into that as well? We've been looking the past few weeks at what the Bible says about our possessions, and the responsibility that comes along with them.

The first week, we looked at Agur's prayer - a prayer that I doubt many of us have prayed. Agur said, "Give me neither poverty nor riches! Give me just enough to satisfy my needs" (Proverbs 30:8). We talked about the danger that comes when we have more than we need - the situation most of us are in. Somebody's defined rich as anyone who can afford to buy a book. That makes pretty well everyone here rich.

Last week, Dwayne talked to us from Isaiah 58 about what a true fast is like:

Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen:
to loose the chains of injustice
and untie the cords of the yoke,
to set the oppressed free
and break every yoke?
Is it not to share your food with the hungry
and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter-
when you see the naked, to clothe him,
and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?
(Isaiah 58:6-7)

If you're like me, you agree with what we've talked about so far - at least reluctantly. You there's also part of you that's holding back.

Whenever somebody challenges me to give generously to the poor, or to some other cause, I find myself saying, "Hold on. I'll give, but I'm pretty tight myself." There's part of me that would like to help, and I'm glad there are people like Dwayne who do help, but then I want to say, "I wish I could help, but..." or "I wish I could do more, but..."

Can you relate to this? Here's what I know about us. We're all living on a percentage of our income. Some of us are living on 80%, maybe even less. Some of us are at 95% or even 100%. Some of us are living at 110% of our income. We're going into debt, barely even getting by. We'd like to help others, but we're too tight to help without feeling a lot of stress.

I sometimes think, "If only I had another x thousand dollars." You can fill in the blank. The funny thing is, I seem to feel like this no matter how much I make! Fifteen years ago, when I was in school, I was making about eight thousand dollars a year. I thought, "If only I had a thousand more, I could manage." I got my first job. I thought pretty much the same thing. Every year, it's always the same. Sometimes the extra amount I'd like is a little bit more. I'm making way more than I did fifteen years ago, but I'm always a little short of what I really want to do.

I think I'm pretty typical. Most of us consume almost as much (sometimes more) than we make. We get more, we spend more. So, really, it's not about our income. It's about lifestyle. We're making more than we've ever made before, but it's still not enough.

As a result, most of us have a lot of stress when it comes to money. We dread having the money talk with our spouses. We're always stressed out, and then when we hear somebody like Dwayne talk, we say, "I'd love to help out, but you don't know my financial situation."

We're not the first ones to feel this way. If you have a Bible with you, open it to Malachi 3, the last book of the Old Testament. Malachi lived right around the time that the walls of Jerusalem were rebuilt. When Nehemiah returned to Jerusalem to check on how things were going, he discovered that things had fallen apart. People weren't observing the Sabbath day; tithing was being ignored; the priests were corrupt. It's about this time that Malachi came along and addressed the situation of that time.

One of the reasons that people had cut back on their giving was probably their own financial situation. They were saying, "What's up with God? The crops haven't been so great lately. How am I supposed to be generous with what I'm making?" That's where we pick up, in Malachi 3:6. God says, "I am the LORD, and I do not change. That is why you descendants of Jacob are not already completely destroyed." In other words, God says, "Things haven't changed because I've changed. I've stayed the same. I'm the covenant keeping God. Things have changed because you have moved away from me."

God then issues an invitation for the people to return to him, in verse 7: "'Ever since the days of your ancestors, you have scorned my laws and failed to obey them. Now return to me, and I will return to you,' says the LORD Almighty."

You've got to love what happens next. "But you ask, 'How can we return when we have never gone away?'" It's pretty silly to ask a question you don't want the answer to. The people were completely unaware of the reasons why their relationship with God wasn't going so well. God replied: "Should people cheat God? Yet you have cheated me! But you ask, 'What do you mean? When did we ever cheat you?' You have cheated me of the tithes and offerings due to me" (Malachi 3:8).

Here's where it gets a bit confusing. The tithe literally means a tenth. Back in Israel, though, there were three tithes. The first tithe or 10% was collected from all the produce and livestock and given to support the priests. The second tithe, or 10% of the rest, was brought to Jerusalem and consumed in a festival. Then, every three years, a tithe would go to the poor. Nobody can figure out if this was in addition to the other two tithes, or whether it replaced the first one. But there was a lot of giving going on!

For obvious reasons, when times were tight, people scaled back from completely tithing. But God said, "You're robbing me." They were doing leftover giving. They paid all their regular expenses, and then waited to see if anything was left over to help God and the poor.

As a result, their financial situation got worse, not better. Malachi 3:9 says, "You are under a curse, for your whole nation has been cheating me." The people had cut God out of their financial lives, but then they still expected God to bless them. They were saying, "God, please provide for me. Help those crops grow," while at the same time they had told God to stay out of their finances. God was saying, "As long as you're going to cut me out of your financial life, you're going to experience the consequences."

Then God issues an invitation. Verses 10-12:

"Bring all the tithes into the storehouse so there will be enough food in my Temple. If you do," says the LORD Almighty, "I will open the windows of heaven for you. I will pour out a blessing so great you won't have enough room to take it in! Try it! Let me prove it to you! Your crops will be abundant, for I will guard them from insects and disease. Your grapes will not shrivel before they are ripe," says the LORD Almighty. "Then all nations will call you blessed, for your land will be such a delight," says the LORD Almighty.

This is the only time God tells us to test him. We would say, "Improve our financial situation, then I'll be generous." In other words, "Take care of my financial needs, then I'll be generous to you and to the poor." But God says the opposite. After we take care of giving to God first, and helping the poor, then God will take care of the rest.

The greatest thing that you and I could do to improve our finances would be to invite him back into the equation. We sometimes think, "I'll do this when things get better," but they never quite get better. "I'll wait until the economy improves." It's easy to forget who controls the economy. God isn't waiting in church for us to arrive and give him something. God's running the world that we live in. He's not just part of our life. He's all of life. It's silly to try to cut him out, thinking that will help us get ahead.

My struggle - our struggle - is to believe what he's promised. It's to refuse to say, "I'd like to help, but..." God says that when we're generous to the poor, he more than makes up the difference. He always takes care of our needs. "If you help the poor, you are lending to the LORD-and he will repay you!" (Proverbs 19:17) "Whoever gives to the poor will lack nothing. But a curse will come upon those who close their eyes to poverty" (Proverbs 28:27).

God says that as we make his kingdom our primary concern, he will take care of everything else. "He will give you all you need from day to day if you live for him and make the Kingdom of God your primary concern" (Matthew 6:33).

The challenge is this: beginning today, beginning right where we are right now, no matter what our financial situation, that we include sacrificial, joyful giving to the Lord, and to the poor, in our budgets, believing that God will take care of us.

The real issue isn't what you have, or how little you have. In your bulletins, there's an envelope. Take it out and open it. How much does it take to be generous? You've got two pennies there. That's all it takes. One day at the Temple, Jesus watched people give their tithes and offerings. Some think that the amount each person gave was announced. Imagine if we did that today. They probably yelled out, "Four hundred dollars!" "One thousand dollars!" Then this old lady comes up, and I can imagine that they said, a bit quieter this time, "Two cents." Big deal. Except Jesus said, "The truth is that this poor widow gave more to the collection than all the others put together. All the others gave what they'll never miss; she gave extravagantly what she couldn't afford-she gave her all" (Mark 12:43-44 The Message).

The most generous example of giving in the Bible, apart from Jesus, was somebody who was worth only two cents. Now you all have two cents. That's all it takes to be generous.

I don't know what you're going to do with the two pennies you were given this morning. Go crazy with it if you'd like. On the other hand, you may want to put it somewhere as a reminder that that's all the money you need to be generous. Your net worth can be reduced to that amount, and it's still enough.

It's pretty easy for you and I to give two cents, because we have way more than that. So let's try something different. Pull out your keys and your purse or wallet. I'm going to call the ushers to take up the offering. Just kidding! But let's do something different. Let's surrender it to God and say, "It's enough for me to be generous. Everything I have, it's yours. I'm going to use it not just for myself, but to benefit others."

When we surrender everything to God, he lets us keep most of it. But it is enough. It's enough to give generously to God, to invite him back into our finances. And it's enough to give to help the poor. Let's pray and surrender it to God.

I Didn't Know... (Proverbs 30:7-9; Luke 12:13-34)

No matter how many times you read the Bible, you still come across some strange passages. There are always new surprises. For instance, Proverbs 30 contains one of the strangest prayers. I don't think I've ever heard anyone pray this prayer. It's as if the author had two wishes. Look at what he asks for.Proverbs 30:7-8 says, "O God, I beg two favors from you before I die. First, help me never to tell a lie." That's pretty good. I can go with that first choice. It's noble to ask God for help in being completely truthful. Then Agur gives his second wish. "Second, give me neither poverty..." - okay, I'm tracking, this is good - "nor riches! Give me just enough to satisfy my needs."Wait a minute. This isn't what I would ask for. Agur continues in verse 9: "For if I grow rich, I may deny you and say, "Who is the LORD?" And if I am too poor, I may steal and thus insult God's holy name."This probably isn't a prayer we've prayed very often. "Lord, please don't let them give me a raise this year!" I've never seen a group on strike outside demanding lower wages. Most of us are overwhelmed financially. We feel like we're barely getting by as it is. We feel, "If only I had a little bit more." We wouldn't dream of praying for God to only give us what we need and no more.When I fill up my car at Esso, I occasionally see that they're giving away $10,000 to some lucky winner. That's a nice amount. It's not enough to change someone's life, to quit a job and buy a new house, but it's enough to have a bit of fun. The reality is that there's probably nobody here who would have a problem thinking of ways to spend an extra $10,000. There's stuff we've been wanting for ages.We don't often think of it this way, but there is a danger in having more money than we need to just get by. When we have more than we need, there's a danger that we'll say, "Who is the LORD?" That's how we think. Who needs God when you have money? Riches lead us away from dependence on God. That's not a pleasant thought. It's not what we want to believe about ourselves, but it's true.Jesus told a story to help us understand this concept. I think he told a story because a story is subversive. It gets past our defenses. The story is found in Luke 12. Luke sets the stage for the story Jesus is about to tell. Luke 12:1 says, "Meanwhile, the crowds grew until thousands were milling about and crushing each other." Wouldn't you have loved to be there? It sounds like a European soccer match. Crowds all over, and then Jesus begins teaching. He doesn't pull any punches as he warns the crowd about the religious leaders of the day.As soon as he's done, somebody walks up to Jesus. Verse 13 says, "Then someone called from the crowd, 'Teacher, please tell my brother to divide our father's estate with me.'" This is one of those moments that you want to say, "Have you been listening to what Jesus has just been talking about?" It reminds me of a pastor friend of mine. He had preached a message that touched a lot of people. After, he stood at the front of the church and prayed with people. About three or four people in, he said, "What would you like to talk about?" They answered, "Pastor, I just wanted to return this video to the library." You feel like saying, "Were you even here? Have you been paying attention?"It wasn't unusual to bring these sorts of issues to a rabbi. It just wasn't the right time. Jesus saw that the real issue wasn't the proper disposition of an estate. Jesus saw that there was a deeper issue that needed confronting. He turned to the man in verse 14 and said, "Friend, who made me a judge over you to decide such things as that?" Then, in verse 15, he stopped addressing the man, and took this as a teaching opportunity for the whole audience. "Then he said, 'Beware! Don't be greedy for what you don't have. Real life is not measured by how much we own.'"Jesus was pretty direct. He warned us twice to be on guard against greed. Now, nobody thinks they're greedy. In fact, one of the characteristics of greed is that we don't know when we're being greedy. Greed is wanting more of what we already have enough of. When we want more, we don't think we have enough. We don't even realize what's happening. We don't know that we're greedy. We may not realize it, but Jesus is talking right to us.What's the big deal about greed? Jesus says, "Real life is not measured by how much we own." We all believe that at one level, but a whole other part of us acts as if our possessions and our quality of life are directly related. We believe - culture believes - that possessions add to, or even lead to, the good life. When we have a lot, we want more. Without realizing it, our stuff can become a substitute for God. Colossians 3:5 even says that greed is idolatry.We're all here. We all have lots of stuff. Even those of us who are struggling financially are really quite well off. And most of us want more. I would say that probably 98% of us fit into this category of having more than we need to live. Both Proverbs and Jesus warn us that there are dangers in having more than we need just to get by.Then Jesus tells a story. Verses 16-19:
And he gave an illustration: "A rich man had a fertile farm that produced fine crops. In fact, his barns were full to overflowing. So he said, 'I know! I'll tear down my barns and build bigger ones. Then I'll have room enough to store everything. And I'll sit back and say to myself, My friend, you have enough stored away for years to come. Now take it easy! Eat, drink, and be merry!'
We read this story and think, "What's the problem?" This is basically how most of us are living. We hope that we have a good year in business or sales. We hope that our portfolio expands and that the markets pick up this year. We're planning on getting enough so we can maybe move to a slightly better house, maybe take it a bit easier one day. Jesus may have told the story from an agricultural perspective, but you could import that into any one of our worlds and it would fit. What's wrong with that?Jesus continues in verses 20-21: "But God said to him, 'You fool! You will die this very night. Then who will get it all?' Yes, a person is a fool to store up earthly wealth but not have a rich relationship with God." The problem wasn't with his money. It's not wrong to be rich. But there were a couple of other problems. One, this guy really didn't have a spiritual life. He may have had money, but he didn't have a relationship with God. The other problem, though, was that he thought all the money was for him. He got more, so he figured he could keep more. The tendency for all of us is to keep all or most of what God gives us, beyond the basic necessities, for ourselves.What happens when we get a raise? Say you got a 3% raise this year. For most people, this is what happens: your spending goes up by 3%, or more. We get more; we think we can keep more. The Bible says that there's a big problem with this. It makes us less dependent on God. But there's another problem. God doesn't give us more so that we can be a blessing to ourselves. God gives us more so we can use it for others. We're supposed to use it to help others, not just to help ourselves.Then Jesus talks about how God will take care of us. We won't read it, but it's a good passage to bookmark for when you're feeling financially stressed. Basically, Jesus says that we don't have to be greedy, or worry about money, because God will look after us. He says in verse 30: "These things dominate the thoughts of most people[a very true statement], but your Father already knows your needs. He will give you all you need from day to day if you make the Kingdom of God your primary concern." We don't have to get stressed about money, about having enough, because God always looks after his kids. Jesus says, "So don't be afraid, little flock. For it gives your Father great happiness to give you the Kingdom" (Luke 12:32). It's almost like Jesus is saying, "What more do you need?"Then Jesus says the most amazing, disturbing thing. You'll probably do what I did. I looked at the footnotes, in the Greek, to see if there was something that said, "Just kidding, guys." I looked for the loophole. It seems like one of those hyperboles, an exaggeration, something that he couldn't possibly mean for us to take seriously. Jesus says in verse 33 says, "Sell what you have and give to those in need." He doesn't say sell all that we have. But he does say that we should get rid of some of our stuff so that we can help others.I think Jesus really means this. We have way too much stuff. We even curse it sometimes. We run out of space to store it all. We rent self-storage lockers to pack it all away. We pay monthly fees to store stuff away that we don't even use. When we clean our houses, we mutter about all the stuff we have to move to dust - stuff we don't even like. We have so many clothes that there are some things we haven't worn in ages, and not because it doesn't fit. Jesus says, get rid of it. Take that second or third computer and give it to someone who could use it. Donate it to a computer lab. Get rid of your stuff, and give it to someone who could use it. Cash in some of your investments and give it to somebody who's struggling financially.It's hard to know who benefits most when we do this. Jesus mentioned that we'll be helping those in need if we do this. But you get the impression that he was more focused on what it would do for us. It makes us less encumbered by all our possessions, less attached to physical stuff. Jesus said in verses 33-34:
This will store up treasure for you in heaven! And the purses of heaven have no holes in them. Your treasure will be safe-no thief can steal it and no moth can destroy it. Wherever your treasure is, there your heart and thoughts will also be.
Following his instructions may help the poor. It may give some needed resources to charities and people who really need it. But it also does something for us. It frees us from the encumbrances of possessions. It makes us more dependent on God.Here's the point. Treasures aren't just to be stored up for our own pleasure. Whenever God gives us more than we need to get by - and that's almost all of us - we need to realize that we're facing a danger. The danger is that we'll get greedy and want more without even knowing it, and we'll end up enslaved to the stuff rather than using it to benefit others.The goal, I think, isn't for us to feel guilty, or to skip going out for lunch today. The goal, though, is to aim for a modest lifestyle that benefits others. The goal is to live in such a way that it wouldn't be the worst thing in the world to lose everything we own, because what really matters can never be taken away.Here's what I didn't know. I didn't know that I have enough. I'm rich. Almost all of us are. We live in luxury, compared to history, compared to most of the world. We all make way more than we really deserve. We may not think so, because we compare it to others we know, or what's on TV. Even the poorest of us has resources that many could only dream of. What we have is more than enough. 98% of us have more than we need just to get by.I didn't know that there's a danger in having more than enough. This is the goal of pretty well everyone in North America: to have more than we need to get by. I didn't know that there's such a danger in having so much. The greatest indication of that is that we don't know how much we have. Despite our riches, most of us feel financially strapped. We're making more money that ever before, but we don't know it. Remember the definition of greed? It's wanting more of what I already have enough of. I didn't know that I'm probably living a life of greed, without even being aware.I also didn't know that the excess was given for me to share. I didn't know, but I do now. Jesus said, "Sell what you have and give to the poor." When I get a 3% raise, I don't have to spend the 3% on myself. I can share some of it with others. I can use the extra beyond what I really need to get by to enrich the lives of others.This week, I read that the average American Christian gives 3% of their income to charity. If every American Christian started tithing, not only could all ministries be supported at their current levels, but there would also be enough to end world hunger. I know that there are other issues: getting the aid past corrupt governments and so on, but that's sobering. That's just one country, but look what could happen. Every American Christian could keep 90% for themselves, and there would still be enough money left over to end world hunger. Imagine what could happen if we really began to use our excess - the amount beyond what we really need - to help others.There are really only two choices. One is to pray to God, like Agur, "Lord, I don't need any more. Please, no more raises. In fact, cut my income back to only what I need to get by." You could pray that prayer. It's pretty radical, but it's really not such a bad prayer to offer.If you can't bring yourself to pray that, the only real alternative is to say, "Lord, give me more, but help me to give it away." The only other choice that honors him is to accept more than you need, but then commit to using it to help others. God's not calling us all to live in tents; he is calling us to live modestly and generously, enjoying what he's given us, but also enjoying giving it away to help others.Next week, I've asked Dwayne Cline, a pastor from inner-city Hamilton, to speak on what the Bible teaches on our responsibility to the poor. He's got way more credibility to speak on this than I do. But today, it's time to pray one of these two prayers. "Lord, only give me what I need to get by," or else, "Lord, give me more, but help me to use it to help others."It may be time to go home and put some things on eBay, and give the money to the charity. It may be time to plan a garage sale, or to give some of our stuff away to people or organizations who can use it. It's time to free ourselves up. It's time to start living the promise that Jesus gave: "He will give you all you need from day to day if you make the Kingdom of God your primary concern" (Luke 12:31).Prayer:
For those of us who are stressed financially - to receive the promise that God will give us all that we needFor those of us who have more than we need, to live generously, to be freed from greedFernando Ortega's song - "You can have all this world, but give me Jesus."