2004-09-07 – “Powerty”
As He looked up Jesus saw the rich putting their gifts into the temple treasury. He also saw a poor widow put in two very small copper coins. “I tell you the truth,” He said, “this poor widow has put in more than all of the others. All these people gave their gifts out of their wealth, but she out of her poverty put in all she had to live on.” Luk21:1-4
On Sunday evening I started a two part series on Money. I’m going to expand on some of the concepts I raised there. When I typed the text of Luke 21 out, I typed “powerty” instead of “poverty”. Maybe that is not such a big mistake! The woman _was_ poor. But the significance of the story does not lie in her poverty but her power!As we become more and more wealthy it becomes harder and harder for us to part with our money. We feel that we have earned it. Our lifestyles upgrade with each pay increase and our sibling lists of essentials and non-essentials grow out of proportion with the older brother growing much faster than the younger one. I had a colleague who worked in an area where people were clawing their way from being in the “lower” class to the “middle” class. They were all first time home-owners and car-owners. Then the interest rates went to 21% and people felt the pinch. My colleague recounts how he and his wife would deliver groceries to hungry families and find them watching MNet! Television had become a priority for them. It is amazing how our sense of priorities can get confused.Here’s the key issue: God does not need our money! We don’t give because God is in a pinch, we give because _we_ need to give. We give to set ourselves free of the stranglehold that money and things can have over us. (More on this tomorrow…)This woman’s contribution is not much in financial terms, but it scores very high on the sacrifice scale. Good giving is ultimately a sacrifice. When she gave in this way, the widow affirmed her ownership of her money and repudiated the hold her money had on her. This woman had devotion, purpose, and clarity. She knew what was important and she was willing to give it. She gave out of her power-to-give-cheerfully :-> powerty.
2004-09-08 – “Does God need a loan?”
For every animal in the forest is mine and the cattle on a thousand hillsI know every bird in the mountains and the creatures of the field are mineIf I were hungry, I would not tell you – for the world is mine and all that is in it Psa50:10
One of the fundamental mistakes many people make when they think about money, tithing, and giving is that God _needs_ our money. He does not.The psalmist affirms something that we often forget – God is the ultimate owner. And even it were possible for Him to be hungry, He would not rely on us to give Him a meal. Or a loan…Well, if God doesn’t need our money, then maybe we give to the church! Yes, that’s it! The church _needs_ our money. If God’s work on earth needs to be done, then it is _our_ task to make it happen! Wrong again!Do you remember the story of Peter and the temple tax? (Matthew 17:24-27) They came to collect temple tax from Jesus. They didn’t seem to have it and so Jesus sent Peter our to catch a fish and in the fish’s mouth were the coins needed for the temple tax for Jesus and Peter. The owner of the cattle on a thousand hills is quite able to provide for the church.So why do we give?1. To affirm that God is our God, and that money (called Mammon – an idol – in scripture) will not have a hold over us.2. As an act of worship.3. As an act of gratitude.4. As a response to His Spirit – He will ask me to use His money (which I think is mine) to do something good.
2004-09-09 – “Money Traps us!”
Jesus looked at him and loved him. “One thing you lack,” He said. “Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” At this the man’s face fell. He went away sad, because he had great wealth. Mar10:21-22
In my reflections on the gospels, I have always imagined that this earnest young man who came to Jesus professing a good record of piety and desiring more from his relationship with God will turn out to be Joseph of Arimithea who spoke out in Jesus favour at the Jewish Council only to be shouted down and who then was the one who negotiated for Jesus’ body, placing it in the tomb he had just bought.I don’t know if my suppostition is correct, but it would be a nice end to the story. But let’s move away from my speculations to the facts of the text.* The young man was very rich.* He was committed and eager (vs.17 says he _ran_ to Jesus and _fell_ to his knees)* He was pious – He took God’s words and commands seriously. When Jesus quoted the five commandments that have to do with others, he professed a clean slate.* He was sincere – Jesus does not rebuke him or expose dishonesty. “He looked at him and loved him.”But there was a serious blockage in the man’s life, and, with the precision of a surgeon using a razor sharp scalpel to remove a cancerous growth, Jesus identifies the blockage and prescribes the cure:The young man didn’t own his possessions, his possessions owned him! Radical action was necessary! Jesus asks Him to let go completely. Was asking for it all a bit rough? We might think so, but we’re told that Jesus loved him. When he walked away sad, Jesus didn’t negotiate: “OK sell half..” The young man also didn’t try that – he knew that the diagnosis was right. He was trapped by his money!When I sit down at the beginning of each month and transfer my tithe to the church, I do it deliberately and as a statement: “Money, you don’t own me! I belong to Jesus and I choose to give a significant portion to Him!”This might sound radical and over the top, but the Gospels resound with Jesus’ comments and warnings about the love of wealth and money. I don’t want to land up there! So, when I give some of “my” money back to the One who made me able to earn it and gave me my job, I am affirming that it is all about Him!
2004-09-14 – “Debts”
Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for he who loves his fellowman has fulfilled the law. Rom13:8
The Bible does speak about loans, debt, and interest. In fact, the Bible speaks particularly about usury with is excessive interest due on money owed and is often secured by taking land, property, possessions, or even a person’s life or a family member in pledge to secure repayment of loans.This is a practice that is strongly criticised.The Bible has much more to say about being a lender than a borrower. Scripture resounds with God’s condemnation of those who lend to the poor and charge excessive interest and abuse the position of power that they have. It is not wrong for us to lend to people who are genuinely in need, but our terms should be advantageous to the borrower and need to lead them to an improved situation and greater financial responsibility. I should not be lending when the person is unable to pay back or when I will be encouraging a cycle of bad financial management. When the need is great and the loan would not be repayable, we have to consider other avenues of generosity, always striving to nurture growth toward independence and not to dependence.When it comes to being a borrower, I have strong feelings. Some people think that I am naive, some say that I am not making good use of the tools available to pay yesterday’s debts with tomorrow’s money, and others say that I am behind the times. But I have counselled many folk, particularly young couples, who have found themselves under immense pressure because the credit cards are maxed out, their furniture is on hire-purchase, the bond rates have gone up, and the car has just been repossessed! I am of the opinion that one should have only two debts, a home loan, and maybe a car loan. I keep my credit cards in the black, and I strive to live on what I have and not on what I’m going to get.Debt is devasting situation to be in and I have seen wealthy and poor people get into trouble because of an excessive reliance on credit. It is not responsible, and paying loads of interest is not good stewardship of God’s money.
2004-09-15 – “Generosity”
Remember this: Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously. Each man should give what he has decided in his heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that in all things at all times, having all you need, you will abound in every good work. 2Co9:6-8
This passage is about generosity. Giving and money have to do with _attitude_. If we are not generous, we are selfish, self-centred, and in danger of becoming idolatrous. The harder it is for us to give away, the more likely the chances are that we are worshipping the things we can’t let go of.Unfortunately the focus on giving is often that the church “needs” our money, when, in fact, it is us who _need_ to give and the church is simply a very worthy and useful receptacle for our generosity.Here in this passage Paul likens generosity to sowing seed. Our money, but also our time and talents, when well-used, are like seeds that will multiply. If a farmer has good seed that multiplies and bears fruit well, why would he hold back and not sow as much of it as he can? He would be crazy to hold back!Hoarding seed serves no purpose, next season the seeds might not germinate as well. Not all money is seed – we should also be responsible and save. We must be prudent and wise with our money making provision for the future and and investing for children’s education and so on. But there are opportunities that come our way, where we can invest – not in stock or property – but people. When we invest generously, cheerfully, and graciously the result is a wonderful freedom from the grasp that our “stuff” has on us and a growth in our relationship with God and others that allows Him to help us experience His amazing grace in new and dynamic ways.And no, the grace or the “crop” is not always financial – in fact it seldom is. The grace is growth, freedom from the tyranny of “keeping up with the Joneses” and peace of mind. It leads us to a more integrated lifestyle where we realise just how much of what we have is a blessing from above.
2004-09-16 – “Style”
But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing so that your giving may be in secret. Then your Father who sees what is done in secret, will reward you. Mat6:3-4
We can be generous, but it can be for all sorts of wrong reasons. We can do it for show, to quieten a guilty conscience, or to have “power” over the person we are helping by reinforcing their dependency on us. Public and known giving gives a foothold for pride and the feeling that we are somehow special and tempts us to be in control of other people’s lives.Jesus advocates secret giving. It needs to be something we do almost unconsciously and without thinking too hard about it. When the left hand does not know what the right is doing it is as though giving has become such a natural action that it is almost automatic. There’s a tightrope to be walked here: The two ends of the tightrope are that on the one end our giving should be thoughtful: we need to be practical and empowering in our giving because there are ways of being generous that are demeaning, disempowering, and dependency-creating. On the other end of the tightrope is the issue of not taking ourselves too seriously and not being caught up in the traps of pride, power, and influence.The best kind of giving is when not even the recipient knows where the money is from. There are many ways to do that: A bank cheque won’t reveal your identity, a direct deposit can also be marked “A.Friend”, you can give through a third person who knows your heart and desire to help. For many years a friend of mine put money in a “special causes” fund that I was able to administer. It meant that there was money available to help people I met who were in need. I could tell them that it wasn’t my money and so they had no sense of being “beholden” to me and my friend was able to be generous and literally not know what his “right hand” was doing!When it comes to giving, especially if we are able to give amounts that can make a big difference, pride and control are two spirits we don’t want to entertain. Giving in secret is a great way to avoid these pitfalls.