Money

Do You Trust God With His Money?

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An old writer tells of two brothers who went out to take a walk in the night, and one of them looked up to the sky and said, “I wish I had a pasture-field as large as the night heavens.” And the other brother looked up into the sky, and said, “I wish I had as many oxen as there are stars in the sky.”

“Well,” said the first, “how would you feed so many oxen?” Said the second, “I would turn them into your pasture.” “What! whether I would or not?” “Yes, whether you would or not.” And there arose a quarrel; and when the quarrel ended one had slain the other.—Walter Baxendale[1]

God has this beautiful plan laid out for how He and His created people live together in community.  God sees His inhabitants in this New Covenant (which is a holy contractual relationship) age, to give, to bring offerings to the Lord.  In reminding the Israelites’ that “You’re robbing me.”  He is informing them that they are breaking their portion of the contract. In loving kindness God offers Israel a solution, “I want you to return to me. I want us to get this relationship right. And the place you need to start is in this matter of giving.”

In Malachi 3:10-12, God is beginning to dominate the conversation in this lover’s quarrel.  God tells them how to solve the problem.

 Bring the full tithe into the storehouse that there may be food in my house. And thereby put me to the test, says the Lord of hosts, if I will not open the windows of heaven for you and pour down for you a blessing until there is no more need. I will rebuke the devourer for you so that it will not destroy the fruits of your soil, and your vine in the field shall not fail to bear, says the Lord of hosts. Then all nations will call you blessed, for you will be a land of delight, says the Lord of hosts. [2]

 What’s the solution to restore this damaged relationship? Look at the solution through the lens of Jesus’ and the apostles’ teaching.  In 2 Corinthians 9:7 the apostle Paul gives the clearest answer in the New Testament to this question of how much we should give to the Lord. Paul says, “Each man should give what he has decided in his heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.”

How much should you give?  You should give to God whatever you can give with a joyful spirit.

Paul wanted the Corinthians to understand the relationship they have with God and receive the full benefits of God’s blessings.  Those benefits were being compromised by their attitude about giving.  Paul points to the proper heart response to their generosity.  We should not give reluctantly, or under compulsion, instead, we should give as God gives hilariously. That Greek word translated “cheerful” in the text is where we get the English word “hilarious” from.  It would be a better translation that “God loves a hilarious giver.”

God doesn’t care nearly as much about the percentage you give.  He is far more concerned with the attitude at the heart of your giving.  God looks at whether you have been generous. If you’re asking, “Where should I start? What’s the minimum?” Ten percent is a good starting point, a guideline. In some cases, it’s 9 per cent or 8 per cent, but as we grow in our relationship with God through faith we’ll see that amount increase.

God blesses us abundantly when we give.

The people in Malachi 3:10-12 were struggling with some of the same issues you and I struggle with when it comes to giving. They had some of the same factors working against them. In verse 10 God says, “Test me in this and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that you will not have room enough for it.” It sounds like the people are scared that if they follow through on their giving commitments, they’re not going to make it.

These people were facing heavy taxation by the Persians. They had been taken into captivity years before by the Babylonians, and many of them were deported to what is modern day Iraq. They lived there for 70 years, and then the Persians living in the area of modern day Iran overthrew the Babylonians. The Persians said, we’ve got these prisoners of war; let’s send them home and let them rebuild the nation and their economy, and we’ll come out better economically by doing that. So, the people of Israel went back, but they were paying heavy taxes to the Persians.

It is natural and expected that some of the Israelite people thought, our budget is so tight, and if we give our tithes and offerings we’re not going to have enough money to pay our taxes. Or if we pay our taxes, we’re not going to have enough money to eat. These people were concerned about pests destroying their crops and whether there would be enough rainfall and enough sunshine so the crops would grow and have a good yield.

God says to them: Trust me in this. If you do your part, I will bless you.

Today we have the same concerns, don’t we? We worry about the local economy and the markets and the price of gasoline. But God said to these people and he says to us today: I challenge you to test me. Follow through on your commitment, and see how I will bless you. Give at a level that will test my ability to bring blessing to your life.

God blessed people in the Old Testament spiritually, and he blesses people today also. But in the first chapter of Ephesians is that wonderful prayer of blessing Paul prays, and we realize God has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing.

As you listen to this lovers’ quarrel, when you get to the end of verse 12 listen for the response of God’s people. God has done a lot of talking here. What do God’s people have to say in response? There’s nothing there, is there? God’s people don’t respond. Could it be that the prophet Malachi didn’t include the people’s response because he wants to let us think about how we would complete this story because he wants us to reflect on how we would respond to God, how we would end this lovers’ quarrel? Are we willing to return to the Lord, the Lord who promises to come back to us? Are you and I prepared to accept God’s challenge to give at a level that tests his ability to bless us? That is the question, and the choice is yours.

Other posts in this series on money.

https://revheadpin.org/2017/08/03/are-your-giving-is-reflection/

https://revheadpin.org/2017/01/20/common-misconceptions-about-money-and-wealth/

[1]  Tan, P. L. (1996). Encyclopedia of 7700 Illustrations: Signs of the Times (p. 1108). Garland, TX: Bible Communications, Inc.

[2] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Mal 3:10–12). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society

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Money

Common Misconceptions About Money and Wealth

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At a church meeting, a very wealthy man rose to tell the rest of those present about his Christian faith. “I’m a millionaire,” he said, “and I attribute it all to the rich blessings of God in my life. I remember the turning point in my faith. I had just earned my first dollar and I went to a church meeting that night. The speaker was a missionary who told about his work. I knew that I only had a dollar bill and had to either give it all to God’s work or nothing at all. So at that moment I decided to give my whole dollar to God. I believe that God blessed that decision, and that is why I am a rich man today.” He finished and there was an awed silence at his testimony as he moved toward his seat. As he sat down a little old lady sitting in the same pew leaned over and said to him: “I dare you to do it again.”[1]

 Money is an issue that so many struggle with.  To help walk through this, I will lead you through a four-week series on dealing with money issues. The text for the next two posts will be centered on Jesus’ interaction with a young rich man in Luke 12:13-21.

Someone in the crowd said to him, “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me.” But he said to him, “Man, who made me a judge or arbitrator over you?” And he said to them, “Take care, and be on your guard against all covetousness, for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.” And he told them a parable, saying, “The land of a rich man produced plentifully, and he thought to himself, ‘What shall I do, for I have nowhere to store my crops?’ And he said, ‘I will do this: I will tear down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. And I will say to my soul, “Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.”’ But God said to him, ‘Fool! This night your soul is required of you, and the things you have prepared, whose will they be?’ So is the one who lays up treasure for himself and is not rich toward God.”

Background of the text:

You have a rich man who asks Jesus to mediate a dispute over an inheritance.  Here are the issues: Luke did not state what the specific problem was, but this is ultimately irrelevant. What is clear is that the motive behind the question was greed not the fulfillment of Ps 133:1,

“Behold, how good and pleasant it is when brothers dwell in unity.”

Greed is an insatiable desire and lusts for more and more. It is all-consuming so that all of life becomes focused on the accumulation of wealth. There is no room for anything else, not even God. That’s why it is so hard for a rich person to enter God’s kingdom.

There is no question that we live in a material world to steal a line from a Madonna song.  Madonna was the big pop star in the 80’s (not the one headlining in the Roman Catholic church for my younger readers). Money is the power and driving force behind much of what happens in our daily lives. Far too many people believe that money plays a significant role in the happiness quotient of their everyday lives.  No matter how firmly grounded are our spiritual values we often find themselves struggling with the issue of money. We struggle with profound questions such as how much is enough? What should I do with my money? Does God want me to have money and if so how much? Can I be comfortably well-off and still be spiritual? Should I give all my money to the poor? Should I give any of my money to the poor?

Over the course of this series, we will tackle one of the toughest issues we should deal with regarding money.   What would Jesus do about money?

The Mention of Money in the Bible.

When you read the Gospels, you may be surprised to find Jesus spoke about this topic often. Sixteen of the 38 parables deal with how to handle money and possessions, and 10% of the verses (288 in all) deal with the subject of money. The Bible offers 500 verses on prayer, less than 500 verses on faith, but more than 2,000 verses on money and possessions.

The Bible has much to say on the subject of money and wealth.  With that said, it is surprising we have so many misconceptions about money. Some of our wrong ideas are based on a misinterpretation of what the Word of God says.  Others have developed over time in our culture and have just never been challenged.  Let’s quickly examine a few of them.

 Misconceptions

Money is the root of all evil.

 This is the quote I hear said wrong most often. The actual verse says “The love of money is a root of all kinds of evil.” (1 Timothy 6:10) There’s a huge difference in the reading of this verse. Money, in and of itself, is neither good nor bad. What swings the pendulum is our attitude toward money.  If our attitudes are sinful then, we turn money into a hindrance in our faith walk.  If we have a sound understanding, then, money can be a tremendous asset.  It is all about the attitude.

God needs your money, or the congregation will close.

As a pastor serving small, struggling urban congregations early on I could easily fall into the trap of teaching this to my members.  After all, I have a family to feed.  If the members don’t give, we don’t eat.  The church needs your money.  The danger with this teaching is that God is not poor. He owns it all. When you give to God, you are not “helping him out of a jam.” In the book of Psalms, David quotes God as saying:

“I have no need of a bull from your stall or of goats from your pens, for every animal of the forest is mine and the cattle on a thousand hills.” (Psalm 50:10)

Having more money will make us happy.

The problem is that the target for “enough” keeps moving. Financial guru Ken Roberts said that when he began building his fortune, he thought that one million dollars was the magic number that would make him happy and eliminate all his worries. When he became a millionaire, he realized that he needed $5 million to be happy and at peace. When Roberts accumulated a net worth of $5 million, the target changed to $10 million. He finally realized that no amount would ever be enough—his peace of mind would have to come from something other than his bank account. The sum of money is not the key to happiness.  The key to life is learning to be content.  Contentment is not dependent on your circumstances.  It is based on your relationship with the Almighty.  As Paul reminds us in 1 Thessalonians 5:17-19,

“…pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. Do not quench the Spirit.”

Stayed tuned for more to come in this series.

[1] Brad Munroe, One Voice, Two Hearts, sermon preached First Presbyterian Church, Pueblo, Colo., April 13, 2003.

 

 

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Money

Your Giving Is a Reflection of Your Relationship With God

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Sometimes lovers argue. Lovers fight when one party in the relationship has committed an act of betrayal. Then things start to break down, and a dispute arises. We’re going to listen to a lovers’ quarrel between God and his people.

We rob God when we don’t give

It’s in Malachi 3:6-7 where this lovers’ quarrel breaks out. God begins because he is the one who has been betrayed. He says, “For I the Lord do not change; therefore you, O children of Jacob, are not consumed. From the days of your fathers, you have turned aside from my statutes and have not kept them. Return to me, and I will return to you, says the Lord of hosts.”

God is speaking to His people: “Look, we have this relationship. Somebody in this relationship has moved away.  Someone in this relationship had been unfaithful, and it’s not me. I don’t change.  I didn’t abandon you. And it’s a good thing for you that I have remained faithful, that I have kept my promises, or you might be destroyed.  Historically, over the many years of our relationship, you have proven to be consistently unfaithful. You’ve continually turned away from the Covenant (contract) we’ve had, the decrees I’ve given you.

But then God says these tender words: “Return to me, and I will return to you, says the Lord of hosts” (Malachi 3:7). And oh, what tender words they are.  But remember this is a lovers’ quarrel, and God’s people are not immediately convinced; these words don’t make their hearts melt and become tender. God says at the end of verse 7, “But you ask, ‘How are we to return?'”

God answers that. In verse 8 he says, “Will man rob God? Yet you are robbing me.” It’s interesting that God singles out the area of money. We might expect God to get after the people for worshiping idols, although these are individuals who came back from 70 years of captivity in Iraq (ancient Babylon). They have come back to the land, and one thing we know about the Israelite people after this captivity is they don’t struggle with worshiping false idols like they did before they went into captivity.

But in this case, God singles out money. That makes sense, doesn’t it? A lot of lovers’ quarrels are over money. If you’re married you know that’s true, because you’ve had that happen in your home. One day one of you looks at the checkbook and says, “$274.67 at Wal-Mart! You told me you were only going to buy toilet paper and toothpaste.” And then later in the week, the other spouse finds out a 4-wheeler has been purchased, and that is not how the money was going to be spent. And you both feel the other person has betrayed you and has robbed the money you had both set aside for a particular purpose. That’s what God is doing in this lovers’ quarrel. He is accusing his people of robbing him.

You can anticipate what they’re going to say. The second line of verse 8 says, “But you ask, ‘How do we rob you?'” God, come on. Explain that. How do we rob you?

God gives the answer at the end of verse 8 and in verse 9: “In your tithes and contributions.” God goes further to explain, “You are cursed with a curse, for you are robbing me, the whole nation of you.”

God is upset here, and he calls these people a name. In verse 9 he says, “You are cursed with a curse, for you are robbing me, the whole nation of you.” That word “nation”—the Hebrew word gowy—was used for the pagan peoples, and rarely in the Old Testament does God use that to describe Israel. God typically uses another word. When he speaks of Israel, he calls them “my people” or “a people”—the Hebrew word ben. But in this case, He uses this word gowy, or “nation,” because it has the connotations of paganism and being a heathen. He’s upset with them, and he’s lumping their behavior with the behavior of the people living around them: “You are under a curse—the whole nation of you—because you are robbing me.”

How are the people robbing God? In tithes and offerings. The word tithe is literally “tenth,” or ten percent. The people living before Jesus were under the law of Moses. That was their covenant with God, and that law in Deuteronomy 14:26-29 specified the people had to give a portion to the Lord.

But the holy things that are due from you, and your vow offerings, you shall take, and you shall go to the place that the Lord will choose, and offer your burnt offerings, the flesh, and the blood, on the altar of the Lord your God. The blood of your sacrifices shall be poured out on the altar of the Lord your God, but the flesh you may eat.  Be careful to obey all these words that I command you, that it may go well with you and with your children after you forever, when you do what is good and right in the sight of the Lord your God.” Deuteronomy 14:26-29

So, if your farm yielded 90 bushels of wheat, nine would be given to the Lord. If your cows had 30 calves, you would offer three of those calves to the Lord. That was your tithe.

It gets a little more complicated because in the Old Testament law there were three tithes. One was this tithe that was given to the priests. A second tithe was used to celebrate the annual sacred feast—the people used this to throw a party in honor of God. And then every third year the people would give another ten percent to help the poor. When you add that together, that works out to be roughly 25 percent of your income. That was expected of the people, and God says: You are robbing me because you are not following through on giving your tithes.

We have to ask ourselves a question: Is this issue still a problem today? Is it still a sin not to bring tithes and offerings to God? This practice is an Old Testament one, right? God, doesn’t hold us to those old standards, does He?  When Jesus came on the scene, some things changed. The way you and I relate to God through Jesus is different in some respects than how the people of Israel related to God. So, we have to ask: Is this still a sin for us today?

To answer that question, we have to look at Old Testament teaching through the lens of Jesus’ teaching and ministry.  2 Corinthians 8-9 is one of the most complete discussions in the New Testament on giving.  To get the answer to the question you will have to come back next Tuesday and read that post.  That is a cliffhanger.