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Sep 29, 2019

Is The Church Only After Your Money?

Passage: Deuteronomy 15:1-11

Preacher: John Huizinga

Series: What's Wrong With The Church?

Category: What's Wrong With The Church?

Keywords: money, church, generosity, giving

Summary:

What’s Wrong With the Church? Part 3 – Isn’t the Church Only After Your Money? A historian reported that the venerable theologian Thomas Aquinas once visited Pope Innocent II at his palace in Rome. Aquinas was stunned by the opulence. The Pope was counting out a rather large mound of gold coins and turned to Aquinas and glibly quipped, “You see, Thomas, the Church can no longer say, ‘Silver and gold have I none.'” To this Thomas solemnly replied, “True, holy father, neither can she now say, ‘Rise and walk.'” Lavish mansions for prosperity gospel preachers, Christian television programs that beg you for money, sprawling church campuses costing millions of dollars, TV preachers using donated gifts to buy private jets . . . We’ve all been shocked and disgusted with the stories. Maybe for different reasons. To some, this is proof that Christians are just as selfish and greedy as anyone else. But for most, we see these as sinful examples of disobedience to true Christian faith. The consistent, holy message of the gospel is one of generosity and charity. But everyone fights the deadly sin of greed. Do we object when the sermon is about money because we think my money and my lifestyle are nobody's business but my own? Our Bible passages say otherwise. They are invitations to confess our selfishness, lament our stingy ways, and orient our desires to giving instead of getting.

Detail:

During the great persecution of Christians

at the beginning of the 4th century,

Roman officials

targeted the Christian church at Cirta (kurta)

in modern day Algeria.

The Romans were looking for temple treasures

which were commonly found in pagan temples throughout that region during that time.

But court records show just how central charity was, and how generosity for the poor

marked the Christian church

rather than monetary or material gain.

All the church had was a simple storage room

with items kept there to be given to those in need: the court records list the items –

16 tunics for men, 82 dresses for women,

13 pairs of men’s shoes, 47 pairs of women’s shoes, 19 peasant capes,

and ten vats of oil and wine for the poor.

 

Christians were simply living out

the word, command and example of Jesus

who said in many ways what we read this morning:

. . . go, sell your possessions and give to the poor,

and you will have treasure in heaven.

Has something happened since then?

As we open ourselves up

to the criticisms of the church today,

one we frequently hear is that

the church is only after your money.

What do you think of that?

Maybe you or someone you know

would judge Christian churches this way?

Perhaps you have a friend or family member

who has left the church because of money?

 

There are stories out there:

Kenneth Copeland announced his ministry

had purchased a Gulfstream V jet.

The announcement on Copeland's website

showed him wearing a bomber jacket

in front of a gleaming white plane.

"Glory to God! It's Ours!" the website said.

"The Gulfstream V is in our hands!"

 

And here’s a picture of a Malawi pastor

with his mansion and car collection.

 

In fact, there is a website out there

run by a man who is a Christian

but is puzzled by pastors

who preach in $1,000 or more gym shoes:

With all the need out there, he wonders,

what are these pastors saying

by the shoes they wear?

 

Do you think I should get a pair of these?

 

Now of course, these are flagrant examples.

And it’s easy to point fingers

at these kinds of behaviors and lifestyles.

But it is better for us to listen to the criticism

and not rush too quickly to defend ourselves

or insist most are not anything like that at all.

That is true,

but it’s not the point.

 

Is there a bigger disconnect between

the message of the Bible about being

generous, giving believers

and the way we actually live?

 

It is far better to acknowledge that

we all of us struggle

with the pressure of being a consumer,

of being formed and shaped

to desire material goods and gain,

and how most of us at least once in a while

think many of our problems would be solved

if we just had a little more money.

 

Can I ask this?

Maybe the church is judged about money

because most of us think

our money and possessions and lifestyle

are nobody’s business but our own.

 

When we listen to the criticism

we have an opportunity to share that

Jesus talked about money a lot,

and the Bible mentions money often.

He spoke about money and material possessions

so Christians would study and apply those words

personally and together as church

because money is a power

that so easily becomes an idol

that seeks to take over our identities.

The love of money is the root of all evil.

Each of us has to put it in its proper place.

 

So let’s receive the invitation today

for some heartfelt confession and lament

regarding money and material possessions.

After all, whenever we practice lifestyles

that are not stewardly,

when we take for granted or waste or idolize

the gifts of God rather than the Lord’s giving of them,

we take that disobedience, guilt and shame

with us to church.

Because the church is not a building, it’s the people.

It’s said the scariest question on Wall Street is,

How are you doing?

So, how are you doing when it comes

to material goods and gains?

 

Didn’t the Bible reading strike you

as both odd and hopeful?

 

The commands of Deuteronomy witness to a completely different vision of the economy than what we live in.

We may be tempted to then dismiss the words

as out of touch,

but perhaps it is we who are out of touch,

our desires mal-formed

because we wonder whether we have enough

and whether what we have will be enough.

We can’t imagine debts being cancelled,

we easily forget that a measure of our economy

is in how its people treat those who are poor.

But we can’t escape the revelation

that the Lord God intends for you and me

to be generous with what we have been given:

7 If anyone is poor among your fellow Israelites . . . do not be hardhearted or tightfisted toward them. 8 Rather, be openhanded and freely lend them whatever they need.

10 Give generously to them

and do so without a grudging heart . . .

 

Does that sound odd to you to live that way?

Hopeful?

That you and I are made to live like that?

 

The gospel message is consistently and continually one of charity, generosity, and giving

as the healthy and holy way

to receive and respond to

our material possessions, needs and wants.

 

That was Jesus’ point

not only in what he said

but how he lived.

So when he tells the rich young man

to “. . . go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven.

Then come, follow me.”

Jesus is reflecting this great trust:

all we have comes from the Lord,

belongs to the Lord,

and is for the glory of the Lord.

 

So be generous.

Learn to be a giver instead of a getter.

 

So this is the gospel message behind

all the church should do and say

when it comes to money, buildings, programs,

deacon work, and community care.

 

The church talks about money

in order to apply the gospel to our lives

and because it’s the mission of faith

to follow Jesus.

 

As you consider both your fears and failings

when it comes to money and material goods,

remember that our identity is not found

in being a consumer,

but in being generous

because God is generous in Christ to us.

2 Cor 9 –

11 You will be enriched in every way so that you can be generous on every occasion, and through us your generosity will result in thanksgiving to God.

So how can we get there?

I mean,

if you asked those closest to you

to grade you on a generosity scale,

am I , are you a cheerful, generous, giving person?

If you’d say you’re a 5, how can we take counsel

from the Holy Spirit and get to a seven?

or if you’re a 3, to a 5?

Or a 6 to a 9.5?

 

First, we have to want to grow

in our holiness and righteousness.

So understand that this is what

a healthy church is about,

and what the Lord intends:

generosity and giving is a measure of faith.

This is the point of your blessings.

So can you say you are blessed?

2 Cor 9:

God is able to bless you abundantly, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work.

You will be enriched in every way so that you can be generous on every occasion . . .

 

So count your blessings.

Get in the habit of giving thanks each day.

Can you name in your heart 3 blessings right now?

Give thanks.

Then do the same tomorrow,

then the next day,

and the next.

So that you understand you are blessed by God.

 

Second,

Money and possessions belong to God

and are held in trust by God’s image bearers.

It’s not my money.

This isn’t my stuff.

Ps 24 – The earth is the LORD’s and everything in it.

God owns it all.

The Lord can choose to give me a little,

the Lord can choose to give me a lot,

the Lord can choose to take it away,

but most often,

the Lord chooses to give me just enough

so that my relationship to the Lord

is measured by trust and gratitude.

For the Lord loves you

and has your best interest in mind and heart.

And we are made for more than possessions,

we are made for God,

to belong to the Lord as a creature to the Creator,

as a child to our Heavenly Father.

We are not owners but accountable to God

for the way we use his money, his gifts.

This is the faith action we call stewardship.

 

So third,

our identity is not as consumers but as stewards,

trustees of the kindness and care

of our Heavenly Father.

Ron Blue defines stewardship as:

The use of God-given gifts and resources—

such as time, talent, treasure, influence,

and relationships—

for the accomplishment of God-given goals

and objectives.

It is never ‘my money’

because money is not my own

to do with as I please;

it is therefore a tool, a test, and a testimony

about my faith in God.

Money can be used as a tool in our lives

in a few different ways.

  1. Money can be used to accomplish the Lord God’s objectives.
  2. Money can be used to teach us to rely on God.
  3. Money can be used to buy needed and helpful things for ourselves or others.

 

Money is also a test.

When Jesus talks to the rich young man

he sees his possessions getting in the way

of God possessing him.

So Jesus tests him.

That story is in the Bible for you.

Money and material goods and gain

is a test.

Jesus knows

money and possessions are seductions

that lead to idolatry.

Jesus taught:

“No one can serve two masters.

You cannot serve both God and money.”

As I place more trust in money and stuff,

I place less trust in Jesus.

That money could be an idol tells us

money is a power, not innocent,

and seeks to master us,

so Christians must master their money.

 

The best way to break the power of money

is to give it away.

The faith action of generous and cheerful giving

helps us master money

and break its hold on us.

 

St Basil of Ceasarea speaks for us yet today

calling us to charity despite our fears:

“The bread which you hold back

belongs to the hungry;

the coat, which you guard

in your locked storage-chests, belongs to the naked; the footwear mouldering in your closet

belongs to those without shoes.

The silver that you keep hidden in a safe place belongs to the one in need.

Thus, however many are those

whom you could have provided for,

so many are those whom you wrong.”

― Saint Basil

 

He’s pointing out that money and possessions

are often sources of injustice.

So, fourth, God’s people are called

to be just with their goods.

The Deuteronomy verses on the release of debt

in the seventh year,

give us the principle of equity.

While there will always be rich and poor,

the Lord orders his kingdom

commanding his people to value equity:

meaning at least that work and labor laws,

economic opportunities and checks and balances,

be applied equally to all,

so that the law is not used to keep

the poor in poverty,

but to give freedom and opportunity to all.

Money as a source of injustice reminds us

we are not our own lords.

 

And money is A TESTIMONY

when Jesus tells the man to give.

His action will show and enable him to follow Jesus.

God has an intimate concern for the poor –

11 There will always be poor people in the land. Therefore I command you to be openhanded toward your fellow Israelites who are poor and needy in your land.

Earlier in the Deuteronomy passage God said

there need be no poor among you . . .

but the passage ends saying there will always be poor

in the land.

The Lord knows that even tho creation is ordered

to provide for each and all,

because of sin and idolatry and injustice,

poverty results.

Made in God’s image,

and blessed in God’s grace,

each of us should be concerned for the poor,

not full of judgment,

not indifferent to their circumstance or suffering,

backing up our concern with loving action.

 

Money to be shared with neighbors reminds us

there are neighbors, and not just self.

 

When we gather as church each Sunday,

we should celebrate the gospel

that declares scarcity to be false.

And when we are sent out to serve in God’s blessing we should think of our mission:

What if one of the links

between the Creator’s generosity

and a neighbor’s needs is us, this community?”

 

So what is the Spirit telling you

in your heart today?

Can we lament and confess how easily

money has become the focus of our lives

and the limit of our trust in God?

Can we find the courage of faith

to address our worry about our finances

not by reaching for more

or running faster after these things,

but resting in God’s care

by practicing a Sabbath rest

and a generous heart?

 

Many times those who struggle

with giving and being generous

are in that position because

they have not been stewardly

with what God has given them.

If you’re living beyond your means,

or find it’s too easy to spend time on Amazon

with your credit cards,

or dabble in gambling,

no wonder there’s no room in your heart or budget for the charity and generosity Christ looks for in you.

 

The answers are found in Scriptures.

Scriptures teach: It’s not how much I have;

it’s learning to be content with what I do have.

Contentment has three characteristics:

1)        No regrets for the past

2)        No fear of the future

3)        No envy in the present

 

So if you’re struggling

whether because you are stretched

or because you realize your desires

have led you into bad habits,

one prayerful, faithful response

is that of exercising contentment.

 

There are those in our church that can help you with learning to address your finances in a healthy way.

To that add prayer and devotion and worship

and the joy of fellowship

that you begin to learn to be content.

 

I know this is different from what you assume.

Because we assume the way to contentment

is the way of having and doing more.

But I can’t help but hearing

this broad vision of the Bible

which points us to Christ,

who gave completely,

gave his life,

who gave thanks,

who never said I don’t have enough.

 

A healthy faith life learns,

is taught by the Spirit that:

The only way to achieve financial freedom

and peace of mind about money

is by becoming a generous person

through your giving.

 Life should be about storing up treasures in heaven, says Jesus.

Because it is all about desire.

Look at how God has ordered the universe,

look at how God cares,

let your desire be turned to the kingdom,

away from self,

away from worry.

Disordered desire leads to worry and anxiety,

because money seeks to master you.

It is a false god, but we must master it,

it is to serve the kingdom.

 

Luke 12 the message

29-32 “What I’m trying to do here is get you to relax, not be so preoccupied with getting

so you can respond to God’s giving.

People who don’t know God and the way he works fuss over these things,

but you know both God and how he works.

Steep yourself in God-reality,

God-initiative, God-provisions.

You’ll find all your everyday human concerns

will be met.

Don’t be afraid of missing out.

You’re my dearest friends!

The Father wants to give you the very kingdom itself.

 

33-34 “Be generous. Give to the poor.

Get yourselves a bank that can’t go bankrupt,

a bank in heaven far from bankrobbers,

safe from embezzlers,

a bank you can bank on.

It’s obvious, isn’t it?

The place where your treasure is,

is the place you will most want to be,

and end up being.