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Faithful Finances

Faithful Finances: Week One

Jan. 8, 2023

David R. Collins

Today we’re starting a new sermon series for the new year about the thing that we all spend most of our time earning and spending and a good deal of the rest of our time worrying about: money! We’re calling the series, Faithful Finances, and for the next six weeks that’s what we’re going to be focused on. If you made New Year’s resolutions, I’ll bet that at least one of them was about money. I made three, and the third one was about money. I’ll tell you what it is later.

We’re doing this series because you asked for it. Not in the sense that “oh you sure asked for it.” But some of you literally asked us to teach on what the Bible and especially Jesus have to say about this incredibly important and also sometimes touchy, subject. And we’re doing it now and not during stewardship season because, and maybe I shouldn’t be telling you this…I might get my union card revoked… but giving to the church is not the most important thing that the Bible teaches about money. It’s in there! Don’t get me wrong, it sure is. But it’s a part of the process of what God ultimately wants for all of us regarding our finances. That we trust God with them, and are generous, and even sacrificial, with them.

Jesus taught about money a lot. He taught about money more than he taught about heaven. But he didn’t teach about money as much as we hear about money in the news, and on social media. Our world is obsessed with money. It worships it, and worships the people who have it. You’ve no doubt heard the fact that in 2017 that 8 people possessed as much wealth as half of the planet, and that over the last three years, their wealth doubled, while 160 millions slipped into poverty. If we put that in terms of just our country, America’s billionaires own twice as much as the bottom half of the country. And I’ve noticed that far too many are aficionados for the taste of their boots.

But don’t worry, I’m not gonna get into politics, I’m just making an observation. Because emulating the rich, believing and acting on the ads that they pay for us to listen to, and trying to live beyond our means, has lead to some other serious issues. Like the fact that as of last year, the average person is $ 96,000 in debt. And that’s a misleading statistic, because not every person is in debt. 25% of Americans are debt free. That’s not as good as I’d hope it would be. No wonder things are the way they are…no one can afford to try and make them any different.

And that’s just the effect on our country. When you look at what our country is doing to the world because of our consumption, well, it’s a little bleak. Even though we are just 5% of the world’s population, we use 25% of the world’s oil. All of that is from the way that we spend money.

So what can we do about it? Well, we start with a little sermon series called Faithful Finances.

Being faithful with our finances isn’t just about wise stewardship that will end up benefiting us financially in the long run, though it will do that. Faithful finances is first and foremost about our relationship with God, and our commitment to God’s mission in the world. That mission is all tied up in the world’s health and well being, and that is all intertwined with the currency the flows around the world to make things happen, and each and every one of us is woven into it.

So we start with ourselves. We get our houses in order, and then we can address the rest of it. We start with the Bible. We start with what Jesus taught. Because he taught that the first thing that is at risk for each of us in our relationship with our finances, is our souls.

In his most famous teaching, the Sermon on the Mount, Matthew tells us that Jesus taught,

Matthew 6:19-24

19 ‘Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal; 20 but store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consumes and where thieves do not break in and steal.

21 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

Money is a heart issue. It’s a soul issue. It’s the biggest indicator of what our priorities actually are. Jesus puts it this way, too.

22 ‘The eye is the lamp of the body.

Both the eye and a lamp bring things into focus, all depending on where you point them.

So, if your eye is healthy, your whole body will be full of light; 23 but if your eye is unhealthy, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light in you is darkness, how great is the darkness!

So if what you look at, if what you think about most of your day, is money, or the things you want, then that’s what’s inside of you, too. Now if you’re struggling to feed your family, then that’s not darkness so much as it is for those of us who have our needs met, and are still looking… at stuff, and money, and possessions.

This is actually the resolution I was telling you about earlier. This year I am choosing to eliminate shopping as a hobby. I ended up with a bad habit after going to the DealNews website, multiple times a day for almost twenty years, it’s funny how things like that work. And I’d spend money on things I had no idea I needed until I went there. But it’s not just that. Wanting things became one of the big things I would think about on any given day.

Jesus tells us here, he tells me here, that what you give your attention to…makes its way inside you. It fills you. What you look at, what you think about, what you give you attention to, becomes your god.

I think that’s why Jesus says what he says next.

24 ‘No one can serve two masters; for a slave will either hate the one and love the other, or be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth.

If your life is devoted to money, then you can’t really serve God. You can financially support people who are serving God, and that’s nice, but you can’t serve God yourself, and that’s a problem. If that stings a little, you’re probably coming up with examples of rich people who do seem to serve God, and there are a few who come to mind. But we have to ask ourselves…are they the rule? Or are they the exception? And does the exception still prove the rule, or not?

It’s not about the money. It’s about what the money does to your heart. As that venerable saint of Brooklyn famously noted…”Mo money…mo problems.”

And not that we should ever feel sorry for the rich, but we definitely shouldn’t emulate them. Because you can’t serve God and wealth.

Twelve years ago, Boston College's Center on Wealth and Philanthropy posted the results of a four-year study of the wealthy they did. As part of the study, one hundred and sixty-five households with an average net worth of $78 million responded to a survey which was summarized in The Atlantic, by Graeme Woods, who writes,

“The respondents turn out to be a generally dissatisfied lot, whose money has contributed to deep anxieties involving love, work, and family. Indeed, they are frequently dissatisfied even with their sizable fortunes. Most of them still do not consider themselves financially secure; for that, they say, they would require on average one-quarter more wealth than they currently possess. One respondent, the heir to an enormous fortune, says that what matters most to him is his Christianity, and that his greatest aspiration is "to love the Lord, my family, and my friends." He also reports that he wouldn't feel financially secure until he had $1 billion in the bank.”

Now it’s easy to make fun of that guy, and satisfying! But that’s me, too. I just want a little bit more, and then it will be enough. I’ve said many times that “I know money won’t solve all my problems, but what if my only problem is that I don’t have enough money?” But Biggie was right, may he rest in peace…Mo money, mo problems. Or as Jesus much more powerfully put it, You can’t serve God and wealth. The biggest problem in the world is not being able to serve God.

There’s something about having more money than you need that’s like bringing a magnet close to a compass. The needle just can’t find north. Your heart just can’t connect with God.

This isn’t just an issue for the rich either. Jesus goes on and says to all of us.

25 ‘Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing?

So all these things that we give our attention to, that we obsess over, and make into little gods in our lives…Jesus says, “No.” Jesus wants us to say “No” to those things, so that we can say ‘Yes” to what truly matters in life. He wants to free us from worry, give us hearts oriented towards God, and involve us in his redemption of the world. Our finances touch each part of that process, because our lives are wrapped up in our money. Money is a means to an end, and until we discover what our chief end truly is, it will be an end in itself.

So in a way, the path to becoming faithful with our finances, is a lot like the path to becoming a follower of Jesus, which is what his sermon on the mount was for.

We all start in the same place. We all start out lost in sin.

We all start out just another brick in the wall, another cog in the machine, another battery in the Matrix. We have no reason to doubt the messages we get from the world, because it’s what we’ve always known. So we think that the best thing a person can be is rich, powerful, and beautiful. So we work towards becoming that, and even if we find out that we’ll never achieve it, we don’t question it. So envy and desire turn into hatred and anger. But the fundamental values are never thrown out even when they’re rejected, because we’re stuck in a world of sin.

But then…Jesus. You heard something, or read something, or met someone. And now you know that the world you grew up in is not the way the world is meant to be. There is another country, a kingdom. And its people are coming in to the dreary land that you thought was all there was, and now you’re one of them. You’re taught the ways of this new land, and find a new community, you’re part of a people. Now you can’t go back, not that you would want to.

You’re now actively engaged in the work of this people who made you one of their own. You do your best to bring the people you love into this new community, but not all of them will come, and that’s okay, because while you were raised to believe that the only people who mattered were the ones under the same roof as you, now you see that everyone matters, even the people who are different from you.

That first part of the process is the part where you were 1. Freed from Sin. You came to see that the values of this world aren’t the way its meant to be, even though the messaging is inescapable. When it comes to money, this is the part where you see that it’s not an end in itself, and that it just might be a trap.

The second part of the process is where you became 2. Free for God. Now all that matters to you is living the life he wants to live in you. And if that means giving your money away, so be it. Being free for God means that you are no longer the final word on your own life. You don’t just do what you want to do. You now have God’s Spirit whispering in your ear and tugging on your heart. You give the Biblical teachings about money as much weight, and even more, than your financial advisor. Being Free for God means truly seeing that you really can’t take it with you, but it can make an impact if you’re free from the fear of losing it.

The last part is where you are

3. Actively Engaged in God’s Mission. Everyone has a different job in the mission. Some are called to recruitment, others to support, and others to leadership. Some are actively involved in the mission by giving away everything they have and going to a foreign country. Some are actively involved by making lots of money so they can pay the bills for the people who followed the more radical, but also the simpler, path. Some find a job that lets them do both. But everyone needs to regularly assess if they are still as actively involved in God’s mission as they could be, as God wants you to be.

A church like this is the perfect place to go through that process. To go from being lost in sin, to freed from it, and free for God, to find a place to be actively involved in God’s mission. It’s the perfect place because people have been walking that path here for over a century, and will keep on walking it for centuries after we’re gone. But it’s not so much about the people who were here, or will be…it’s about the people who are here now, who once were where you are now, and can offer some guidance and a pat on the back. People who have lost it all rather than do even one unfaithful thing with their money, and who earned back more than twice as much as they lost, and just keep giving it away.

Being faithful with finances isn’t just something we see in the Bible. We see it here, all the time, from people who don’t announce what they’re doing, or video themselves doing it, but who just do the right thing because it’s the right thing, because it’s what they believe and know that God wants them to do. They follow the teachings about money from the Bible because they believe it matters, and because they’ve seen it work. That could be you, too. That could be every last one of us.

So come back next week, or watch online, as we unpack what the Bible teaches about budgets and debt.


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