Deuteronomy 8:12-14,17-18 and 1 Timothy 6:17-19
Take hold of the life that really is life. (1 Tim 6:19b)
Have you ever been in a financial position in which you did not have enough? It is a scary place to be – when you wonder if you will have enough to keep a roof over your family’s head, if you will have enough to eat, enough to keep the creditors away from your door. Did you know that many of us carry around a fear of not having enough – even when we have plenty? Even those who are wealthy often feel that they do not have enough.
But feeling wealthy is not a matter of money; it’s a spiritual matter. At some deep level we fear that God wants to take from us and leave us wanting. Wealthy King Solomon said these wise words (Ecc 5:10) “Those who love money never have enough; those who love wealth are never satisfied with their income.” You see, we tend to define wealth as having “more than I have now” or “more than others,” but God’s not into that. The way to true wealth is not by worrying and hoarding more, but by trusting and giving more, it is by the way of generosity.
This requires a shift in our thinking to recognize that our resources aren’t even ours. In our passage from Deuteronomy we are advised to remember this: “when we are all settled in and happy with our lot in life, that it is not by our power, might, or hand that we have achieved these things but that the power to get wealth comes from God.” (paraphrase of Deut 8: 12-14,18) And God has a lot to say when it comes to how we use money and resources placed at our disposal. Did you know that over four hundred times God proclaims his passion for those in need – and if God is passionate about it, then he expects the same from his followers (us). Now I don’t know about you, but I don’t feel very wealthy in a monetary way. At least I didn’t until I looked at some statistics. Did you know that around half of the world population or 3 ½ billion people, live on less than two dollars a day! (cited from http://www.globalissues.org/article/26/poverty-facts-and-stats) It’s hard to imagine, isn’t it?
But let’s try. The book “Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger” helps us consider what we would have to give up to live like this:
We begin by stripping your house of its furniture. Everything goes: beds, chairs, tables, television, lamps. Your family will get to keep a few old blankets, a kitchen table, and a wooden chair. Along with your chest of drawers go all your clothes – fall, spring and summer wardrobes. Each member of the family may keep their oldest outfit – only one. Only the head of the household gets shoes, none for the children. We move to the kitchen, and all appliances are gone – stove, toaster, microwave, dishwasher … you can keep a box of matches, a small bag of flour, some sugar or salt. You’ll have to recover those moldy potatoes in the garbage can – that will be tonight’s meal along with a handful of onions and dried beans. Every other item in your refrigerator goes. Now we turn to the bathroom. We shut off the running water, take out all electricity, oh – and the house. Your family moves to the tool shed or garage. Communications go next. No more newspapers, internet, books or magazines – but you won’t miss them because we must take your education – you can’t read. There’s one radio in your shantytown. No government services, no postman, firemen, one school three miles away has two classrooms. There are no hospitals, just a clinic ten miles away. If you have a bicycle you could get there in an emergency, but there’s no doctor, only a midwife. Since we’ve also taken your savings and retirement away, and you are left with a cash hoard of five dollars, it’s unlikely you’ll have a bicycle or enough money to afford the clinic. This is your life if you are one of those in the bottom 20 percent of the world’s resources.
Now consider this, the wealthiest people on the planet, everyone in the top 20 percent, earns at least a whopping $1,800 a year. John Burke reports in his book, “Soul Revolution,” that if your annual income is over $25,000 you are in the top 10 percent of the world’s wealthiest and if you earn over $34,000 then you are wealthier than 99 percent of all humanity; you are among the top 1 percent of the wealthiest people on the planet. Let that sink in. Why do I want you to know this? Because this means that you and I have more personal resources to help others than most of the rest of the world. Remember this verse from Luke 12:48: “From everyone to whom much has been given, much will be required; and from the one to whom much has been entrusted, even more will be demanded.”
So how do we correct our thinking that we do not have enough? Gratitude. And Willingness. It is not wrong to have wealth or savings; you don’t need to feel guilty when you enjoy those things that God has blessed to you. The ability to enjoy and be happy with what you have is a spiritual matter that starts with gratitude. So, as you came in this morning you were given a little pad of sticky notes. Here’s what I want you to do with this – sit down with this pad and a pen and write down everything you have, one item per sticky note, and as you pull of each note, thank God for each thing. Include tangible or material things (like – refrigerator, electricity, a car, etc.) and intangible blessings as well.(such as the ability to think, health, friends, etc.) I think you will be simply amazed once you do this. You can even write down the first few things now, if you like – #1 a loving church family – thank you God!!! It is possible to break the power of the “not enough” lie when we remember that we have more than enough. Our passage today from Timothy reminds us that the way of gratitude and generosity leads to life that is truly life. We can shift our thinking to see our wealth, possessions, and blessings as opportunities for gratitude and we can develop a stance in which we hold our wealth with an open hand, as receiving a gift and by practicing generosity.
How we manage the resources we have is important. Remember how often we talk about God’s desire to take over our heart. Jesus says – “where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” (Matt 6:21) This is a simple spiritual truth – what you give toward reveals something about your heart. Think about it – if you love golf, it’s not hard for you to give money toward golf. If you love fashion, it’s not hard to give money for a new outfit, is it? If you love your kids or grandkids, it’s not a burden to give Christmas gifts to them. You give to what you love and arrange everything else to fit around it. So our attitude toward money and stuff reveals to us something about our love and trust of God and his purposes.
Ultimately, we must acknowledge that it all belongs to God. Psalm 24 (1-2) says: “The earth is the Lord’s and all that is in it, the world, and those who live in it; for he has founded it on the seas, and established it on the rivers.” This is a clear and powerful statement of ownership. God owns the earth and all that is in it. Plain and simple – it is all God’s. But it is so easy for us to shift into a mode of thinking that says, “I earned this, or I deserve this.” Our passage today from Deuteronomy is a precautionary against doing just that. In this passage, Moses speaks to God’s people as they are ready to enter the promised land. These words are spoken to help them make sense of what is about to happen. They need to hear this because what have they done over the forty years of wandering in the wilderness? When things went badly, they blamed God. When things went well, they took credit. For us, we particularly need to be reminded of this, because the temptation to take credit for our material successes is very great. We cannot say to ourselves “My power and the might of my hand have gotten me this wealth.” Instead we remember that it is: “The Lord our God who gives power to get wealth.” But, oh how easy it is to forget. Even so, God trusts us with his stuff. He is our ally and we are his earthly stewards. God entrusts us with certain things and then allows us to decide (how we will use those things). Think about what Jesus says about money, and the parables he uses to illustrate the proper use of money in our lives. Most prominent to me is the parable of the talents – where three people are given three different amounts by their master and they are expected to make the most of what they have been given. Two do quite well, while the third just sits on the money until the master returns. This is a test of faithfulness, Jesus says, “for to all those who have, more will be given, and they will have an abundance; but from those who have nothing, even what they have will be taken away.” (Matthew 25:29)
Consider then how God would have us respond as stewards. How can we be generous participants in God’s passion toward those in need? As we pledge our giving for the coming year – are there ways that we can say yes to life-giving ministries? If you are not already doing so, consider giving a full tithe of 10 percent. Try it for three months and see if you are not glad you did. Personally, there have been times when I winced when I turned in my offering envelope because I knew how much would be left in my checking account. Yet, I have never regretted anything that I have turned over to God or given to further a ministry, or given to an individual with a true need. God is indeed a faithful ally.
It is important to understand that tithing, however, is not the goal – love is the goal. Remember that what Christ always wants from us is our heart. Matt 23:23 NLT says: “What sorrow awaits you teachers of religious law and you Pharisees. Hypocrites! For you are careful to tithe even the tiniest income from your herb gardens, but you ignore the more important aspects of the law – justice, mercy, and faith. You should tithe, yes, but do not neglect the more important things.” Jesus reminds us that even tithing can become a legalistic, loveless act. We should do it, but the goal is that our hearts should grow so that we give out of love for God and people, not to feel self-righteous. That’s the character of God: “God put his love on the line for us by offering his Son in sacrificial death while we were of no use whatever to him.” (Romans 5:8 MSG) Love made him do it. Sacrificial love is the heart of following Christ and God wants to stretch our hearts until love for God and love people cause us to not only be spiritually obedient, but lovingly generous. This shows the world the God who freely gives everything, and always has more to give. (portions excerpted from “Soul Revolution” by John Burke, p241.)
This is the way of Generosity
Happy Thanksgiving! Go now with the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and may the fellowship and communion of the Holy Spirit be with you now and always. Amen