The Stuff We Spend Our Money On
What’s important to you? I mean what’s REALLY important to you? If you were applying for an important job, and I was a background investigator interested in figuring out what kind of person you are, I might want the answer to that question. And I bet I could answer it quickly if I had just one piece of personal property from your house. All I would need would be your checkbook. Just give me a chance to see what you’ve been spending your money on, and I can tell you what you value and even what you worship! Money is so important to us, that when you simply examine what it is that we would be willing to trade our money for, you quickly figure out what we worship.
God knows that we feel this way about money. That’s why there is so much commentary and instruction about money in the Old and New Testaments! The Bible has more references about money and what to do with money than any other topic, including love. Why would God spend so much time talking about money? Because money, in many ways, is perhaps the single greatest threat to our faith. We are willing to spend our money on any number of things that benefit us personally, but are we willing to give it to the causes of God? You might think so, but if you look at your checkbook, I bet the reality of your giving doesn’t actually match the words you might say.
Money on the Television
Now, we all now that we can look to our culture and see recognize evidence of our fascination with money. Nearly every highly rated show has something to do with the pursuit of money, people who have a lot of money, or the chance to win some money! And while we might like to think that it’s only our culture that is so possessed with financial success, we, as Christians, need to admit that the airwaves are also filled with examples of preachers and televangelists with a love for money.
I’m willing to admit that when I was a kid, I used to get up early every morning and watch Jimmy Swaggart preach for half an hour on his daily TV program. I was fascinated with his ability to ask people for money. Every day, Jimmy would start his program with a clip from a service where he was preaching from the Bible. Then, at about 15 minutes into the message, Jimmy would masterfully transition from the Message to the Money. He would somehow find a way to weave a request for donations into the body of his message, and he would do it in such a way that you could hardly see it coming! It was masterful. I’m sure that every non-believing person out there in the TV audience was amazed as well, and probably convinced that Christianity was just another scheme to make a dollar.
Total Truth from the Sermon on the Mount
Jesus talked a lot about money. He warned us in any number of ways about the dangers of loving money as though it was God. In this next portion of the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus addresses the money issue head on:
“Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. “The eye is the lamp of the body. If your eyes are good, your whole body will be full of light. But if your eyes are bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light within you is darkness, how great is that darkness! “No one can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and Money. “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more important than food, and the body more important than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life? “And why do you worry about clothes? See how the lilies of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.
Money Can Distract You!
There is a lot that Jesus is trying to tell us here in this passage from the Sermon on the Mount, and I want to make sure that we don’t miss anything He has to say about the nature and power of money. First and foremost, Jesus tells us that money can distract us from what’s really important! What might seem to be at first an EARTHLY ATTRACTION, can, in fact, be an UNGODLY DISTRACTION! Are you ever irritated when you are trying to talk to someone and they are distracted by a pretty girl or an attractive guy, or a nice car that happens to be going down the street? There is nothing worse than dealing with distracted people, and it’s just rude when someone fails to give you their full attention. Well, can you imagine how God must feel about the way that we are constantly distracted by the things in our world?
Staying on the Right Path
God wants our full attention. He would love for us to take a straight path to the foot of the cross every day, and not get distracted along the way! But let’s face it, we get distracted by the things in our world, and outside of relationships, most of what distracts us is related to money. Do you remember how much time and energy you used to spend just thinking about the toys you wanted as a young child? Aren’t you spending that same amount of time and energy thinking about what car you can drive, what new clothes you can buy or how you can get enough money to do the things you really want to do? We spend a ton of time consumed with the things that money can buy, and this is time that we could be spending with God. These things are distracting us, and they’re pulling us off the path that leads to God. They tug at our heart and we end up following the money trail as it leads us further and further from God. That’s why Jesus reminds us:
“…For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also…”
He’s trying to remind us that our pursuit of money will pull us off the path and leave us wandering away from God altogether:
1 Timothy 6:6-10
But godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it. But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that. People who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge men into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs.
Money Can Control You!
Many of us would like to think that having more money will allow us to have more control of our lives. You know, the more money we have the more power we are supposed to have to go where we want to go and do what we want to do, right? Well, the reality of money is sometimes just the opposite. It seems to be our human nature to live at whatever level we happen to earn. Those who make more money are often simply in more debt! And we are fooling ourselves if we think that more possessions will translate into more control. In fact, the word ‘possession’ is actually an interesting word. We sometimes think it is just used to describe the stuff that WE possess, but if we’re not careful, our possessions can possess US! The stuff that we thought would make us happy, and the money that we thought would allow us more freedom, can actually place us in a position of bondage as we try to pay for all the stuff we THINK we need.
Nice Cars Aren’t Always So Nice
You know, to this very day I fear valet parking. I never use it. It’s not that I can’t afford it, there are certainly times when I can. But truthfully, I’m embarrassed. I’m embarrassed about what I drive. Yeah, if I was driving the latest Mercedes, I probably wouldn’t feel that way. But when you’re driving a 1995 aqua blue Chevy Astro van, it’s a different matter altogether. My van is so old and beat up that I hate to be seen in it, let alone have a complete stranger park it for me. I would rather walk two blocks from the parking lot than subject some poor valet to the experience of sitting in that van.
But you know what? My van is paid for. It still runs. It gets the job done. And I don’t have a huge car payment that holds me in bondage. If I had huge car payments, I know I would eventually find myself serving the cause of earning the payment rather tan serving the cause of God. That’s why Jesus told us that:
“…You cannot serve both God and Money…”
Now Jesus told us that he came to set us free, and certainly He did set us free from the sin that separates us from God. But beyond that, Jesus also frees us from the bondage of money and possessions as we learn to live a life for God, rather than a life that pursues the next car payment:
Keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have…
Money Can Deceive You!
As if it’s not bad enough that money can distract and control you, perhaps the most dangerous result of our obsession with money is the fact that we can be completely deceived by our apparent ability to take care of ourselves with the money we earn. The life of faith is a life of trust, and when we get caught up in making money, we usually find ourselves learning to trust our own ability to survive rather than trusting in God to provide for us.
Now everyone has seen squirrels and their industrious ability to collect acorns or nuts and store them for the winter. They are incredibly possessive about their stockpiles, and they have come to trust in their own industrious ability to provide for their future. Now, shouldn’t these little creatures be a model for you and I? I think there may be many important lessons that we can learn from these little guys, but we’ve got to remember that squirrels were not created in the image of God. You and I were. And as God’s personal and special creation, we are called to have a relationship with Him that is different than the relationship that he has with other animals in our world. And part of the relationship that God wants to have with us as our Heavenly Father, is a relationship of trust and dependency.
Preserves and Stockpiles
How many of you have got someone in their family that makes preserves? You know, cans or jars of jelly or vegetables. I know that’s pretty much a lost art in this day and age. But my grandmother used to make jelly when I was very young. She would pick fresh fruit from her trees and then makes dozens of jars of jelly and preserves. I remember this, because she always gave nearly all of them away to family and friends! She was an amazing person. She could have kept everything that she made, but that wasn’t her way.
On the other hand, I have another member of my family who used to purchase gallons and gallons of food supplies and stockpile them in a basement! Certain that the end times were very near, this member of my family would store incredible amounts of flour and canned food and preserves. These preserves sat in a storage room until they literally spoiled. They were ultimately thrown away and were never eaten or used. In the end, the attempt to provide for the future was a lost cause. Maybe that’s why Jesus told us:
“…Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy…”
When we make great efforts to provide for ourselves with the money we earn and the stuff we buy, we end up placing our trust in ourselves instead of in the God who created us. In this way, money can be very deceiving. It can deceive us into thinking that we can rely on ourselves, and it can deceive us into thinking that money has the power to save us. God doesn’t want us to place our trust in our own ability or in the money we earn. Even the Israelites of old new that God was to be their only salvation:
Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we trust in the name of the LORD our God.
The Total Truth
The world around us would like us to believe that we are just evolved creatures who have happened to ascend the food chain to the top position. If that is true, then why not do your best to make as much money as you can, live as large as you can, and dump on anyone who gets in your way. But if we are right as Christians, we are here on planet earth because we were designed by God, in his image, as His children. The problem with our world is that human beings are often more interested in money and stuff than they are in the God who created the money and stuff. Jesus wants us to recognize this truth and realize that there is a solution. We need to see ourselves as God’s children and realize that money can distract, control and deceive us. We need to stay focused on our true salvation, the God who created us.
Satisfaction or Success?
Ever wonder why it is that we chase after money and stuff instead of our Heavenly Father? I mean, you know it’s true that we constantly pursue the pleasures that money can provide. Maybe it’s because we have an unquenchable desire to be satisfied. We are restless by nature, and we sometimes think that if we can just buy that next video game, that new accessory for our car, that new guitar, (etcetera, etcetera, etcetera…) we’ll finally be satisfied and happy. But if you’ve been here on planet earth very long at all, you know that the more you buy, the more you want:
Whoever loves money never has money enough; whoever loves wealth is never satisfied with his income. This too is meaningless.
Maybe it’s really a matter of our infinite desire for success and meaning. It’s one thing to want to be satisfied, but sometimes our satisfaction is tied directly to what we think it is to be ‘successful’. How many times do you look at people who are driving really nice cars and think, ‘wow, they must really be successful!’? And I bet you never looked at someone who is driving a beat up old car (like my Astro Van) and said to yourself, ‘wow, that that guy must be really faithful to God and holy in the way he spends his money!’ Yeah, right. You would never think that. But God wants us to realize that true success does not come from financial power and control. The Old Testament is filled with examples of what God thinks about success. While all the Kings of Israel had a ton of money, God did not consider all of them to be successful. God considers success only as it relates to our relationship to HIM:
2 Chronicles 26:3-5
Uzziah was sixteen years old when he became king, and he reigned in Jerusalem fifty-two years… He did what was right in the eyes of the LORD… He sought God during the days of Zechariah, who instructed him in the fear of God. As long as he sought the LORD, God gave him success.
Whether it’s satisfaction or success that we seek, God wants us to know that it won’t be found in money or stuff. The kind of success and satisfaction that truly last can only be found in the source of all that stuff we’ve been chasing!
A Cure for Faithlessness
So let’s say you decided one day that you really wanted to change your spiritual life. Let’s say you decided to become a true man or woman of God and grow your faith in a big way. How could you go about doing something like that? Well, one way is to look at the way you are spending your money. In the place where we live, in a very affluent community, most of us never have to worry about how we are going to pay for our clothes or toys or other leisure items. So when we hear these words of Jesus, we don’t really understand them on a personal level:
“And why do you worry about clothes? See how the lilies of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith?”
But clearly Jesus is warning His hearers that they shouldn’t obsess on money and how they are going to pay for things. God is saying that whenever we worry about how we are going to pay for something on our own, we are ignoring the fact that God can actually provide for us! That’s right, when you worry about how YOU are going to pay for something, you deny the power of GOD to provide that something for you!
See, there is a relationship between great faith and something called ‘reliance’. It’s a simple relationship. If you are reliant on YOURSELF, you end up placing your faith in YOURSELF. If you are reliant on GOD, you end up placing your faith in GOD. OK, so you want to increase your faith? It’s simple; as you DECREASE your SELF-RELIANCE, you will INCREASE your faith in GOD:
SELF-RELIANCE = FAITH in GOD
SELF-RELIANCE = FAITH in GOD
It’s really a pretty simple principle. But you might ask, hey, how am I supposed to DERCEASE my SELF-RELIANCE? Well, one way to accomplish this is to give your money away! Yeah, I know that sounds crazy. But I’m serious. I’m not saying you drive yourself to the poor house, but I am saying this: you and I both know that we have more than wee need. PERIOD. So why don’t we give some of it to a cause that can both help people in need, and grow the Kingdom of God? Why don’t we do that?
You know the answer to that question, of course. We don’t give because we like our comfort, and we like our control. We want to call the shots, and money helps us do that. But of course, that makes us incredibly self –reliant, and it does have an effect on our faith. God is constantly calling us to give to His Work first:
I Corinthians 16:2
On the first day of every week, each one of you should set aside a sum of money in keeping with his income, saving it up, so that when I come no collections will have to be made.
You might think that this kind of command is intended to make God (or preachers) rich, but it is actually a chance for you and I to grow our faith by becoming a little less self reliant and a little more dependant on God. And in addition to that, God knows that the money you earn really belongs to him anyway. He’s the one who gave you the gifts that you use to earn the money (your talents and abilities), so when you deny Him what he asks, it is as though you are stealing from him!
“Will a man rob God? Yet you rob me. But you ask, ‘How do we rob you?’ In tithes and offerings…”
So What Is Enough?
You might be asking yourself how much you should give and where your gift should be given. Well, I’ll leave that up to you. God certainly calls us to be wise and make sure that we give our money and time and thoughts to the work of God. We’re not supposed to make televangelists rich by being poor stewards. But God wants us to remember that money can be a source of great blessing or a corrosive agent that can destroy our faith and our relationship with God. The choice is ours…
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