November 17, 2019
Standing at the arcade counter on my annual summer vacation, I had all the tickets my money could buy.
The summer before, my parents told me that they weren’t giving me more money for the arcade – so I came up with a plan. I would save every dollar I could during the year. Next time it wouldn’t matter how much my parents were willing to give me – I would have my own money.
I saved the entire year and amassed what felt like a fortune. When we returned to the beach, I brought $100 with me.
I was rich and invincible. The arcade was mine to conquer; every night I’d exchange my hard-earned money for a pocket full of tokens. On the prowl, I’d play the games that I figured would give me the best return – the most tickets per token. (This is where my kids like to say “Nerd Alert!”)
By the last day, I had spent my entire year’s savings.
At the counter, with all the swagger of a kid with Remote Controlled Car dreams, I scanned the shelves, confident that whatever I desired could be mine.
The tickets were counted and the shopping could start.
There was one problem.
One BIG problem.
Everything looked like junk in comparison to the money I brought to the beach. If I could have traded my tickets in for $100 cash, that’s exactly what I would have done.
It was too late.
The colorful flashing lights of the games and the thrill of an easy win had taken control of my emotions. I let my hard-earned money go in exchange for an unsatisfying passing pleasure.
This morning we’re going to talk about two rich people, one from the Old Testament and one from the New.
Last week we talked about stewardship in general – where we defined it as being the image of God everywhere we go and in everything we do. And, bringing the Kingdom of God here on earth as it is in heaven. We used Moses and Jesus to illustrate these points.
Today we’re going to talk about financial stewardship – that is, being an image of God in the way we use our finances and using them in a way that builds the Kingdom of God on earth as it is in heaven.
Jesus talked a lot about greed. So much, in fact, that I think we need to start with the assumption that we are greedy. It is not about how much money we have. We can be greedy with a little and we can be greedy with a lot. It can manifest itself as a propensity towards materialism or hoarding – and we’ve all felt it. They are much deeper than any object – they are heart postures. Greed creates envy in us for what others have and it causes us to focus and strive for more stuff for our own ease, comfort, and pleasure. It’s characterized by a lack of contentment. Greed is a heart issue. Ultimately, it turns our eyes from God on to ourselves.
Part of the struggle we have is that it’s easy in our culture to become blind to how wealthy we are.
Do you think of yourself as wealthy? We are some of the richest people, in the richest country, during the richest time in world history. In fact, if you make $32,500 per year from any source of income, you are in the top 1% of global wealth.
Had I asked for a show of hands of who thinks they’re wealthy, many of us would keep our hands down; however, we’d probably mostly agree that we’re not poor. We don’t go days without access to clean water or food – unless by choice. We have beds. We have secure housing, with secure transportation, and a secure place to worship. We have access to education for our kids and grandkids. And, we even have hopes and dreams that they will reasonably live a life like ours – or better.
But wealthy is another story. Wealthy has nice cars, and nice houses. Some wealthy even have private jets and a staff to take care of their nice things. Wealthy doesn’t struggle to make ends meet the way we do. We’ve got drug and doctor costs. We’ve got energy bills and food costs. Let’s not even think about long term care. Moreover, some of us are even on fixed incomes, living mostly off of social security in our retirement.
If we don’t feel wealthy, it’s not because we aren’t. While we may not all be wealthy as we tend to think about it, the simple fact that we live in this day in age, in this country, with the social programs that we do, and in a community that helps care for each other, we are rich. My point is not to uphold or condemn any of this, but to help you understand that each and every one of us is wealthy.
I’ve seen greed manifest itself in many ways: from the person who over saves despite their family’s needs to the proficient earner who spends lavishly while neglecting giving. Or, the person struggling to make ends meet who finances a new car at 1.5 times their annual income. I could give case study after case study but instead let’s turn to the scriptures and see two men with similar circumstances and yet very different responses.
In Luke 12. Jesus is teaching and:
Someone in the crowd said to him, “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me.”
Jesus replied, “Man, who appointed me a judge or an arbiter between you?” Then he said to them, “Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; a man’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.”
And he told them this parable: “The ground of a certain rich man produced a good crop. He thought to himself, ‘What shall I do? I have no place to store my crops.’
“Then he said, ‘This is what I’ll do. I will tear down my barns and build bigger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. And I’ll say to myself, “You have plenty of good things laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry.” ‘
“But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?’
“This is how it will be with anyone who stores up things for himself but is not rich toward God.”
Here’s a parable about a guy who has worked hard and made a good life for himself. He’s a rich man and we can assume he’s made his living as a farmer. He’s coming towards a place of retirement looking at all the wealth he’s accumulated. He’s diligently saved for himself but has lacked generosity towards God. He anticipates a good life. One where he can “take life easy; eat, drink and be merry.” But no sooner does he have these thoughts then God brings him back to reality. Look at verse 20: “You Fool, this very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?”
Is there anything wrong with the farmer wanting a barn big enough to store his crops? Is there anything wrong with you wanting a different or better car? Is there anything wrong with wanting a nicer house? Not in and of itself.
The question becomes, “why? Why do you want these things?” Is it ultimately to serve God and fulfill his purposes in your life? To facilitate your stewardship? Or, is it to make the impression, “I’ve arrived.” To declare, by the use of your money and your lifestyle, to your neighbors, your co-workers, and your fellow congregants, “I have arrived!”
This guy is going to die with his big fancy barn and his food and drink, and what’s going to happen to all his stuff? Gone. All his work, all his accumulation, for nothing other than a steak and a beer.
It’s all about him, and in the end, it’s all for nothing!
Don’t forget why Jesus tells this parable. He was asked to tell someone to share an inheritance. Rather than resolving the estate issue, he replies to the demander’s heart. “Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; life does not consist in an abundance of possessions.” That’s Jesus’ point and He uses a parable to illustrate it. If we want to be told “well done, good and faithful servants” we need to watch out and be on guard against all kinds of greed – life does not consist in an abundance of possessions.
Let’s look at another biblical story, but this time let’s look at someone who is also rich but not called a fool. In 1 Chronicles 29, God tells David that a temple is to be built as a dwelling place for the Lord. David is to commission his son, Solomon, to build it – and David’s role is to pay for it. How disheartening could it have been for David, as King, to know that he was not going to be the one to build the temple? Basically, he was asked to initiate the building fund. David humbly accepts God’s request to fund the building of the temple. In fact, David is so willing to do so that he gives of his own resources first and then he asks the people to give. Once he asks the others to join him in giving to the building of the temple, it’s said “the leaders of families, the officers of the tribes of Israel, the commanders of thousands and commanders of hundreds, and the officials in charge of the king’s work gave willingly.”
Verse 9 tells us: “The people rejoiced at the willing response of their leaders, for they had given freely and wholeheartedly to the LORD. David the king also rejoiced greatly.”
So, King David and the people gave abundantly of what they had to the Lord – acknowledging that it all came from God. Not only was the temple built but the whole community gave and was blessed. David was their king, and in following him, all his people experienced joy in their generosity.
Compare the Rich Fool to David. One rich man looked at his wealth and said, “with this I can take life easy; eat, drink, and be merry.” The other rich man looked at his wealth and used it to glorify God – to be an image bearer, bringing the Kingdom of God to earth, – and encouraged others to do the same.
David stated that everything He had was from God – that’s true for the farmer as well – though the farmer didn’t acknowledge it. Both of these men were called to steward what God provided for them. We too are rich and this is true for us as well. Which rich man are we going to be like? As followers of Christ, are we managing our possessions in a way that builds relationships and bring the Kingdom of God to earth as it is in heaven? Or, in a way that points the spotlight at our own barns?
Let’s go back to Luke and see how Jesus wraps up the parable. He tells them, don’t worry, God will take care of you. God will provide for you. How is worrying going to fix anything? Seek first God’s kingdom. And then He goes on: “Do not be afraid… for your Father has been pleased to give you the kingdom. Sell your possessions and give to the poor. Provide purses for yourselves that will not wear out, a treasure in heaven that will not be exhausted, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”
Standing in the arcade, I felt like a fool. I spent all the money I had on fleeting pleasures. There was no redemptive value to it, no image-bearing, and no kingdom-bringing. While I was a young kid, it has forever impacted me in a desire to manage money well. We have the opportunity with every dollar we use to be image-bearers and kingdom-bringers – which is much more pleasurable than self-centered spending.
It’s all for God – our relationships, skills and abilities, money and stuff, and time. When we strive to gain anything for ourselves, and do not recognize that it all comes from God so that we can be his hands and feet in the world, we are nothing more than a foolish farmer sitting and looking at his barn.
In what ways can you represent God by using your finances to build God’s Kingdom here on earth?