What Do You Keep? – Dan Teefey
Sermon text: Deuteronomy 8:6-20.
This morning we are going to talk about one of the big 3 discussion no-no’s. Sex, politics, and money. Earlier this year we talked about sex. And you have gotten plenty of politics since we just finished an election season. So that leaves money.
We hate to talk about money. It makes a queasy and uncomfortable. This morning I want to make it worse. I don’t want to manufacture false guilt, but holy unrest.
Let me start off by saying that I realize when God calls us to share our resources that we are talking about more than just our money, but God is talking about our money too. And He talks regularly about our money and what we ought to be doing with it. So no matter how much we want to push biblical language about sharing our resources into just talking about our time or our talents or some other aspect of our lives . . . we cannot ignore God’s very clear mandate to be stewards of our money.
One very clear reason why is that Jesus talks about only one thing more than money and that is the Kingdom of God . . . of all the things Jesus discusses, money is #2. He talked about it a ton! And he offered a lot of warnings.
Listen to just some of what Jesus says. “Woe to you that are rich” (Luke 6:24). “You cannot serve God and money.” (Luke 16:13). “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth” (Matt 6:19). “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God” (Matt. 19:24). “Take heed, and beware of all covetousness” (Luke 12:15). “Sell your possessions, and give to the poor” (Luke 12:33). “Give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back.” (Luke 6:30).
Jesus does not hold back.
But the question of money and wealth is not as easy as saying it is all bad, because money is not itself evil or wrong. In fact, material possessions and money are gifts from God. It is a good thing for people to make money.
What Jesus desires is an understanding of how to possess money without being possessed by money. Money is a blessing when it is used within the context of the life and power of God.
Our text this morning comes from Deuteronomy 8. This passage appears in the context of the Israelites standing at the point of entrance into the promised land that they had been waiting for. It is the land that they had suffered for and now they have arrived and God wants to ensure that they do not forget who it is that has gotten them to this point.
I think this passage is particularly helpful in helping us to sort out how God calls us to manage our money. I think it points out a couple particularly powerful things: 1) everything we have is God’s. 2) two things more than others inhibit our ability to remember this – pride and our tendency to worship the god of money . .
Deuteronomy 8 begins, “For the Lord your God is bringing you into a good land – a land with streams and pools of water, with springs flowing in the valleys and hills, a land with wheat and barley, vines and fig trees, pomegranates, olive oil and honey; a land where bread will not be scarce and you will lack nothing; a land where the rocks are iron and you can dig copper out of the hills.”
Blessings upon blessings the Lord is promising to bestow upon the Israelites. And these are indeed material blessings. This is stuff coming their way. They will lack nothing because they will have endless water and food and other resources.
Our passages says, “for the Lord your God is bringing you into a good land . . .” God is in charge and chooses to distribute gifts at his discretion. And God chooses to bless the Israelites.
God begins his revelation to us in Genesis with 5 very simply words, “In the beginning God created . . .” and the Genesis story goes on to describe all that he created . . . but from nothing God created. Everything and I mean everything has its origins in God. We own nothing. God owns everything. And since God made everything and creates us . . . we read on in Genesis that we become God’s managers or stewards of all he has made.
When John Wesley heard that his home had been destroyed by fire, he exclaimed “the Lord’s house burned. One less responsibility for me.”
In every stewardship relationship there are 2 parties involved: the master who hands out the resources and will one day ask for an accounting; and the steward who is entrusted with the resources and must eventually answer for how they were invested.
In Matthew 25 Jesus explains to us what our responsibility as his managers looks like. Jesus is making the point that when he returns a second time, it will only be faithful stewards that are ready for him. Jesus tells the story of 3 servants who each receive a very large sum of money from their master before the master leaves on a long journey. The master deeply trusts these servants and abundantly blesses them with bags of gold. This was their chance to make their master proud.
After a while the master returns and discovers that two of the servants had invested the money and earned a return, but one had buried his. He took the amazing assets that his master had given him and did absolutely nothing with them.
There are several things interesting about this story, but one of the most notable is that the master does not give each servant the same amount of gold. One guy gets 5 bags of gold. Another gets 2 bags of gold and a third gets only one bag of gold.
We don't have to think real hard to recognize that this is how it is in our world too. Some people get different amounts of God's different blessings. Someone might be unbelievably gifted with a perfect singing voice for singing during worship that does not earn them much money, while someone else might be a gifted scientist that earns them lots and lots of money. Some people have gifts that are publicly celebrated and compensated, while others have gifts that are quiet and unseen.
This income discrepancy has become increasingly clear to me as Dana and I have been reading more and more about Ethiopia in preparation for our adoption. I read Ethiopian news about every day and have studied a fair amount regarding conditions in that country. It is a daily reminder to me of the difference in what people receive. It is a reality of our world.
Jesus makes it very clear though that he is not concerned with the size of the gift that we receive. The vital part for Jesus was what each servant did with what they had been given, whether a little or a lot. Jesus is only concerned with what we do with the gifts we have been given.
So as I recognize that I have more material possessions than Ethiopians, I am mobilized to think more consciously about how I use them.
In Jesus' parable the servant that had buried his bag of gold and done nothing with it starts to make excuses, but Jesus has nothing to do with them. The servants that put their gold to good use and made a return to their master were rewarded, but the man that did nothing is condemned.
But notice that he is not condemned for doing bad things with the money. He did not go out and spend it on wild living like the prodigal son, he just did nothing with it. He is condemned for sitting on his hands.
This is very important for us to understand. God blesses us abundantly. Every single one of us is blessed abundantly. We live in the United States of America. We are some of the very richest people on the planet. We own large homes by all standards. We drive cars and usually several of them. We don't worry about what we are going to eat at night. We have shelter and heat. We have access to gallon upon gallon of fresh, clean water.
And we must remember that God will condemn us if we sit on our hands and hoard these things for ourselves.
In Deuteronomy 8, after the passage has enumerated all the blessings the Israelites will find in the new land, verse 10 says, “When you have eaten and are satisfied, praise the LORD your God for the good land he has given you.”
When the Israelites have taken what they need . . . when they have eaten and are satisfied they are called to “praise the Lord” for what he has provided. They take what they need and are satisfied and then give God thanks for it. They are not to hoard.
This message has been pounded into the minds of the Israelites by God over and over again. If you remember when the Israelites were wandering in the desert God provided them manna to eat. But as he provided this food for them, he explicitly says that they are only to eat what they need. If they try to keep it or hoard it, it will spoil. God limited their excess.
God's blessings are abundant, but they are meant to be shared.
Here is where it gets tough for us. Many of us are not sharing our financial blessings as well as we could be. Only 5% of Americans give at least 10% of their incomes to churches or charitable groups. And this is declining. It has never been great, but in 1968 church-attenders gave an average of 3.11 percent of their income to their church. Now congregants give an average of 2.58%. We are going the wrong way.
Let me be clear about this. I am not giving you these numbers because I want you to give Riverside more money. I am not telling you this because we need more money. I am telling you this because the Bible and the God of the universe tell us that how we handle our money matters deeply to him and says a great deal about the condition of our hearts.
And statistics consistently show that as people get richer, they give less of their income away. We like to think as we make more money we will give more, but this is not true. We are too tempted to instead raise our own standard of living. As people make more and more money they may give away a higher amount of money, but they actually keep an increasing percentage of their incomes for themselves. A well-known 2001 study found “that households earning less than $25,000 a year gave away an average of 4.2 percent of their incomes; those with earnings of more than $75,000 gave away 2.7 percent.”
This is an important point to make and we will talk a little more about it in a minute, but we should determine our generosity by the percentage of our incomes we give away . . . not the total dollar amount.
In Deuteronomy 8 our passage transitions from focusing on the abundant blessings of God to a warning not to forget God. Starting at verse 11, the text says, “Be careful that you do not forget the LORD your God, failing to observe his commands, his laws and his decrees that I am giving you this day. 12 Otherwise, when you eat and are satisfied, when you build fine houses and settle down, 13 and when your herds and flocks grow large and your silver and gold increase and all you have is multiplied, 14 then your heart will become proud and you will forget the LORD your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery. 15 He led you through the vast and dreadful wilderness, that thirsty and waterless land, with its venomous snakes and scorpions. He brought you water out of hard rock. 16 He gave you manna to eat in the wilderness, something your ancestors had never known, to humble and test you so that in the end it might go well with you.”
The warning is clear. God has abundantly blessed us, but there are some real risks in this. When you receive a part of God's abundance, do not forget God. There is a deep concern that when the Israelites are fed and satisfied . . . when they have all that they need, the will “build fine houses and settle down” and all of their stuff will increase and even multiply . . . but in this process they will become proud and will forget the Lord their God.
Pride strikes us on two sides and oh, how destructive pride can be. Not only is it easy for us to presume that everything we have is by our own doing and because of how hard we have worked and all we have done . . . even when we give a fair amount, we have the temptation to start to believe we are generous and we get proud of all we do and all that we give. We want to compare ourselves to others rather than to our generous God.
In verses 17-18, we see how pride plays itself out. “You may say to yourself, “My power and the strength of my hands have produced this wealth for me.” 18 But remember the LORD your God, for it is he who gives you the ability to produce wealth . . .”
I don't believe that the bible is anti-rich or that Jesus was always picking on the wealthy, like all of us, I just believe that God is very serious about what we do with what he gives us. We don't know why some people get more than others. I don't know why I was born into a family that could help me get lots of education and always fed me, clothed me and gave me everything I needed and probably wanted. It actually seems unfair to me at times. But God's concern is not with who has what as much as it is with what I do with what I have been given. Do I walk around and say, “look how I awesome I am, and all that I have done, and how hard I have worked, by my power and strength” . . . or do I choose to remember the Lord, my God, who is the sources of all that I have and pass my blessings on.
Because when we fully acknowledge God as the source, our pride starts to look pretty silly.
This past summer Dana and I took Adelaide and Miriam swimming a fair amount. Adelaide is fairly timid, but Miriam is a real go-getter in the pool. I would hold my hand underneath of Miriam and hold her up as she went through the water and she would swing her arms wildly and look around with the greatest smile on her face. She really thought she was swimming and pride was swelling up in her and she started pulling more and more away from me believing she could do it on her own. So one time I just let go for a second and she instantly sunk. Her face was one of shock. In that moment she fully realized how dependent she was upon me and pride looked silly.
Sometimes in all our gloating over how awesome we are, we forget that God is holding us up. We don't produce anything by our own power and strength, but only by God's. Pride is a killer to the generosity God desires.
Our passage then ends with another hard truth – false gods. Verses 19-20 say, “If you ever forget the LORD your God and follow other gods and worship and bow down to them, I testify against you today that you will surely be destroyed. 20 Like the nations the LORD destroyed before you, so you will be destroyed for not obeying the LORD your God.”
The truth is that when we forget God as the source of all that we have . . . we follow, worship and bow down to the false god of money. That sounds harsh I recognize, but remember Jesus makes it abundantly clear . . . he says, “you cannot serve God and money.”
The word that Jesus uses here is actually, “mammon.” This term gives wealth a personal and spiritual character. Money has power. It is not just a neutral medium of exchange. Jesus understood this and did not refer to it as much as an object as he did a rival god. It dangerously attracts and allures us away from God. Money has spiritual power to win our hearts.
Richard Foster points out that money has many of the characteristics of deity. “It gives us security, can induce guilt, gives us freedom, gives us power and seems to be omnipresent.”
Paul goes as far as to say that “the love of money is the root of all evils.” Money is used as a weapon to bully people and to keep them in line. Money is used to “buy” prestige and honor. Money is used to enlist the allegiance of others. Money is used to corrupt people. Money is used for many things; it is one of the greatest power in human society.
Money is a god that we must learn to control so that it will not control us.
How do we do this?
Just the very act of letting go of money, or some other treasure, does something within us. It destroys the demon greed. Giving is one of our chief weapons in conquering the god, mammon. Giving scandalizes the world of commerce and competition. It makes little worldly sense.
Giving is the antidote to the god of money. When we let go of money we are letting go of part of ourselves and part of our security. But this is precisely why it is important to do it. “If any man would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.” (Luke 9:23)
Every financial decision is a spiritual decision. Whether it is buying a car or going to the movies, how we use our time and money matters to God. ($4 pretzel at Purdue game). Do we buy a particular home on the basis of the call of God, or because of the availability of money? Do we buy a new car because we can afford it, or because God instructed us to buy a new car? If money determines what we do or do not do, then money is our boss. If God determines what we do or do not do, then God is our boss. Most of us allow money to dictate our decisions: what kind of house we live in, what vacation we will take, what job we will hold. Money decides.
1) give proportionately.
a. You must first think about what your family earns.
i. Your budget is a moral document . . .
b. Ask yourself, what do I keep for myself? Why?
c. Let the tithe be benchmark, but just that – a starting point
2) Start with something (even $1/week)
3) Give to the church, honor your commitments (land fund),
a. other charities, public institutions can be a part of God’s work in the community
Money invested in people is the best possible investment. One way we can lay up treasure in heaven is to invest in the lives of people.
Some people need to give less. Not taking care of their primary responsibilities to family, etc.
Most of us will have hundreds of thousands of dollars flowing through our hands in the course of our employable years. As stewards we have a responsibility to use this bounty in ways that will reap the greatest benefit for Christ and his kingdom.
I have been convicted this week by how Adelaide views money. I love the fact that all Adelaide knows to do with her money is to put it into her piggy bank or bring it to church and give it to Bekalou. She does not yet know she can spend it on herself.
Boa, Kenneth. “Stewardship.” http://bible.org/seriespage/stewardship (2005).
Foster, Richard. Freedom of Simplicity. San Francisco, California: HarperCollins (2005).
Foster, Richard. The Challenge of the Disciplined Life. San Francisco, California: HarperCollins (1985).