Rethinking My Relationship with Money

I have been tasked this morning to speak on the topic of stewardship as we approach commitment Sunday, where we all pledge our giving for the coming year. I have to be honest, as this is not a topic I was overly excited to share about. One of those reasons is that messages on money are often tuned out by the congregation, or they have an easier opportunity to offend, and secondly I don’t always feel like a good steward of all that God has given to me to protect and distribute.

In a world where the line between the “haves and have nots” grows ever wider it seems difficult to make sense of our roles in the global community. We are called to be generous, we all know that, we are called to be loving, we all know that, but how can we shed new light on the fact that we belong to the richest society to ever live on the face of this planet, but yet we are still surrounded by those who do not have their basic needs met. I hope through the examination of scriptures from the Old and New Testament we can learn a bit more about ourselves and the economy that God calls us to, that is drastically different from what the world tries to force upon us.

Before we get much further, I want to point out that money is not something we are often comfortable talking about with friends, and certainly not in church. However it was a topic that was all too familiar to the prophets and to Christ himself. Money has the power to deceive and lead us astray in a very convincing and often unassuming fashion. There is much danger walking the line between our devotion to God and our need for money to survive. So if the God we serve was all too happy to address the difficulties His people of old struggled with, and Jesus pointed to this numerous times as well, than it should be no surprise that financial issues can often tear apart families and even entire congregations.

It is often the lack of money or the abundance of money that leads to war, conflict, or issues of entitlement that cut us off from experiencing true community. So as much as there is a real need to talk about tithing, and giving to the church a 10% portion of our income, I want to go a bit beyond that and focus on redefining our relationship with money as a whole. To close my message today I am going to show you a short clip about regrets, and I can’t help but think that many of our regrets are linked to finances, or how we can allow money to sour friendships with family, friends, and even God.

The first scripture passage that I want to turn to today is in the gospel of Matthew, and it most likely does not come up on stewardship Sunday’s very often, but I find it very challenging in my own life and how it relates to the financial environment of my family.

Matthew 16:13-20 states: 13When Jesus came to the region of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say the Son of Man is? 14They replied, “Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah: and still others, Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” 15”But what about you?” he asked. “Who do you say I am?” 16Simon Peter answered, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” 17Jesus replied, “Blessed are you, Simon son of John, for this was not revealed to you by man, but by my Father in heaven. 18And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it. 19I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.” 20Then he warned his disciples not to tell anyone that he was the Christ.

The question that I want to ask you this morning in light of this passage from Matthew is this; “Who does your money say that the Son of Man is?” I think that it is very easy for us to pledge our love for God with our lips, but harder to do so with our lives. Our actions show our true devotion, and our finances, whether we like it or not, will point to our priorities. If you put your bills in a large pile, and analyzed your budget and your credit card statements what would they say about your relationship with God and your relationship with others around you? I know for a fact that our credit card statements would reveal that we are more devoted to going out to eat than we are to feeding the hungry. That we are much more devoted to clothing ourselves than we are to clothing the naked. Who do you say God is, by the way that you spend your money?

Now that is a tough question to answer, and I don’t want you to jump the gun to feeling guilty or quite proud of how your money is spent, but I want us this morning to take some time to step back from our busy lives and process the relationship that each of us has with money. We are called to live in freedom with Christ, and one of those ways is through the bondage that financial responsibility or financial temptation can place on our lives. Here are a few questions I would like us to ponder together this morning. Find that quiet happy place and really give some thought to your lives regarding the following questions:

Do you stress about money?
Do the issues of money create walls in your family relationships?
Do you tell yourself the little lie that, “If only I had this much more money, than I could be content?”
Are you harboring any bitterness or anger towards others over issues of lending or feeling taken advantage of?
Do you give to the tables of others, more than to the feast in your own home?
Are you giving sacrificially or out of your own abundance?
Do you own all of your stuff, or does all of your stuff own you?
If only I won the lottery, then I would be happy to give more to others?

Okay I will stop with the questions for a bit, but the reason for this self examination is that I am convinced the lure of money is one of the greatest stumbling blocks to our faith, that create barriers between us and God, and us and our neighbors. The prophet Zechariah is not afraid to address the issues of power and money with a boldness that only a prophet could get away with. In Zechariah 11:5 it states, “Their buyers slaughter them and go unpunished (speaking about slaves and masters). Those who sell them say, ‘Praise the Lord, I am rich.’” As Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove points out in his book God’s Economy, “the demonic power of money, according to the prophet, is that it reduces people to property that can be bought and sold. Then, what’s worse, it convinces the oppressors that God has blessed them.”

Entitlement is an ugly word. But in the land of water parks and flat panel TV’s it is easy to become blinded to what most of the world deals with just to survive. If we are honest with ourselves we are living among a nation of kings and queens. Yes there is poverty here in Evansville, but how many of you drove yourselves to church today? We often hide in the shadows of entitlement justifying our spending or the amount of our possessions by falsely comparing ourselves to those in Hollywood or those who earn an NFL salary, instead of the 2 billion people who live on less than 1$ a day.

I struggle to understand the economy of the world, because I will never be able to bridge that gap from the wealth of America to the struggle to survive that is so common in Uganda. But the beauty is that we are all invited to live the same abundant life that God calls us to. But this abundant life is not what the commercials and Hollywood would have you believe, it is instead a certain kind of freedom that only makes sense in light of the cross. This abundant life is freedom from the poverty that says some people are worthless and the freedom from the wealth that tempts us to forget about God. We are all called to this abundant life that is completely separate from a paycheck, or a 4 car garage, or even a roof over our head.

The reason I love God’s economy so much is because we not only get to receive God’s blessings, but we are called to then distribute them as well. God never asks us to do something or to give something that has not first been given to us. The only reason that I can forgive, is because I have first been forgiven. The only reason that I can love, is that I have first been loved. The only reason that I can give sacrificially is because Jesus has already given His all sacrificially for each one of us.

I want to close this morning with another conversation of Christ with his disciples and specifically once again that of Peter. Following the resurrection Jesus talks with Peter and has the following conversation. John 21:15-19, “15When they had finished eating, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon son of John, do you truly love me more than these?” “Yes, Lord,” he said, “you know that I love you.” Jesus said, “Feed my lambs.” 16Again Jesus said, “Simon son of John, do you truly love me?” He answered, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.” Jesus said, “Take care of my sheep.” 17The third time he said to him, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” Peter was hurt because Jesus asked him the third time, “Do you love me?” He said, “Lord, you know all things; you know that I love you.” Jesus said, “Feed my sheep. 18I tell you the truth, when you were younger you dressed yourself and went where you wanted; but when you are old you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go.” 19Jesus said this to indicate the kind of death by which Peter would glorify God. Then he said to him, “Follow me!’”

Are you willing to follow God into the unknown and leave the power of money in your past? When Jesus asks you if you love him, can you respond with a resounding yes with your lips, and have the proof to back it up by the generosity of your giving?

“Do you love me?” Jesus asks. He doesn’t respond that if you love him you will feed yourselves and build enough storehouses so you will never go without. Our love for God is lived out by how well we care for those in need around us. “Do you love me?” From this day forward may the way we handle money answer God with a resounding YES!

September 29, 2011 <> Michael Warneke

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