Text: John 14
The sermon wrestles with the power of money and points to peace that come when we trust God. It contains three cultural myths about money that are contrasted by five Biblical principles of giving.
Money Talk on Mother's Day
May 9, 2010
Grace to you and peace from God our creator, and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.
On this Mother's Day, I was thinking about how blessed I am to have my mother living with us. She is a great mom and one thing that I will be ever grateful for is her generosity. I have been and continue to be blessed by it. She often goes without things herself in order to provide for others. When I was growing up, I often thought "Why doesn't she ever buy anything for herself?" It's because I needed things...she made sure I had what I needed and often went without. She grew up in the Depression and learned to live within her means and to be a good saver. Those things, along with her faith in God, equipped her to be very generous. After my dad died, she decided she wasn't going to worry about money. She has peace about money and trusts that God will continue to provide just as God has done her whole life.
In today's gospel reading from John 14, Jesus says these most beautiful words "Peace I leave with you, my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not let them be afraid." My mom has taken these verses to heart in the area of money, but when we think of money, we often aren't filled with peace. We worry about not having enough of it, we stress over spending too much of it, and we are anxious about if it will support us in the future. All you have to do is read the newspaper to see how much peace there is about money in this world. How much peace did you have this week when the stock market plunged almost 1,000 points in less than half an hour?
But these words from Jesus in John 14 can apply to money as well as anything else in our lives. "Do not let your hearts be troubled about money and do not let them be afraid about money." Jesus promises to send us the Holy Spirit, the Advocate for peace, to come alongside us.
The problem is we often get bogged down by the cultural messages about money.
There are three cultural myths about money: debt is expected and unavoidable, things bring happiness, and a little more money will solve all our problems. (Good $ense Budget Course)
Have those myths penetrated your lives as well as they have mine?
Those cultural myths rob us of peace. The notion that "debt is expected and unavoidable" has lulled us into believing that we don't need to worry about debt because it's something we have to have! But being in debt never gives us much peace. Sure, "things bring happiness", for a time, but in the end more things do not bring us more peace. Multi-billionaire Howard Hughes was asked how much money he needed. His answer: just a little bit more. The idea that "a little more money will solve all our problems" keeps us always wanting more and leaves us with little peace.
Our culture is hard at work trying to influence and control our financial behavior. "Wear me, buy me, drink me, drive me and you'll be happy and beautiful and wise!" Our culture tells us that we'll find peace and fulfillment and contentment only by acquiring more things. Every day we feel the pull of the culture on our financial lives. It's not easy and it can be a daily struggle. While our culture is hard at work shouting at us from the newspaper, internet, TV and radio, God -in that still small voice- invites us to be faithful. Financial freedom and peace are byproducts of that faithfulness.
The way to experience freedom in place of bondage and peace instead of anxiety in our relationship with money is by being faithful to seeking first God's kingdom and God's righteousness. We first of all need to realize that everything we have is a gift from God -- our jobs, our money, our families and friends, our moms, our talents -- they are all gifts from God.
We are simply trustees of all that we've been given. We might have titles to our cars and houses and in earthly terms, we do own them. But in eternal terms, everything we have belongs to God.
When my husband, Jim and I first took the Good $ense course 5 years ago, we learned that God created everything and God owns everything. I knew that, but it really hit home that weekend. For the first time, I realized that it isn't really my money or Jim's money, it's all God's. Just realizing that took the stress out of figuring out how to allocate it.
So if everything belongs to God, what are we supposed to do with it? We are to faithfully manage our resources according to Biblical principles. Basically, those principles tell us to give some, save some and live on the rest. The first -and I think the most important principle- is to give some, not because God needs the money or because the church needs the money.
It's because we need the peace. Really.
Jim and I were recently listening to a sermon on the internet about money. The pastor said (and I believe him!) that he and his wife have always given away 10%, saved 10% and lived on the rest. They never had debt, never had a car payment and always lived by those rules. Jim and I looked at each other and said, "Well, good for them." But, we haven't always done it that way! We've made mistakes in our financial lives (and still do!) and we've had times where we didn't have much peace about money. But we've learned that giving some away is a key to our peace about money.
Giving is about the need of the giver to give more than it is about the need of God (or the church) to receive. God invites us to give because God knows it's good for us. When we give back to God, we acknowledge God as the source of our resources. Giving allows us to express our thanks. It's also a demonstration of trust -- we give something away, trusting that we will have enough. Since God is such a generous giver we are most like God when we give.
Plus, giving is fun, so don't miss out on the joy that giving can bring!
Setting aside the first 10% of your income is called the tithe. It's an Old Testament principle that has been used for years to help people be disciplined in their giving. You don't HAVE to do it that way, but Jim and I have found that it helps us be disciplined about giving back to God first. Otherwise, we found we had too much month left at the end of our money and there were only a few dollars left to give back to God.
Along with the cultural myths about money, our culture has these three myths about giving:
1. Give if it benefits you -- get a free umbrella or a tax break
2. Give if there is anything left over -- pay all your bills and then give
3. Give out of a sense of duty -- give because you have to
But the biblical principles about giving are much different:
1. Give in response to God's goodness, realizing that "Every good and perfect gift is from above" (James 1:17).
2. Give to focus on God as our source of security -- in order to have peace about our money we need to realize that everything we have is a gift from God and God (not money) is our source of security. (Matthew 6:33)
3. Give to help achieve economic justice in the world -- We give for our sake and for the sake of our neighbor. We give to help in those times when others can't. This goes against the prevalent thinking of "I've got mine. You get yours." We give so there is a balance. Our plenty will supply what others need and vice versa. (2 Corinthians 8:13-14).
4. Give to bless others and to be blessed -- We are blessed not so we can raise our standard of living, but to raise our standard of giving. In Psalm 67, the community asks for God
to bless them. God blesses us so that we can enjoy life, but the other purpose is so that others may come to know God. The people of Israel were blessed to be a blessing to others, and so are we. (Genesis 12:2-3).
5. Give to break the hold that money can have on us -- this, for me, is the key. When you get in the regular practice of giving away the first 10% or 2% or whatever % of your money, money loses its hold on you. You put your trust in God, not in money, and that takes away money's power and gives you peace. (Genesis 1:26-27) (Good $ense Budget Course, Zondervan Publishing, Grand Rapids MI, 2002)
When we took the Good $ense Course, we had a car payment, a boat payment, a truck payment (so we could pull the boat), a mortgage and some credit card debt. We also had two teenagers and a way to go in saving for college. So, we looked at how we were spending the money we had been entrusted with and we decided that our spending was not in line with our priorities. We wanted to be generous givers and wise savers and we wanted to help our kids pay for college. So, we sold the boat, sold the truck, paid off the car and started saving. We saved more in that one year than we had our entire married life! The next year, my mom decided she didn't want to live alone anymore and we started to look for a house that we could all move into. We found a great rambler, sold both of our houses and have been living there together for the past 4 years. Living according to biblical financial principles allowed us to be in a position to make that happen, to honor my mother as the 4th commandment tells us to do, and it has been a huge blessing! But, we couldn't have done that, had we not paid off our debt and started saving.
As we were getting ready to move, there were some stressful times, with the buyers down the line and from the sellers up the line. Deals were starting to fall through and lawsuits were being threatened. It was very nerve-wracking. But through that short ordeal, we met with our realtor quite often and kept reciting John 14:27 "Peace I leave with you, my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not let them be afraid." We had the Advocate for peace with us. Jesus does not give to us as the world gives. Jesus sends us the Holy Spirit, the Advocate for peace, who intercedes for us, teaches us and fills us with the peace that passes all understanding.
My friends, the Advocate for peace is with you, too. So, do not let your hearts be troubled about money and do not let them be afraid. Live according to Biblical principles about money: give some, save some and live on the rest.
Trust God and believe that these promises are for you. Malachi 3:10 says, "Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. Test me in this," says the LORD Almighty, "and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that you will not have room enough for it."
Let it be so for us.
Nancy Carlson is Pastor of Communication and Congregational Care at Westwood Lutheran Church, St. Louis Park, MN.