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On September 29, 2008, I had one of my best days ever on this website.  In fact, I had the second highest hit count ever.  The next two days following also had similarly high hit counts.  Why?  Because of an article I wrote back in April of 2007, titled, “Wachovia Looking Forward to Screwing Customers, Shareholders.”  You can utilize the link to read the whole article, but the gist is this, Wachovia purchased a company known as Golden West Financial Corp, which specialized in “creative financing,” vaulting Wachovia to the #2 slot as an owner/servicer of such wonderful mortgages as Option ARMs and Income-Stated loans.  I went on to predict that 2-4 years from then, that Wachovia shareholders and customers would feel a serious pinch.  Well, depending on who you talk to, whether it was inevitable or was accelerated by the media’s need for ‘forced panic,’ my prediction was about 6 to 24 months off.

Let me be the first to say this, cause I haven’t noticed anyone else pointing it out yet.  The terrorists won.  Go figure.  Let’s step back a few years to September 11, 2001.  If you’ll recall, almost everyone who predicts such things was claiming that the terrorists who flew the planes into the World Trade Center towers and the Pentagon were doing it, for a large part, in an attempt to destabilize the United States economy.  What they did instead was rally Americans to stand beside each other and re-created the sense of community that many citizens had lost.  In fact, due to Americans coming together, the economy actually rose significantly.  Yes, the stock market fell, predictably, but it recovered a lot faster than such events in the past and things seemed very rosy for the American public and the American dream.

Flash-forward seven years and the economy is doing just what the terrorists hoped it would, crumbling under the weight of Capitalist greed.  You see, regardless of which political side you stand on, it’s hard to deny that there is one thing that got us into this mess – greed.  From the family who wants to buy a home larger than they can afford, to the mortgage broker who gets them that mortgage, knowing they’ll probably end up in the hole, but happy with his commission check, to the banks who approved such loans, looking for larger paydays, to government regulators and so-called watchdogs who turned a blind eye to such practices, to Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac who bought the mortgages, knowing that they probably weren’t good investments, but assuring the investing public, that mortgage-based securities were the safest non-insured investments.

And now, we have an $811-Billion bailout package, approved by Congress and the President.  And no, I didn’t misquote that – pull out your calculator and do the math.  For that matter, who needs the bailout?  JP Morgan Chase had the wherewithal to purchase Washington Mutual, Citi grabbed Wachovia (or did they?) and Bank of America picked up Merrill Lynch and Countrywide.

Personally, I am of the opinion that this nation could use a revisit to the Great Depression reality check.  This bailout is not going to help in the long run, just delay things again a little more.  And if our legislators and Chief of State want to really help, they’d send the American public the money, in the form of individually-coded vouchers that they could only utilize to pay their mortgage or rent.  That way, the banks get bailed out, people get to keep their homes, and the economy has a chance of gently recovering.  Trust me, in the long run, the 11% interest they’ll charge the banks for the bailout cash won’t scratch the surface of the long-term effects of this action.

You may be wondering how even the Republicans can support this bailout.  The answer is easy.  You see, we don’t have a true Capitalist society here in the United States anymore.  We haven’t since – guess when – that’s right, the 1930’s, when our esteemed government tried to fix the last Great Depression.

You remember, when Congress and FDR passed “The New Deal” – various legislations creating Welfare, Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security, the FDIC, extending mortgages past seven year terms, the Agricultural Adjustment Act (which pays farmers NOT to grow crops), and most importantly, the Banking Act of 1933 (the second Glass-Steagall Act), which paved the way for the elimination of the Gold Standard.

For the uninitiated, the Gold Standard states that gold is the standard of value for a country’s currency.  In other words, a hundred dollar bill could be redeemed for $100 worth of gold.  You may recall your grandparents talking about gold certificates or silver certificates – those are currency, which, by definition, still fall under the gold standard.  What is most important about the Gold Standard is that it defined the value of our money by “hard currency.”  Without that definition, our money is barely worth the paper it is printed on – as many folks are now learning.  Nixon sealed the deal back in August of 1971, completely eliminating the gold standard, which has not been used by any country since then.  Instead, we use a Fiat money system, which means that our money is intrinsically useless; it is merely a medium of exchange.

From FDR’s own inaugural speech,

Practices of the unscrupulous money changers stand indicted in the court of public opinion, rejected by the hearts and minds of men.

True they have tried, but their efforts have been cast in the pattern of an outworn tradition. Faced by failure of credit they have proposed only the lending of more money. Stripped of the lure of profit by which to induce our people to follow their false leadership, they have resorted to exhortations, pleading tearfully for restored confidence. They know only the rules of a generation of self-seekers. They have no vision, and when there is no vision the people perish.

…there must be an end to a conduct in banking and in business which too often has given to a sacred trust the likeness of callous and selfish wrongdoing. Small wonder that confidence languishes, for it thrives only on honesty, on honor, on the sacredness of obligations, on faithful protection, on unselfish performance; without them it cannot live.

There must be a strict supervision of all banking and credits and investments. There must be an end to speculation with other people’s money. And there must be provision for an adequate but sound currency…”

So all we have to fear is fear itself?  Did I mention how much it cost the US government to finance the various aspects of Roosevelt’s New Deal?  Somewhere between $10 and $20-Billion, over a nine year period, ending with World War II.  Yes, that’s right, just in 1936 alone, the cost was $9-BILLION!  $9-Billion, in 1936! Taxes went up, up, up, needless to say.  Do I need mention that almost all of the programs FDR initiated that still exist today are already Billions of dollars in arrears?  Now we’ve initiated a single bank bailout program that will INITIALLY cost nearly 80-times the total payout for FDR’s programs over a 10-year period.  Hey, maybe we can get Germany to try and take over the world again.

In all seriousness, have we learned nothing from our grandparent’s generation who lived through this mess back in the 30’s?  Apparently not, since we’re on track to fall once more into the well.  Now, there were some really great things that came out of FDR’s reign in the White House.  For one, labor unions and other workforce reforms were put into place that are still in effect which have had a positive effect on our economy – although I would suggest that many of the labor unions have run their course at this point.

But back to the United States economic policies – since FDR’s New Deal, American capitalism has actually been a form of Socialized Capitalism.  Adam Smith would be rolling in his grave.  Again, this was not necessarily a bad thing, as it did help American workers get back on their feet and curtailed industrialist greed, at least temporarily.  In fact, John Maynard Keynes predicted that if the reforms were carried on to their logical conclusion, that we would be working shorter hours and earning more money in just a few decades.

Unfortunately, his theories did not fully anticipate the government’s attempts to siphon-off man hours to help fight the 1950’s Cold War with Russia.  Or the continued movement of women into the workforce that began in 1950 and rose significantly through the 70’s and 80’s.  Not to mention the fact that there is some evidence to suggest that longer working hours leads to sustained inflation, which leads to longer working hours, which leads to – well, you see my point.

So now that we have Socialized Capitalism, where we routinely bail out individuals – to a point where we need some sweeping reforms of the welfare and unemployment programs – so why not bail out corporate America when it gets greedy and overreaching?

This isn’t new news.  Larry Burkett predicted this back in 1991, in his classic, but now out of print book, The Coming Economic Earthquake.  The book includes a chapter that gives a fictionalized account of how things might play out in 1999, if Larry was right.  What’s scary is how very un-fictional much of his story sounds now.  Economic Journalists Neil Howe and Phillip Longman pointed out back in 1992 that government spending for entitlements was out of control and if not curtailed would eventually result in disaster.  Meanwhile Pastor Gary Keesee may have wished his latest book, Fixing the Money Thing, wherein he explains a number of the concept his Forward Financial Group have used to help people out of debt, had come out a few weeks later (or maybe a few months earlier).  In the early chapters, he lays the groundwork of what is happening in the country and also has vision of the future, which turns out to be a little more conservative, but still a horribly scary picture of what our next few months may look like.

And in the end, the terrorists have won.  No matter how this eventually plays out, they’ve proven that Americans are greedy, capitalist fiends.  What’s more, we’ve also managed to prove that our grand system of capitalism is a fraudulent, failed beast – after all, if it really worked, we’d let these banks flounder and recover on their own.  And neither candidate is willing to say which of their programs they may have to eliminate to help pay for this bailout.  My guess is, regardless of who gets elected, we aren’t going to see another personalized economic stimulus package, but rather, higher taxes across the board, for everything from income to foreign goods (tariffs) to telecommunications to tobacco and alcohol and sales – anything to help “stimulate” the economy by saving some bank CEOs’ butts.  The same banks that now charge fees for everything from using the ATM, to cashing a check, to talking to a teller or processing a payment over the phone or Internet.

The worst part is, the American people, as far as I can tell, are largely against the bailout, but the politicians, by and large, ignored literally thousands of calls to the switchboard – not by some artificial grassroots organizations, but from hundreds of actual citizens, taking an interest in the government, trying to let our elected officials know how they thought the bailout should be handled.  They were, unfortunately ignored.  Now, while I’m not usually one to jump on the bandwagon – I usually lean towards the idea that there may have been information that elected officials were privy to that the public is not – I think in this case, Congress and the President should have listened to the people.  And just in case you wondered, here are links to which people voted for and against the bailout – in the House and the Senate.  You might want to take that into account when you head to the polls later this year.

I wish I had more answers to offer, but I don’t, other than to offer a couple of words of wisdom from God’s Word, spoken to the Israelites, “What other nation is so great as to have their gods near them the way the LORD our God is near us whenever we pray to him?  …Only be careful, and watch yourselves closely so that you do not forget the things your eyes have seen or let them slip from your heart as long as you live. Teach them to your children and to their children after them.  Remember the day… if from there you seek the LORD your God, you will find him if you look for him with all your heart and with all your soul.  When you are in distress and all these things have happened to you, then in later days you will return to the LORD your God and obey him.  For the LORD your God is a merciful God; he will not abandon or destroy you or forget the covenant with your forefathers, which he confirmed to them by oath.” (Deuteronomy 4: 7, 9, 29-31)

And, “if my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and will heal their land.  Now my eyes will be open and my ears attentive to the prayers offered in this place.” (2 Chronicles 7:14-15)

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A few weeks ago, the articles here caught the attention of a gentleman who was struggling with what the church, historically has taught about tithing and he made several comments, which I used to establish a dialogue with him.  You can read the comments here. 

While I appreciated what he had to say, one of the things we continued to disagree on was whether or not the tithe was still applicable today as it was in Old Testament Biblical times.  One of the resources I did not have at the time, but have recently located, was this 4-part series by Australian minister Clive Pick on Kingdom Economics.

In the sermon reprint, I read the words that I wish I had been able to deliver to Mr. Lindsay, but had trouble expressing properly:

You don’t give the tithe you don’t sow the tithe, and the tithe is not an offering. The tithe is something you return. If you don’t return it, you are withholding it. Now that is the key the church needs to turn, because the tithe is the key to the release – not only of finances for the body of Christ, but also of the authority of the body of Christ.

You see, the tithe is not something we give back to God.  God has given us every good gift, including the means to earn a living and create sufficiency and even prosperity for ourselves.  For years, we’ve all been taught in churches that we give back to God in response to that gift.  But that teaching is slightly skewed, because it’s not ours to give.  In Malachi, God calls His people thieves when they do not “Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse…”

But the fact is, the charge is much stronger.  God says that we are stealing because we are keeping what was never ours – withholding the tithe instead of releasing it.  Rather than being good stewards, we’re pilfering from our Lord and Redeemer – essentially biting the hand that feeds us, and then wondering why His blessings aren’t flowing down from on high onto us. 

10prayers.jpgIn his recent book, Ten Prayers God Always Says Yes To, Anthony DeStefano points out that there is something very significant about the way God addresses giving in Malachi 3.  In every other situation in the Bible, when God interacts with His people, we are warned not to test God. 

Exodus 17 – “Why do you put the LORD to the test?”

Numbers 14 – “not one of the men who saw my glory and the miraculous signs I performed in Egypt and in the desert but who disobeyed me and tested me ten times- not one of them will ever see the land I promised on oath to their forefathers. No one who has treated me with contempt will ever see it.”

Deuteronomy 6 – “Do not test the LORD your God as you did at Massah.”

Psalm 78 – “But they put God to the test and rebelled against the Most High; they did not keep his statutes. Like their fathers they were disloyal and faithless, as unreliable as a faulty bow. They angered him with their high places; they aroused his jealousy with their idols.When God heard them, He was very angry; He rejected Israel completely.”

Psalm 95 – “…do not harden your hearts as you did at Meribah, as you did that day at Massah in the desert, where your fathers tested and tried me, though they had seen what I did.  For forty years I was angry with that generation;  I said, ‘They are a people whose hearts go astray, and they have not known my ways.’  So I declared on oath in my anger, ‘They shall never enter my rest.’”

Isaiah 7 – “Ahaz said, ‘I will not ask; I will not put the LORD to the test.’”

Matthew 4 – “Jesus answered him, ‘It is also written: “Do not put the Lord your God to the test.”’”

Luke 4 – “Jesus answered, ‘It says: “Do not put the Lord your God to the test.”’”

Acts 5 – “Peter said to her, ‘How could you agree to test the Spirit of the Lord? Look! The feet of the men who buried your husband are at the door, and they will carry you out also.’  At that moment she fell down at his feet and died.  Then the young men came in and, finding her dead, carried her out and buried her beside her husband.”

Acts 15 – “Now then, why do you try to test God by putting on the necks of the disciples a yoke that neither we nor our fathers have been able to bear?

I Corinthians 10 – “We should not test the Lord, as some of them did—and were killed by snakes.”

Hebrews 3 – “So, as the Holy Spirit says: ‘Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts as you did in the rebellion, during the time of testing in the desert, where your fathers tested and tried me and for forty years saw what I did.  That is why I was angry with that generation, and I said, “Their hearts are always going astray, and they have not known my ways.”  So I declared on oath in my anger, “They shall never enter my rest.”’”

But the terms are radically reversed in Malachi 3:8-12, where God actually challenges us to “’Test me in this… 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. I will prevent pests from devouring your crops, and the vines in your fields will not cast their fruit,’ says the LORD Almighty. ‘Then all the nations will call you blessed, for yours will be a delightful land,’ says the LORD Almighty.”

If God chose this one area to allow His people to test Him, does that not place an even higher amount of importance on tithing?  Yet so many people choose to ignore the teachings, dispute their validity and argue that since some pastors in the church abused their authority in respect to the tithe, then we should ignore this particular spiritual discipline.  That makes about as much sense as saying that we should ignore the teachings on adultery and fornication because some pastors and priests twisted them to serve their own aberrant and perverted desires.

We see a lot of people out there who claim that God has called them into ministry, yet they live in poverty.  Now, I’m not saying that they’re living below their means or getting by with less – we could all bear to do some of that.  I am talking about people who, in the course of their ministry, significantly struggle financially day to day, living offering to offering, leaving bills unpaid or relying on government subsidies to make ends meet.

I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that the problem is two-fold.  First, the people of God should be giving more to all ministries.  In fact, as I’ve mentioned before, if the church members actually tithed, we would have more money than we could spend.  But, a little more controversially, if God is not meeting your needs, then perhaps you need to reevaluate your “call” to ministry. 

Bear with me while I explain.  It is a fact that God pays for what He orders.  And I’m not talking about having a few weeks or even months shy of the full amount necessary.  That, in fact, may be God testing your faith and building your financial spiritual maturity – stripping away those things that really don’t matter so you can clearly see what does.  But, if you are consistently, month in and month out, year after year unable to pay your bills, feed your family and maintain your home, I think you might have misunderstood what God was saying to you, because He would never speak a word that is in conflict with His written word.  That is why we are told in I John to test the spirits and in 2 Corinthians to test ourselves.

One other thing I’d like to point out about giving and receiving, sowing and reaping.  In Acts 5, we see the story of Ananias and Sapphira.  I’ve even quoted a portion of it above, but let me bring the whole passage out right now:

Now a man named Ananias, together with his wife Sapphira, also sold a piece of property.  With his wife’s full knowledge he kept back part of the money for himself, but brought the rest and put it at the apostles’ feet.   Then Peter said, “Ananias, how is it that Satan has so filled your heart that you have lied to the Holy Spirit and have kept for yourself some of the money you received for the land?  Didn’t it belong to you before it was sold? And after it was sold, wasn’t the money at your disposal? What made you think of doing such a thing? You have not lied to men but to God.”

When Ananias heard this, he fell down and died. And great fear seized all who heard what had happened.  Then the young men came forward, wrapped up his body, and carried him out and buried him.

About three hours later his wife came in, not knowing what had happened.  Peter asked her, “Tell me, is this the price you and Ananias got for the land?”
      “Yes,” she said, “that is the price.”

Peter said to her, “How could you agree to test the Spirit of the Lord? Look! The feet of the men who buried your husband are at the door, and they will carry you out also.”

At that moment she fell down at his feet and died. Then the young men came in and, finding her dead, carried her out and buried her beside her husband.  Great fear seized the whole church and all who heard about these events.

I want to discuss this passage for a moment, because so much has been written about the New Testament vision for tithing, based on this incident in the early church.

 Reformed theologian John Calvin points out that when Malachi is addressing the house of Israel, the reason he employs the phrase, “bring the whole tithe into the storehouse” is because the Jews were bringing as little as they could get away with in – most of the time only half of the tithe – but at the same time, pretending that they were serving God by bringing anything at all, and those who gave half were elevating themselves to positions of high honor because they were giving the most.  In Calvin’s language, they were trifling with God, performing their “duties” in such a way that the others would not see their perfidy.  Perfidy is the act of violating faith or allegiance; violation of a promise or vow; faithlessness; treachery.  So what Calvin is saying is that the children of Israel were stealing from God by not returning the first fruits portion of their blessings to Him and they were making it worse by lying about it – trying to make themselves appear more holy, and in the process mocking God.

Sound familiar?  Why are Ananias and Sapphira struck down?  It’s not because they kept part of the money for themselves.  Peter makes it clear that they were entitled to the money – even all of the money, if they’d so chosen.  The reason they are struck dead and made an example of is because they deliberately lied to the Apostles and to God by claiming they were bringing the entire amount for God’s use when in fact they had kept a portion for themselves.  And Sapphira compounds their sin by outright lying to Peter when asked directly if the money they brought was the full amount.  Again, it’s not that they didn’t being the full amount, its that they lied about it to make themselves seem more holy.

John Calvin’s words echo from when he wrote them in the Middle Ages and still ring true today: “…it is no new or unusual thing for men to pretend to do the duties they owe to God, and at the same time to take away from him what is his own, and to transfer it to themselves, and that manifestly, so that their impiety is evident, though it be covered by the veil of dissimulation (hiding the truth).” Calvin goes on to note that God offers the challenge to test himself to dispel the malicious and slanderous things some of the Israelites were saying about God – claiming God was not consistent, because He had, by His own spiritual law, withheld His blessings from the people.

But God’s words are not just for the Israelites in Malachi’s time, or for the disciples and apostles of the early church.  Are you suffering because you feel God’s blessings have been withheld from you?  While there could be many reasons why God is withholding His blessing, the most prevalent and powerful in our world today is due to people’s hearts being hardened against giving God the first fruits.  Or to use the more appropriate language, by being greedy or overly concerned with money – FOR WHATEVER REASON – they are either unwilling or afraid to release back to God some of His blessings; withholding the appropriate response of money, time or talent – and keeping themselves from receiving the greater blessings God wishes to bestow upon them.

Calvin goes on to point out that our disobedience hurts everything. It hurts God by breaking our relationship with Him. It hurts us by keeping us from God’s blessings and breaking His relationship with us. And it hurts even the earth itself, which yearns, as Paul writes, for the release of what they were created to be – a source of blessing for God’s people.  

There is a lot of talk right now about The Secret – the “Law of Attraction,” that draws all good things to the people who can direct the universe’s formless stuff with their mental powers.  The true secret is that God has created the earth to serve us, but when sin broke the world, the rules changed.  The creation still wants to serve God’s children, but we must be obedient to God’s spiritual laws to allow even the very earth to share its wealth with us.

Calvin even suggests that when God tells Malachi that he will “open the floodgates of heaven,” or “open you the windows of heaven” (KJV) and pour out a blessing – He is talking about supplying the rain that allows crops to grow – then preventing the pests/devourers and preserving the fruit on the vine until it can be picked.

Interestingly enough, at the end of the chapter, God explains what will happen when His people return to obeying His laws: “They will be mine,” says the LORD Almighty, “in the day when I make up my treasured possession.  I will spare them, just as in compassion a man spares his son who serves him. And you will again see the distinction between the righteous and the wicked, between those who serve God and those who do not.” (emphasis mine)

Test God. I’m seriously asking. Until we see that the tithe, as well as God’s other financial principles and spiritual laws lead to a much more prosperous and happy life than anything we can create under our own power, we will never witness the true power of God. And many more souls will be lost, because we refused to obey God’s laws and supply a conduit for His blessings and salvation for ALL people. Don’t you owe it to your family and friends to try? I guarantee you, God will answer.

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henry_ian_cusick_2.jpgIn last week’s episode of LOST on ABC, the requisite flashback story was in the life of stranded Desmond.  We learned early on that Desmond was a novice, studying to become a monk.  At one point, after a very troubling week, the abbot discovers Desmond imbibing in the wine that the monks press to pay for their order’s livelihood.

“What are you doing, Brother?”

“Getting pissed (wasted) on our wine”

“Each bottle of that wine goes for a 100 Quid” ($200 US)

“Well, it’s good thing we took a vow of poverty, then.”

“Yes, but we also took a vow of charity…”

Are you one of the many who was taught in church that money is evil?  That rich people won’t make it into heaven?  That you cannot serve God and money?

I want to focus on that last statement.  According to both Matthew 6 and Luke 16, Jesus does say, this:

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 Mammon.” 

Interestingly enough, in Matthew, the verse follows Jesus talking about not storing up for yourself treasures on earth, and follows it with the admonition not to worry about food, drink, and clothing.  In Luke, however, the verse follows the parable of the shrewd manager and followed by the parable of Lazarus & the rich man.

I could just focus on the Luke passage, because it helps me make my point easier, but both passages are Scripture and should be able to be reconciled, or I must be laboring under a misunderstanding of what Christ was teaching.

You see, Jesus never taught that rich people wouldn’t go to heaven.  Instead, he expressed that they must have a stronger faith commitment than the poor, because they are more self-sufficient.  And I’ve already explained that Paul writes to Timothy that the LOVE of money is the ROOT of all kinds of evil, not that money, in itself is evil.

What I think many Christians teach on, when they teach that you cannot serve two masters, is that we should flee from money and building riches because they will lead down a path of temptation that we will struggle with.  To be perfectly honest, this is balderdash.  If that was the case, then why did God create women to be desirable to men?  Whether you believe it or not, the more you are blessed with, the more you will struggle with temptation.  The struggle is proof that you are following in God’s will and growing in your faith.  If it wasn’t a struggle or you didn’t feel temptation, either you’ve built up a huge resistance to God’s discipline (Check out Paul’s discussion of this in Galatians 6), or He just doesn’t feel you’ve matured enough to handle such a temptation.  And are we not told to seek higher things?

When Jesus said that we cannot serve God and money, do you think He didn’t realize that we would still struggle with it today?  Do you think that just because He spoke the words in 1st century Jerusalem that He was unaware that we would struggle with finances in 21st century America?  What if His admonition, “Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other,” could just as easily be applied to credit card debt?  If you owe Chase or Capitol One a few thousand dollars, are you not serving them?  You can tell me all you want that you hate credit card debt and you love Christ, but who are you truly devoted to when you pay Citibank $1000 a month and only have a few twenties to throw into the offering plate at the end of the month?

Why do you think that Luke records Jesus’ parable of the shrewd manager, completing the story with, “use worldly wealth to gain friends for yourselves, so that when it is gone, you will be welcomed into eternal dwellings”?  That doesn’t sound like what they told me in church.

To discover the truth behind Jesus’ controversial statement, we must read further, when he explains the point of the story, “Whoever can be trusted with very little can also be trusted with much, and whoever is dishonest with very little will also be dishonest with much.  So if you have not been trustworthy in handling worldly wealth, who will trust you with true riches?  And if you have not been trustworthy with someone else’s property, who will give you property of your own?” 

Remember, we’re talking about Stewardship here.  The master in the story is upset with his manager because he, “was accused of wasting his (the Master’s) possessions.”  Hmm.  “If you have not been trustworthy with someone else’s property, who will give you property of your own?”  I challenge you to look yourself in the mirror and ask yourself if you’ve been trustworthy with all of the gifts God has given you – physical, mental and financial.

Then, to cap the moment off, Jesus tells the parable of the rich man and Lazarus.  Lazarus is the beggar outside of the rich man’s door who is ignored by the rich man, until the two of them die and the rich man ends up in hell.  I’d like to point out that neither Jesus nor Luke implies that the rich man is in hell because he’s rich, just because that’s where he went.  In fact, it almost seems like a karmic situation: “remember that in your lifetime you received your good things, while Lazarus received bad things, but now he is comforted here and you are in agony,” but I’m pretty sure that wasn’t the point, either.  Of course, your pastor will tell you that the main point of the story is that Jesus was predicting his own death and the fact that some would still not be convinced, and he or she is absolutely right, but these parables are obviously arranged in such a way for a reason as well.

 

Now, as for chapter 6 of Matthew; the passage that appears to not be helping me any in making my point…

 

Matthew 6 begins with the admonition to not display and announce your acts of righteousness before men, to gain honor and admiration, but do them in secret.  Notice that it does not say not to do them, just to not make yourself out to be a great person as a result.  Which might be why most rich people who are generous with their money are never perceived to be rich.  They give more than most in the church, but they do it under the radar, not seeking acclaim from men.

 

Then about halfway through the chapter, Jesus tells us not to, “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.”  We would be foolish not to realize that this ties back in with the beginning of the chapter.

 

Jesus follows by saying, “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!”

 

The NIV translation leaves a little to be desired here, so I’ll turn to the commentators at InterVarsity Press to explain:

 

“In the Greek text of the Gospels, Jesus literally calls the eye a “single” eye, which is a wordplay: the Greek version of the Hebrew Bible also uses this word for “single” to translate the Hebrew term for “perfect”-thus “single-minded” devotion to God, with one’s heart set on God alone. An “evil eye,” conversely, was a stingy, jealous or greedy eye; yet it also signifies here a bad eye, one that cannot see properly.”

 

How great is the darkness within a man who is not generous, for “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.”  And again, we are brought full circle, showing that it is not the quantity of the resources (or money) that is the problem, but the nature and expression of the person with the resources.  Stingy comes at all income levels.  In fact, many who are less well off are more inclined to be stingy, as they fall prey to the fear that there will not be enough.

 

And what does Jesus address next?  That very same fear.  When put into the light of context, could Jesus perhaps be teaching us to focus on the giver of all good gifts and not who gets how much of what?  Who worries more about whether or not they will have food and clothing, the well-off or the less than wealthy.  Of course, there are exceptions to every rule.  There are many who are rich that have come upon their success by hoarding and greed and they fear the same things.  And I have some close friends who live on very little, but are extremely happy and have the ability to donate time, talent, and treasury to various ministries.

 

The issue, again, is not that possessions themselves are bad but that a higher priority holds dominion over our resources. If we value what our Lord values rather than what the TV or other societal forces dictate, we will find freedom regardless of our income stream.  After all, God does want us to have enough to be content, but also to have an abundance so that we may fulfill the vow of charity that we accepted when we took upon ourselves His grace, regardless of what robes (or denim) we wear.  In meeting the needs of others, we become most Christ-like, no matter how much our bank account holds.

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I’m going to start out with a very controversial statement: God wants you to be rich.  Yes, you read that right.  God’s desire for you, is for you to have money well beyond your current means.  I’ll explain why in a moment.

 

Let me give you an easier statement first.  God wants you to be financially free.  When we started talking to you about God’s perspectives on finance, we started with the tithe.  The tithe is the foundation for everything involving money and resources, because it is God’s first evaluation of our obedience.  Until your giving is in line with God’s call on your life, you are living in sin and preventing yourself from receiving God’s full blessings.  Giving is the first step to becoming financially free.

 

God wants you to be financially free.  Debt keeps you from being financially free, because you are in bondage to the people or companies you owe money to.  Debt keeps you from giving your resources to God.  Debt causes health problems.  Debt causes fear.  Debt hurts your family, and debt keeps you from hearing from God.  Becoming debt-free is the next step to becoming financially free.

 

Today, we’re going to talk about God’s Provision for Your Family’s Future and What He Expects You to Contribute.  God wants you to be financially free.  The Scriptures say that He provides for His children.  His first provision for you is right in front of you.  God has provided for you the means to earn money.  And He expects you to work.  Paul told the Thessalonians, “we gave you this rule: ‘If a man will not work, he shall not eat.’  We hear that some among you are idle. They are not busy; they are busybodies.  Such people we command and urge in the Lord Jesus Christ to settle down and earn the bread they eat.”  Yes, there are some people who are unable to work.  However, if you are able to work, God requires you to.  God expects us to work as if we were laboring for Him.

 

Likewise, you should teach your children to work when they are of a responsible age.  Work is God’s first provision for you and your family.

 

Our response to that provision should be gratitude.  Gratitude that leads to personal responsibility.  I told you before that the tithe is never mentioned in the New Testament.  In fact, the writer of Hebrews does mention the tithe.  That letter was written to the Jewish Christians.  Christians who were wondering what parts of the Jewish Law they should obey.  In Hebrew 7, the Apostle Paul explains that in Jewish history, recorded in the book of Genesis,  Abraham offered a tenth of his spoils from war to Melchizedek.  Melchizedek was a priest-king, and Paul suggests that Melchizedek is, in fact, Christ.  So by offering Melchizedek a tenth of his resources, Abraham fulfilled the law before it became the law.  The point made in Hebrews is that the tithe was voluntarily given, not because of a rule or requirement.  Giving back to God is a voluntary response to God’s blessings.

 

And that response does not stop or change simply because you are in retirement.  I do not believe God intends for us to work for money our entire lives.  I believe that at some point, God plans a different work for us.  A lot of Christians hold a hope for heaven in the next life.  I believe that God wants us to bring heaven into existence here on earth.  This is not a new age idea.  Read Revelations 21 & 22.  Jesus comes back and takes up residence here, on earth.   A new earth – an earth renewed by His people working as He has called them to.  God wants you to be financially free so that you can devote more of your time, money and energy to bringing about His kingdom on earth.

 

When we talked about a spending plan, 10% was to be dedicated to saving for your family’s future needs.  In practical terms, there are four areas you need to be saving for.  The first is an Emergency Fund.  We don’t know what the future holds.  Regardless of your health or work situation at this point.  There is always a chance you could lose your job or become disabled.  How would your family cope if your income stopped?  Having an Emergency Fund protects them and gives you time to recover.

 

Next, you should save for your short term goals.  These include vacations, appliances or a new vehicle.  Saving now eliminates the need for debt later.

 

The third area you should save for is your child’s college education.  Some people believe that they should pay all of that expense.  Others feel that the child should work to pay for school.  Either way, there is one thing to consider.  If you have the capability to help your children, you should.  It is irresponsible to allow your child to go into debt, when you have the ability to help them avoid it.

 

Second Corinthians 12 points out that, “children should not have to save up for their parents, but parents for their children.”  That’s not to say they shouldn’t earn the help – with good grades or even repaying a non-interest loan.  But until they are no longer under your care, they are your responsibility – and part of that is educating them properly – in word and deed.

 

The fourth area you should save for is retirement.  In the old days, you could rely on your employer.  That’s no longer the case.  Between 1983 and 1998, two-thirds of the defined benefit or traditional pension plans in the US were terminated.  Most of us don’t remember a time without Social Security.  But the government can’t help much anymore, either.  The Social Security Administration has even told us, “Social Security was never intended to be your only source of income when you retire.”  But people aren’t saving.  USA Today reports that, “10.6 million people live on social security alone.”

 

God wants you to be financially free.  And He expects you to know what it will require of you.  Lack of proper retirement planning leads to the same stress as debt – and the same consequences.  Yet, almost three-quarters of workers surveyed had not done a calculation, but only guessed to determine how much money they would need at retirement.

 

USA Today found that “54% of people in the workforce think they’ll still be working at 65 or older.”  Not because they want to.  Because they don’t have a choice.  40-percent will need to work, but won’t be able to, for health reasons.  And one-third of workers did not save anything for retirement last year.

 

God teaches us that we should be saving money for the future.  In Proverbs, King Solomon wrote a lot about our financial future.  “In the house of the wise are stores of choice food and oil, but a foolish man devours all he has.”  “Go to the ant, you sluggard; consider its way and be wise! It has no commander, no overseer or ruler, yet it stores its provisions in summer and gathers its food at harvest.”  “A faithful man will be richly blessed, but one eager to get rich will not go unpunished.”

 

The biggest challenge for most families is getting started.  Procrastination kills the future and leaves us a double burden to bear tomorrow.  Take for example a plan to save $500,000.  If you start at age 25, you need to only save $78 a month.  Wait 10 years and you have to save 3 times as much.  Wait until you’re age 45, and you need to save $653 a month.  And waiting until you’re 55 is a serious expense.  You have to save almost $2500 a month – 31 times as much as you could have saved 30 years sooner.

 

But where do you put your money?  I recommend that everyone puts their long term savings into the global economy, in the form of mutual funds.  Although some funds existed in the late 1800’s, the concept of mutual funds was expanded in the 1930’s following the stock market crash.  Mutual Funds protect their owners by spreading the risk of the stock market out across hundreds of companies.  They also increase the benefit to their owners by allowing them invest, even if they start small.  I believe that the use of mutual funds is supported by the Scriptures.  Solomon wrote in Proverbs that “Dishonest money dwindles away, but he who gathers money little by little makes it grow.”  And in Ecclesiastes, he encourages his readers to “Cast your bread upon the waters, for after many days you will find it again.  Give portions to seven, yes to eight, for you do not know what disaster may come upon the land.”

 

Rule of 72

 

I started off tonight by telling you that God wants you to be rich.  As I said, that is a controversial statement.  But it shouldn’t be.  As you know, greed is a sin.  But once you get adjust your perspectives on finance to agree with God’s principles, you are on the road to financial freedom.  And we know that God wants us to be financially free.  But for a Christian, that freedom comes with a price.  God wants you to be financially free – not so you can sit back and relax, line your pockets, or hoard wealth.  No, God wants you to be financially free, so that you have the freedom to serve Him in everything you do.

 

God wants you to have enough money that it no longer dominates your life.  God wants you to have so much that your family is cared for.  So much that you can give it away without worrying that you are going to run out.  So much that you can move to a higher level of obedience and trust.

 

Bill Orender says that, “You should earn as much as you are capable of… not necessarily to make your standard of living higher, but to have the freedom to help others when God calls on you.  Rather than saying, ‘someone should do something,’ you can be the one glorifying God in the doing.”

 

The King Solomon agrees: “A man can do nothing better than to eat and drink and find satisfaction in his work. This too, I see, is from the hand of God, for without him, who can eat or find enjoyment?  and “So I commend the enjoyment of life, because nothing is better for a man under the sun than to eat and drink and be glad. Then joy will accompany him in his work all the days of the life God has given him under the sun.”

 

A man named Larry Stewart, from Kansas City, recently died of cancer.  Shortly before his untimely death, he admitted to the world that he had been giving away money for 26 years, as a “Secret Santa.”  In all, he personally handed out more than 1-million-dollars, anonymously.  In addition, he publically gave thousands of dollars to various charities.  His story is even more interesting.  In December of 1979, he had lost his job – for the second year in a row – the week before Christmas.  He was feeling sorry for himself while eating at a drive up restaurant.  Then he noticed that the girl who was bringing him his food was wearing a thin coat and shivering from the cold.  He tipped her $20.00.  Every year after that, every December, he would give away money to people he felt needed it.  When he died, he was a millionaire.  But when he started giving money away, he was out of a job and close to broke.  What lesson can we learn from this?

 

There is a popular misconception that many Christians labor under.  It’s called the ‘scarcity mentality.’  They believe that there are limits to God’s generosity.  They believe that there is not quite enough to go around, so they have to hold onto what they have.  I’ve even heard one person say that they were careful not to be too generous.  There is an old saying that is still true today.  You cannot out-give God.

 

Bishop Larry Goodpaster puts it this way: “This abundant outpouring of God’s Spirit is not to be wasted, hoarded, protected, guarded, or saved.  It is to be shared, believing that there will be more than enough for any and every good work undertaken in the name of Jesus.”  And Jesus himself is quoted by Luke, “Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.”

 

Which measure would you like for God to use when He blesses you?  A measure of fullness and generosity or one of greed and stinginess?

 

In 2 Corinthians, Paul writes, “Now he who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will also supply and increase your store of seed and will enlarge the harvest of your righteousness. You will be made rich in every way so that you can be generous on every occasion, and through us your generosity will result in thanksgiving to God.”

 

Your generosity will result in thanksgiving to God.  How would you feel, knowing that God was praised as a result of your giving?  Wouldn’t that be a legacy to leave behind?  Imagine not being remembered as a man who earned millions of dollars in his lifetime.  But instead, as a man or woman or family or church who gave away millions of dollars?  This is a spiritual law we can depend on.  “One man gives freely, yet gains even more; another withholds unduly, but comes to poverty.  A generous man will prosper; he who refreshes others will himself be refreshed.”

 

You see the greatest legacy you can leave behind is your example to others.  If you have no debt, there is nothing monetarily keeping you from obeying God’s commands.  If you give at the level you are called to give, God will bless you in many ways.  And if you do your part to preserve your family’s future.  If you save what you can when you can so that at some point your life can change.  If you dedicate yourself to becoming the man or woman of God that He has called you to be.  If you do all these things, your life will change.  Your children’s and grandchildren’s lives will change.  Your church, your neighborhoods, your cities, your states, your world will see the glory of God reflected in hearts that are truly devoted to Him.

 

God wants you to be financially free.  God wants you to be rich.  He wants to be able to bless you far beyond what you can imagine.  He wants to do all this so you will be free to serve.  He wants to use you to enact His will upon this world.  His good, pleasing and perfect will.

 

I work everyday with families that want to get on that road to financial freedom. 

 

Are you ready to begin?  Are you ready to take the first steps towards financial freedom?  Are you willing to do whatever it takes to open the doors and allow Christ to influence the way you think, feel and act about money?

 

I hope you have learned something along the past three weeks.  But knowledge is pointless without action.  If you truly want to make a change…  you must put your beliefs into action.

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