November 25, 2007

BLING-onomic$

Part 1: A lousy god

Luke 12:13-21

Opening:

Thursday morning I went out to get the paper and had to use a wheelbarrow to haul it back to the house!  It was ginormous—all those ads for Black Friday!  Adaholic heaven!  So, how many of you started your Christmas shopping on Friday?  How many of you were up before dawn to hit the best sales?  ‘Tis the season!

Today, we start a new series, “Blingonomic$”.  The term “bling” became popular in the late 1990’s; it refers to elaborate jewelry and other accoutrements, and then to a lifestyle build around excessive spending and ostentation.  In this series, “Blingonomic$”, we’re going see what Jesus has to say about our money, about our bling, and most importantly, about our hearts.

Offering and announcements:

Did you have a good Thanksgiving?  I was so happy to see that Tom’s Turkey Drive set a new record this year—they collected enough money for over 6700 Thanksgiving meals.  And you were a huge part of that!  You gave almost $23,000, enough for 1530 Thanksgiving meals!  Thank you!

Introduction:

Can anyone relate to that?  Adaholics Anonymous.

Today, we’re starting a four week series entitled “Blingonomic$”.  I’m indebted to Pastor Gene Appel for the title and some of the ideas I’ll share with you.  Here’s the big idea: Jesus had a lot to say about money and stuff—the bling that we spend so much time working for, accumulating, using, maintaining, storing, selling or throwing away.  Of the four gospels—Matthew, Mark, Luke and John—it is Dr. Luke who records more of Jesus’ teaching on money and bling.  So for the next four weeks, we’re going to look at some of the red letters—the words of Jesus—in the gospel of Luke, and see what Jesus has to say about money and bling—blingonomic$.

Would you pull out the vision card in your program?  You’ll see we have four purposes here at Life Center, four things that drive all we do: love, win, grow, send.

  • Love: love God with all we’ve got.
  • Win: win our friends to Jesus.
  • Grow: grow to become all God wants.
  • Send: send out leaders and new churches.

Love, win, grow, send.  Would you say those with me?  That’s what we do.  Love, win, grow, send.  Now look at the “grow” piece.  Here’s how we grow spiritually.

  • Meet: we meet together in church and Life Groups.
  • Seek: we seek God daily in prayer, Bible reading and journaling.
  • Serve: we serve others in our church and community.
  • Give: we give to God and to the poor.
  • Share: we share our faith with friends.

Meet, seek, serve, give, share.  Would you those with me?  That’s what we do to grow.  This series is a “give” series…although, as you’ll see today, it’s not just about giving, or even primarily about giving.  It’s much bigger than that.  It’s about learning to manage all that we have unselfishly.  It’s about saying no to unbridled consumerism so that we can do something better with our money than just buy more bling.

ILL: Has this ever happened to you?  Have you ever seen something new and you just had to have it?  I mean, you’ve lived happily without it all your life; you didn’t even know it existed until you saw it, or saw an ad for it, and then you can’t live without it.

         This is the cover of this week’s Newsweek.  The cover story is about the Amazon Kindle, an electronic reader that holds up to 200 books, and is always connected online so that you can be anywhere, think of a book you’d like to read, and order it right then and have it downloaded within one minute!  This is the coolest thing ever.  I didn’t know it existed until Wednesday, and now, I have got to have one of these!  I don’t know how I’ve lived 56 years without this!

Has this ever happened to you?  We are the most consumptive society in history.  Our houses are so over-packed with stuff that we have to build bigger houses, with bigger garages, and when that won’t hold it all, we rent storage units.  In 2005 Americans received 3 billion credit card offers in the mail—more than 10 apiece for every man, woman and child in America.  What do we do with those cards?  We buy…and we buy…and we buy!  In 2005, Americans spent more money than they made; it was the first year that has been true since 1933, the bottom of the Great Depression.  In 2005, more Americans declared bankruptcy than graduated from college. This unbridled consumerism is wreaking havoc in our finances.  And it’s bad for our soul too.  Let me say it again: unbridled consumerism is bad for our souls, as we’ll see in today’s story from Luke 12.  

Luke 12:13-21

13 Someone in the crowd said to him, “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me.”

14 Jesus replied, “Man, who appointed me a judge or an arbiter between you?” 15 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.”

16 And he told them this parable: “The ground of a certain rich man produced a good crop. 17 He thought to himself, ‘What shall I do? I have no place to store my crops.’

18 “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. 19 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.” ’

20 “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?’

21 “This is how it will be with anyone who stores up things for himself but is not rich toward God.”

The story starts with a request: give me more.

  1. A request: give me more. 13

13 Someone in the crowd said to him, “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me.”

The story starts with a request.  A man asks Jesus to arbitrate a family dispute over an inheritance.  Here’s something unusual: a family squabble over money!  You’ve never experienced that, have you?  No one in your house, your family, your marriage ever squabbles over money, do they?  Sadly, it happens all too often when there’s an inheritance.  You know the saying, “Where there’s a will…there’s a relative.” Many families have been torn apart arguing over an inheritance, which is why Laina and I have decided to spend it all, and spare our kids the fight!

Notice that the man didn’t ask Jesus to review the merits of his claim, or to make sure everyone was treated fairly.  No, he just wanted Jesus to make sure he got his.  He wanted more than he was getting.  “Give me more.”  The Greek word for “greed” literally means “have more”.  More, more, more…as we’ll see, this is the attitude that not only gets us in trouble financially, but wrecks our souls.  So Jesus responds, “Watch out!”

  1. A response: watch out! 14-15

14 Jesus replied, “Man, who appointed me a judge or an arbiter between you?” 15 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.”

I wondered why this man came to Jesus to settle this dispute.  I discovered that it was common to ask a respected rabbi to arbitrate disputes.  But Jesus refused to be drawn into his family squabble over money, and the only response Jesus gives is this strong warning.  “Watch out!”  When do we say “watch out” to someone?  When they’re in danger.

ILL: Sometimes when I’m driving, Laina will shout, “Watch out!”  Scares the bejeebers out of me!  Maybe there’s a deer in the field…but I’m less likely to die from the deer than the fright!

         When I play golf and hit a drive three fairways over toward a group on another tee box, I yell, “Fore!  Fore!”  Most of them have already taken cover when they see me get up to hit, but just in case I’m warning them, “Watch out!”  Danger!  Incoming!

We say “Watch out” when there’s danger.  Jesus is warning this man—and us—of something very dangerous, something that can take your soul.  What is it?  Greed.

  1. Be on your guard against all kinds of greed.

What is greed?  It is the unquenchable thirst for more.  Remember, the Greek word here literally means “to have more”.  “I want to have more!”  That’s greed.  More, more, more!  Greed is never satisfied.  It’s like drinking seawater.  The more you drink, the thirstier you get.  When you fall into the trap of thinking that having more will satisfy you, you’ll never have enough.  Ever.  You’ll get more and more and more, and then still want more and more and more.  That’s greed.  And most of us are infected by it.  Most of us want more.  I know I do.

ILL: I was in Costco on Monday with my wife.  She had one cart, and I had another.  She was buying necessities…food.  I was looking at toys—big boy toys.  I had two in my cart from the electronics section—two really cool things that would make my life complete, that would make me happy…forever.  And I got a few aisles away, and this little voice was going off in my head.  “You don’t these.”  As I thought about it, I realized that I was already happy without these two things, and that I could live the rest of my life happy without them.  I took them both back, and bought dog food!

Friends, I am infected by greed.  I have the desire to acquire.  And I’ll bet you do too.  More, more!  And Jesus warns us—you and me—to be on our guard.

How do we do that?  How can you be on your guard against all kinds of greed (literally, “all greediness”)?  I think it starts with awareness: things will not make me happy.  That’s what Jesus says next.

  1. Life is not measured by how much you own. NLT

The NIV says, “A man’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.”

Said another way, money and bling will never satisfy. More won’t make you happy.  More won’t make you content.  More won’t make your life meaningful or full.  Bling is a lousy god.

Jesus doesn’t say that possessions are bad, or that you shouldn’t have them.  He simply says that you’re not going to find life in your bling.  Jesus is not saying that the new car, the new house, the new toy is bad and you shouldn’t have it.  Jesus is saying that it won’t give you life; it won’t make you happy or content or fulfilled.

If life is not measured by how much you own, what is it measured by?  If life does not consist in the abundance of your possessions, of what does it consist?

ILL: John deButts was chairman of AT&T. He had thousands of employees under him. He was wealthy; he was influential. Presidents would call him for advice. But he realized how valuable all that was one day when he began to have serious health problems—and nobody came to visit him in the hospital. Nobody sent a card, nobody gave a phone call. He said, “The only one there was the one I had largely ignored for 30 years: my wife.”

His money, his power, his position, his influence—all the things he had worked for—suddenly didn’t matter…to anyone.  He was alone…with the one person who loved him unconditionally: his wife.  How do you measure life?  What really makes life rich?  Here’s what Jesus said.

Matthew 6:19-21 Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. 20 But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. 21 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

Don’t store up treasure on earth, but store up treasure in heaven.  How do you store up treasure in heaven?  By investing in relationships with God and people.  What will be in heaven?  I know God will be there, and I know people will be there.  And so if I invest in my relationship with God, and in my relationships with people, I am storing up treasure in heaven.  This is the only thing that lasts beyond this life, the only thing I can take with me.  This is why when Jesus was asked what is the most important commandment, He said:

Matthew 22:37-40 “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ 38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ 40 All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”

Love God and love people—that’s all that lasts, and all that you’re going to take with you.  Life is not measured by how much you own, but by how you love.  So don’t store up treasures on earth, but store up treasures in heaven: love God and love people.

ILL: Before Gene Appel preached his Blingonomics series, he received this email from a lady in his church.

I cannot be at church next weekend as my siblings and I will be selling off the incredible excess my mom has collected. We are all so glad we will at last be free of our mom’s stuff! We have had to devote one little room of this sale just to linens, many of them never used and not even taken out of the packages. A whole closet is just to sell candles and dinner napkins for all sorts of seasons. Over 200 candles. My sister’s basement is filled with stuff for auction: art objects and pricey dinnerware that were buried deep in closets and drawers rather than being used and enjoyed.

“What is in her house defies description. Whatever hobby my mom had, it became a major collection. Even her lingerie became a collection. Why does a woman need over 50 bras? No, we are not selling that stuff.”

“The sad thing is, my mom lived so long with all this stuff, withdrawing a great deal from people as she became more and more mentally ill. She was upset that she could not afford a bigger house to put more stuff in. Now she is in a wonderful place for people with Alzheimer’s where she no longer has room for much stuff. She has quickly become well-known for walking around with a big purse overstuffed with all sorts of items and horrifically heavy for her fragile body to carry.

“Every time I come to visit her, we spend time going over where her stuff is, to help her feel secure. And every time I empty some of the stuff out of her purse, telling her it is just too heavy to walk around with.

“One of my sisters and I have spent many years trying to help my mom unload, only to see her load up again. There is an emptiness inside my mom that stuff can never fill.

“Want any cut-glass coasters? Come to Morton Grove next weekend. We have a set of 12. I do not remember them ever being used.”

The e-mail was signed, “Stuffed out.”

Stuffed out!  This email bothered me…because I have so much stuff stored in my house that is unused and could be given away.  Anybody else here relate to that? When bling is hoarded, it doesn’t benefit anyone—it’s wasted.  Life isn’t measured by how much you own, but by how you love.

To drive this home, Jesus told a story about a rich fool.

  1. A story: a rich fool. 16-20

16 And he told them this parable: “The ground of a certain rich man produced a good crop. 17 He thought to himself, ‘What shall I do? I have no place to store my crops.’

18 “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. 19 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.” ’

20 “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?’

Here is a very successful businessman.  Anything wrong with that?  Nope.  Jesus didn’t criticize him for being successful.  I think most of would agree that being successful is a good thing, not a bad thing.  I want to be successful, don’t you?  Nothing wrong with that.

And because of his success, he was very rich.  Anything wrong with that?  Nope.  Jesus doesn’t criticize him for being rich.  His sin was not being rich.  There is no place in the Bible that says it is sinful or wrong to be rich.  Given the choice, I’d rather be rich than poor.  Nothing wrong with that.

So what was the rich man’s fault?  What did he do wrong?

  1. He thought only of himself.

He thought only of himself. The personal pronouns “I, my, mine” appear eleven times in his short speech.  His focus was entirely on himself; he used his riches only for himself.  He never thought of giving away his excess.  He never thought of sharing his wealth with others.  He thought only of himself.

ILL: Here’s a fable someone sent me.

A man was having a conversation with the Lord one day and said, “Lord, I would like to know what Heaven and Hell are like.” The Lord led the man to two doors.

He opened one of the doors and looked in. In the middle of the room was a large round table. In the middle of the table was a large pot of stew, which smelled delicious and made the man’s mouth water. But the people sitting around the table were thin and sickly. They appeared to be famished. They were holding spoons with very long handles that were strapped to their arms and each found it possible to reach into the pot of stew and take a spoonful. But because the handle was longer than their arms, they could not get the spoons back into their mouths.

The man shuddered at the sight of their misery and suffering.  The Lord said, “You have seen Hell.”

They went to the next room and opened the door. It was exactly the same as the first one. There was the large round table with the large pot of stew, and the people were equipped with the same long-handled spoons, but here the people were well nourished and laughing and talking. The man said, “I don’t understand.”

“It is simple,” said the Lord. “It requires just one skill. You see they have learned to feed each other, while the greedy think only of themselves.”

This was the rich man’s sin: he thought only of himself.  He never thought of sharing with others.

I told you that you store up treasure in heaven by loving God and loving people.  There’s one other way to do it, found a little later in Luke 12.

Luke 12:33-34 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. 34 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

You can store up treasure in heaven by giving to the poor.  It sounds like the fable, doesn’t it?  Heaven is filled with people who have learned to share, not hoard, who think of others, and not just themselves.  Use some of your bling to love others and store up treasure in heaven.  Here are some practical suggestions for giving to the poor.

  • In a couple weeks, we’ll be receiving an offering for our benevolence fund. Every dollar goes to the needy in our community.  It’s a chance to give to the poor.
  • Go through your house and pick out things you have stored but don’t use, and give them away to someone who will use them.
  • Hook up with an organization that is doing good work with the poor around the world, and give to them. World Vision is a great example.

Jesus said, “Whatever you do for the least of one of these, you do for me.”  Don’t be like this fool and think only of yourself.

  1. He thought only of this life.

He thought only of this life, but not the next.  He was thinking ahead, but not far enough.  He thought of his retirement, but he never thought of God.  He planned for the future, but he left God out of his plans.

Is it ok to plan for your retirement?  Yes.  If you don’t, you may end up being a burden to your children, or the rest of us.  It’s good to plan and save for future needs, provided you don’t think only of this life.  Here is the balance: we prepare for this life by saving; we prepare for the next by giving, by sharing with those in need.  There’s got to be a balance.  We’ve got to be wise, but not selfish; save, but not hoard.  We must do both; this guy only did one.

Here’s a guy who did a great job in building his earthly portfolio, but he neglected to ever ask the question: “God, what kind of heavenly portfolio would You want me to build with some of the bling that You’ve entrusted to me?  How can I use some of this to meet the needs of people in this world?” He had fallen for the lie that life is measured by what you own, when life is measured by how you love.

I read this verse yesterday in my time with God.  It’s from the parable of the soils.  A farmer scatters seed that lands on different kinds of soil, including weedy soil.  Jesus explains:

Matthew 13:22 The seed that fell among the thorns represents those who hear God’s word, but all too quickly the message is crowded out by the worries of this life and the lure of wealth, so no fruit is produced.

Remember I said earlier that unbridled consumerism is bad for our souls.  This verse warns us that the lure of wealth can crowd out God’s word and work in our lives.  Greed can be lethal for your soul.  It was for this man in our story.

Matthew 16:26 And what do you benefit if you gain the whole world but lose your own soul? Is anything worth more than your soul?

This guy gained a lot of bling, but lost his soul.  “Watch out”, Jesus said.  Greed can be fatal.  You can lose your soul.

ILL: A young man and a wise older man were talking.  “What are you going to do?” asked the older man.

“I will get my education.”  “And then?”

“I will build my business.”  “And then?”

“I will make my fortune.”  “And then?”

“I suppose that I shall grow old and retire and live on my money.”  “And then?”

“Well, I suppose I’ll die.”  “And then?”

Please, as you do your financial planning, don’t think only of this life.  Don’t leave God out of your plans.

  1. The moral of the story: be rich toward God. 21

21 “This is how it will be with anyone who stores up things for himself but is not rich toward God.”

God called him a fool.  Why?  Because he was poor in what really mattered.  He had stored up things for himself but was not “rich toward God”.  Are you?  Are you building a rich relationship with God that will last forever?

December 2, 2007

Blingonomic$

Part 2: I’m managing

Luke 16:1-15

 

Opening:

ILL: When Andy, our oldest child, was 11, Laina and I went out of town for something.  While we were gone, Andy went to a sleep-over for guys, and borrowed $10 from Grandpa.  When we returned, I had to pay back the $10, so I asked him what he had spent my money on.  He said, “Oh, bowling, food, video games, candy…it’s not like I wasted it!”  Hmmm…

I wonder what God thinks about the way I manage His money?

In part 2 of Blingonomics, we’re going to read a very interesting story that Jesus told about a manager who wasted his boss’ money and he got fired.  But before he cleaned out his desk, he did something smart that’s an example for us.  We’re going to learn how to manage our bling wisely.

Baptisms:

Communion:

Offering and announcements:

Next weekend we’re going to give an offering for benevolence.  Every dollar you put in will be given to those in need in our community.

Christmas carol sing on Wednesday, December 12 at 7.

Christmas Eve services and invite.

Introduction:

Have you ever asked someone, “How are you getting along?” and they answered, “I’m managing”?  What’s that mean?  “I’m getting by.  I’m making it.”  But it doesn’t mean, “I’m doing great.”  Just…I’m managing.  It seems that lots of people are just managing when it comes to their finances.

ILL: One bank reported that of the people who applied for home loans from them:

  • 90% have four credit cards, three of which are at their limit.
  • 82% had two car payments totaling over $600 a month.
  • 70% reported having made late payments to creditors.
  • 32% had overdrawn their checking accounts in the previous 90 days.
  • And according to this bank report, on average it would have taken each of these families six years to pay off their consumer debt.

Ask most of these people how they’re doing financially and they might say, “I’m managing”.  Maybe…but not well.

Today’s talk is titled, “I’m managing”, but I’m using it in a different sense, as you’ll see.  This is week two of “Blingonomics”, a look at what Jesus said about our money and our bling.  The gospel of Luke records more of Jesus’ teaching about money and bling than the other three gospels, so we’re looking at some of the red letters in Luke.  Today’s story surprises a lot of people.  Let’s read it and see what you think.

Luke 16:1-15

Jesus told his disciples: “There was a rich man whose manager was accused of wasting his possessions. 2 So he called him in and asked him, ‘What is this I hear about you? Give an account of your management, because you cannot be manager any longer.’

3 “The manager said to himself, ‘What shall I do now? My master is taking away my job. I’m not strong enough to dig, and I’m ashamed to beg— 4 I know what I’ll do so that, when I lose my job here, people will welcome me into their houses.’

5 “So he called in each one of his master’s debtors. He asked the first, ‘How much do you owe my master?’

6 “ ‘Eight hundred gallons of olive oil,’ he replied.

“The manager told him, ‘Take your bill, sit down quickly, and make it four hundred.’

7 “Then he asked the second, ‘And how much do you owe?’

“ ‘A thousand bushels of wheat,’ he replied.

“He told him, ‘Take your bill and make it eight hundred.’

8 “The master commended the dishonest manager because he had acted shrewdly. For the people of this world are more shrewd in dealing with their own kind than are the people of the light. 9 I tell you, use worldly wealth to gain friends for yourselves, so that when it is gone, you will be welcomed into eternal dwellings.

10 “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. 11 So if you have not been trustworthy in handling worldly wealth, who will trust you with true riches? 12 And if you have not been trustworthy with someone else’s property, who will give you property of your own?

13 “No servant 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.”

14 The Pharisees, who loved money, heard all this and were sneering at Jesus. 15 He said to them, “You are the ones who justify yourselves in the eyes of men, but God knows your hearts. What is highly valued among men is detestable in God’s sight.

This is often called the parable of the shrewd or dishonest manager.  What is it about this story that is surprising, unexpected?  Jesus uses a bad man’s good example.  This manager was a rascal, and his boss (and Jesus) seem to praise him for being a rascal!  What gives?  This story has several lessons, and as we unpack them, I think it will all make sense.  First lesson:

  1. I’m managing God’s property. 1, 12

Luke 16:1 There was a rich man whose manager was accused of wasting his possessions.

It was common in those days, as it is today, for the wealthy to hire someone to manage their wealth.  Today, it might be someone who manages your business.  Or it could be a broker or investor who manages your portfolio.  In Jesus’ day, a wealthy landowner would hire a manager to rent out his land to tenants who would pay the rent in crops, such as olive oil or wheat.  It’s likely that’s what these debtors were: tenants who were paying rent from their harvests.

This manager was accused of wasting the owner’s possessions, squandering his money and property.  Whose money was he wasting?  The owner’s.  Whose property was his squandering?  The owner’s.  None of it was his; it was all the owner’s; he just managed it.  So this is the first lesson: I’m managing God’s property.

The Bible teaches that God is the owner, and we are His managers.  He created everything and gives it to us…not to own, but to manage as He wants.

1 Corinthians 6:19-20 Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; 20 you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your body.

You are not your own.  You were bought at a price, a very high price: the life of God’s own Son.

1 Peter 1:18-19 For you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your forefathers, 19 but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect.

You are not your own; you were bought at a price; not with perishable things like silver or gold…no, something far more valuable than money.  God bought you for Himself with the life of His Son.

We belong to God, lock, stock and barrel.  You are His.  And everything you have is His—your time, your talents, your treasure, your life—it’s all His, on loan for you to manage as He wants.

ILL: An elderly Florida woman had finished shopping and returned to her car. She found four men inside the car getting ready to leave. She dropped her shopping bags, drew a handgun from her purse, and screamed, “I have a gun, and I know how to use it! Get out of the car, you scumbags.” Those guys did not wait for a second invitation; they got out and ran like crazy.

The woman, somewhat shaken, loaded her shopping bags and then got into the car. But no matter how she tried, she could not get her key into the ignition. Then it dawned on her.  She found her car parked four or five spaces away! She loaded her grocery bags into her own car and then drove to the nearest police station to turn herself in. The desk sergeant to whom she told the story nearly fell off his chair laughing. He pointed to the other end of the counter, where four men were reporting a carjacking by an old woman with thick glasses and curly white hair, less than five feet tall, and carrying a very large handgun.

No charges were filed.

You see, she thought it was her car, but it really belonged to someone else. We think our lives are our own, but they really belong to God.  We tend to think of our money and our bling as our own, but it really belongs to God and we are managing for Him.  When you realize that all you have—your time, your talents, your treasure—all of it belongs to God and you’re managing it for Him, it changes your perspective big time.

ILL: I have a good friend who is a financial advisor and he oversees my retirement savings.  He makes recommendations on where to invest the money, we talk and make a decision, and he makes the investment.  He gets paid to manage the money, but it’s not his money; it’s my money.  He’s very careful with it for that reason—he loves me and he’d hate to disappoint me.

         What if he started dipping into the funds for himself?  Fired.  Why?  It’s not his money!  Or what if he started making unilateral decisions, without asking me?  Fired.  Why?  It’s not his money!  He knows that and would never do those things.

Folks, it’s not your money.  It’s not your house.  It’s not your car.  It’s not your bling.  It all belongs to God.  And when you get that, really get that, it changes everything.  I’m not an owner, I’m a manager.

I’m managing God’s property.  And I don’t want to waste His money or His possessions.  That’s first: I don’t own anything; I’m managing God’s property.

  1. I’m managing for eternity. 9

This manager is fired for wasting his boss’ bling, and he has no prospects for another job, at least a job he can do or wants to do.  He can’t dig ditches since he’s not very strong, and he won’t beg—he’s too proud for that.  So what’s he going to do?  He comes up with a plan.

He calls in his boss’ debtors and reduces their bills.  A man who owes 800 gallons of olive oil is told to change his bill to 400 gallons—a 50% discount!  800 gallons of olive oil would have been worth about 1000 denarii— so the discount was a savings of 500 denarii.

Another debtor owes 1000 bushels of wheat and is told to reduce his bill to 800 bushels—a 20% discount!  1000 bushels of wheat was worth about 2500 denarii, so the discount was a savings of 500 denarii.

A denarii was an average day’s wage for a working man, so 500 denarii represent a year and half’s wages—a lot of money!  Enough that these debtors will feel indebted to the manager for a long time.  This was his plan: to make friends with his boss’ debtors, and perhaps get a position with one of them.  He was thinking ahead, and even his boss was impressed with his shrewdness.

So this wily manager is praised for being shrewd, for thinking ahead and making plans for a soft landing, even if the plans were dishonest. Jesus commends him for thinking ahead, but not his dishonesty.  That’s clear in verses 10-12.  Then Jesus gives the moral of the story.

Luke 16:9 I tell you, use worldly wealth to gain friends for yourselves, so that when it is gone, you will be welcomed into eternal dwellings.

Just like this wily manager used money to make friends who would provide for him after he lost his job, we should use our money and bling to make friends for eternity.  The dishonest manager used money to secure his future in this life; he managed for this life.  We are to manage our money and bling for eternity.

How do we do that?  How do use our money and bling to gain friends who will welcome us into eternity?

First, we give to the poor.  We saw last weekend that when we give to the poor, we are storing up treasure in heaven.

Luke 12:33 “Sell your possessions and give to those in need. This will store up treasure for you in heaven! And the purses of heaven never get old or develop holes. Your treasure will be safe; no thief can steal it and no moth can destroy it.

In another place, a rich young man wanted to follow Jesus.

Luke 18:22 When Jesus heard his answer, he said, “There is still one thing you haven’t done. Sell all your possessions and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”

Jesus says clearly that when we give to the poor, we lay up treasure in heaven.  Paul said the same thing.

1 Timothy 6:17-19 Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment. 18 Command them to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share. 19 In this way they will lay up treasure for themselves as a firm foundation for the coming age, so that they may take hold of the life that is truly life.

This is written to the rich.  How many of you are rich?  Let’s use this ladder; at the top of the ladder is the richest person on earth, and at the bottom is the poorest.  Where are you?  We don’t think of ourselves as rich because we look at those who have more than us, who are farther up the ladder—they are rich, not us.  But most of us are in the top 10-20% of the world in terms of your income and lifestyle.  80-90% of the world has less than you.  They look at you and think that you are rich.

Lest you think that I’m overstating this, let me share this list someone sent me, entitled, “9 Steps to Third World Living.”

  • First, take out the furniture: leave a few old blankets, a kitchen table, maybe a wooden chair. You’ve never had a bed, remember?
  • Second, throw out your clothes. Each person in the family may keep the oldest dress, pants, shirt or blouse. The head of the family has the only pair of shoes.
  • Third, all kitchen appliances have vanished. Keep a box of matches, a small bag of flour, some sugar and salt, a handful of onions, a dish of dried beans. Rescue the moldy potatoes from the garbage can: those are tonight’s meal.
  • Fourth, dismantle the bathroom, shut off the running water, take out the wiring and the lights and everything that runs by electricity.
  • Fifth, take away the house and move the family into the toolshed.
  • Sixth, no more postman, fireman, government services. The two-classroom school is three miles away, but only two of your seven children attend anyway, and they walk.
  • Seventh, throw out your bankbooks, stock certificates, pension plans, insurance policies. You now have a cash hoard of $5.
  • Eighth, get out and start cultivating your three acres. Try hard to raise $300 in cash crops because your landlord wants one third and your moneylender 10 percent.
  • Ninth, find some way for your children to bring in a little extra money so you have something to eat most days. But it won’t be enough to keep bodies healthy–so lop off 25 to 30 years of life.

That’s how the bottom 20% of the world lives.  And we are in the top 20%.  We are rich.  So these verses—“Command those who are rich”—are for us.  And they tell us to be generous and willing to share, and we’ll lay up treasure in heaven.

ILL: We had a lively discussion at our Life Group this week.  But the best part of the group was when we decided that we should do something as a group to help the poor.  We all got excited as we began to talk about opportunities to help here in our community and around the world.  We’re doing some research and then we’re going to make a decision and start helping.  All of us are already giving individually, but the chance to do something together was exciting.

Last week, I mentioned three ways you could give to the poor.

  • Next Sunday, we’ll be receiving an offering for our benevolence fund. Every dollar goes to the needy in our community.
  • Go through your house and pick out things you have stored but don’t use, and give them away to someone who will use them. (Teen Challenge)
  • Hook up with an organization that is doing good work with the poor around the world, and give to them. (World Vision, Compassion).

Friends, everything you have belongs to God.  Manage it for eternity.  Please, don’t spend it all on yourself.  Share with those in need and you’ll be storing up treasure in heaven, making friends for eternity.

The other way we use our money and bling to make friends who will welcome us in eternity is by managing faithfully.

  1. I’m managing faithfully. 10-12

Luke 16:10-12 “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. 11 So if you have not been trustworthy in handling worldly wealth, who will trust you with true riches? 12 And if you have not been trustworthy with someone else’s property, who will give you property of your own?

Jesus says that our money and bling are a test.  God is watching to see how you handle “worldly wealth”—the money and bling of this life—to determine what He gives you in the next.  If you can be trusted with a little, you’ll be trusted with much.

ILL: We all understand this principle.  We give someone a small responsibility to see how they handle it before we give them a large one.

  • Your teenager’s first drive on his own will probably be to school or to the next door neighbor’s house—but it won’t be a cross-country road trip. You gotta earn that.
  • You watch to see how he cares for your car when he drives it. If he trashes it, you won’t get him his own.  Or maybe you will, so he won’t trash yours.  But you get the point.  It’s a test.

God has loaned you some of His money and stuff to manage; if you are faithful with this little, He can give you more.  If you are trustworthy with worldly wealth, God will give you the true riches.  If you are trustworthy with God’s property, He’ll give you your own.  So this is a test: manage faithfully.

What does that look like?  I think God gives us money for three reasons:

  • To meet our current needs: we spend.
  • To meet future needs: we save.
  • To meet others’ needs: we give.

To manage our money faithfully, we spend and save and give as God wants.

This is where the B-word comes in: budgeting.  A budget is simply a management plan.  It says, I plan to spend this much for our current needs, save this much for our future needs, and give this much for others’ needs.

Give.  Our plan starts with giving.  Why?  Because it’s God’s money, and we give to Him first.  Those who don’t give first, rarely give.  They spend it all.  The Bible says that we give God the first 10% of our income—that is called the tithe, which means a tenth—and it is given to your church for God’s work.  We also give to the poor.  And we give to meet other needs as we feel moved by God.  We give first.  Watch this.

The God Pie Video.

         Save.  Then we save.  A good goal would be to try to save 10% of your income each month for future needs.  Your car will break down, and eventually need to be replaced.  Your house will need repairs.  You will have unexpected medical emergencies.  Your kids will get married…sometimes two in one month!  You will want to take a vacation.  These are not things that may happen; they will…so plan on it and save ahead.

Why do we save before we spend?  For the same reason we give before we spend.  If we don’t, we won’t save.  Those who spend first, usually spend it all.  So first give, then save, then:

Spend.  After you’ve given and saved, then spend.  Live on the rest.  Or better yet, live on less than the rest.  Spend to meet your needs, not satisfy all your wants.

ILL: The December issue of Reader’s Digest has an article titled, “Secrets of Self-Made Millionaires”.  The biggest secret?  Two words: Stop spending!  “Every millionaire we spoke to has one thing in common: not a single one spends needlessly.”

Spend to meet your needs, not satisfy all your wants.  It’s our unbridled spending that gets us in trouble.  The average American household is carrying over $9000 in credit card debt—that’s the average!  And most of them are paying 18-23% interest on that money, so it will take years to pay it off.  Stop spending!  If you are in debt and living from paycheck to paycheck, and are unable to give and save, here’s the first thing you have to do.  Stop the bleeding!  Stop going into debt. Stop spending needlessly.

You all know that the definition of insanity is doing the same things but expecting different results.  If you want to get your finances under control and manage faithfully, you’ve got to make some changes!  You can’t keep eating at the same restaurants, buying new clothes, spending freely on entertainment, and racking up debt on big purchases.  Stop spending!

If you can’t pay off your credit cards when the bill comes at the end of the month, I would encourage you to invite some of your friends over, throw a little party, preheat the oven to 450 degrees, take out a cookie sheet and spread out all those little plastic credit cards on the cookie sheet, stick it in the oven.  Then you can all join hands and sing Kumbaya and celebrate the new freedom that you have because you’re free at last, free at last, thank God Almighty, you’re free at last of those things.  Stop spending.

Learn to live on less.  The two biggest items in most budgets are house and cars.  Many people are over-extended on their house and cars.  So move to a cheaper house and buy a cheaper car.

And don’t buy things that aren’t on sale.  I rarely pay full retail for stuff; I’m a cheapskate and I wait for the sales.  Did you know that everything you want eventually goes on sale?  You just have to be patient!  You can’t buy on impulse.  So buy on sale, not on impulse.

One of the quickest and easiest ways to reduce your spending is simply to track it.  Write down every penny you spend and on what, and total it up each week.  Just writing it down and tracking your expenses tend to reduce them by 15-25%!

Manage God’s money and stuff faithfully.  Set a budget and live in it.  Wealth is a great blessing and a great responsibility.  Many of you here have been richly blessed, and the Bible says, “To whom much is given, much will be required.”

Luke 12:48 When someone has been given much, much will be required in return; and when someone has been entrusted with much, even more will be required.

Friends, we’re rich.  We have been given much, and God expects that we’ll manage His property well.  I hope you can say:

I’m managing God’s property.

I’m managing for eternity.

I’m managing faithfully.

December 9, 2007

Blingonomic$

Part 3: Counterintuitive

 

Opening:

ILL: A few years ago, Ken and Kristi Calhoon felt challenged by a message I did entitled “Wise up about money.”  They decided that they needed to tithe.  He got his checkbook out but couldn’t find a pen.  He prayed, “Lord, if you want me to do this, send a pen.”  Well, nothing happened.  The service ended and they got up to leave, and a lady approached them and said, “I think this is yours,” and held out a pen.  Kristi said, “I don’t think that’s ours.”  But Ken said, “Yes, I’m afraid it is.”  He wrote the check and gave it to me in the parking lot after church.

The next morning at work, Ken’s boss called him into his office and gave him a big raise.  He’d worked there several years and never had a raise!

You can’t outgive God!

When we get money, giving it away is the last thing we usually think of doing.  And yet that is often the best thing to do with money.  Give it away…and it comes back to you.  It’s counterintuitive…and that’s what we’re talking about today.

Offering and announcements:

New!  Special needs class in AdventureLand during 11:15 AM service.

Carol sing on Wednesday evening at 7 PM

Sign up to volunteer for a Christmas Eve service (back of tear-off tab)

Christmas Eve invite card.

The Word of Promise.

Introduction:

ILL: The Money Box.  We’re going to start with something fun.  How many of you have ever seen one of these?  You put a person in here, turn on the fan, and money starts flying around, and you’ve got a certain amount of time to grab all you can.  I’m going to select one lucky dog to come up here and grab some cash.

         (After the money grab.)  Alright, let’s count it and see how you did.  Woohoo!  This is pretty cool…a windfall right before Christmas.  What are you going to do with the money?  Before you answer that, let me toss out an idea.  My lovely assistant, Vanna, is rolling out some jars; each jar is labeled with the name of a ministry that Life Center supports.


  • Cup of Cool Water works with street kids in Spokane, building relationships with them, providing needed services, and helping them become followers of Jesus.
  • Second Harvest is the lead organization in a network of more than 300 neighborhood food banks and meal centers here in the Inland Northwest. 48,000 people visited a Second Harvest agency last week; 42% of those are children.
  • Life Services provides services to pregnant women and young moms, including pregnancy testing, counseling, a maternity home, support services and parenting classes.
  • Christ Clinic is a non-profit medical clinic that provides primary care to low-income persons who have limited or no medical insurance. The purpose of Christ Clinic is to serve God and demonstrate the love of Christ through the practice of medicine.
  • Precious Life International works to meet the needs of the Maasai tribe in Kenya and Tanzania, East Africa. Their top priority is to rescue and educate young girls who would otherwise be reduced to poverty and prostitution.
  • Mercy Ships operates a fleet of hospital ships that bring hope and healing to the poor worldwide, mobilizing people and resources during emergencies.

Here is the deal.  It’s your money—you caught it fair and square.  You can keep it all if you want, or you can give some of it or all of it away to any of these good organizations.  You can divvy it up any way you want.  What do you all think he/she should do?  Give it or keep it?

Let’s give __________ a big hand.

What would you have done?  Or more realistically, what do you do when you get some extra cash?  I know what I do!  I am my own selfish pig!  I immediately think of what I want to buy for myself!  Honestly, giving it all away is usually not my first thought…or my second thought…or sometimes any thought at all!

And the reason is simple.  If I give money away, then I have less.  And I’d rather have more than less!  But here’s where God’s Blingonomics gets counterintuitive—here’s where it works just the opposite of the way we think.  The more you give, the more you get.  The more generous you are, the more you prosper.  I think I have to keep it all for me.  Nope.  God’s Blingonomics is counterintuitive.

This is part 3 of Blingonomics, a look at what Jesus had to say about our money and bling, as recorded by Dr. Luke in his gospel.  Last week I said that God gives us money for three reasons.

  • We can spend to meet current needs.
  • We can save to meet future needs.
  • We can give to meet others’ needs.

Spending to meet our current needs makes sense—we all need to have food, clothing, shelter.  Saving to meet our future needs makes sense—we know we’ll have medical expenses, education expenses, repair expenses.  We get a return on our spending and savings—we get something for our money.  But what do we get from giving to meet others’ needs?

Here are the words of Jesus from the gospel of Luke—let’s read it together.

Luke 6:38 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.”

Let’s read that first sentence again.  “Give and it will be given to you.”  Jesus didn’t say “Give and you’ll have less.”  Or “give and you’ll regret it.”  He said, “Give and it will be given to you.”  Then for emphasis He adds, “A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over will be poured into your lap.”

ILL: When do you press down and shake together?  When you want to squeeze more in.  When I get a Slurpee, I fill the cup, then I shake it, and fill it some more, then shake it and fill it some more.  Then I put one of those dome lids on and fill it, and shake it some more and fill it again.  You shake it down so you can get more Slurpee in the cup!

You press down and shake together when you want to squeeze more in.  So when you give, you make room in your cup, and God not only gives back what you gave away, but he presses and shakes to get even more in.  You can’t outgive God!

Jesus says when you give, you come out ahead, because you can’t outgive God.  Give and it will be given to you.  Of all the things you can do with money, giving may be the best!  This is counterintuitive.

I want to talk about three kinds of giving that Christians have practiced for 20 centuries.  All of them are mentioned here in the gospel of Luke, and many other places in the Bible.

  1. Give the tithe to God.

In the Old Testament, the Israelites gave the tithe to God.  It was the first tenth of their income.  If they were farmers it was the first tenth of their crop.  If they were shepherds it was the first tenth of their herds.  If they were merchants, it was the first tenth of their profit.  The word tithe means tenth, one tenth, and the Israelites understood that everything belonged to God, and the tithe was their way of acknowledging that, and thanking God for His generosity.

The tithe was given at the temple, and it was used to pay for the work of the temple, and pay the expenses of the priests and Levites who worked at the temple.  It was also used to help the poor.  And it was used to throw a huge party each year when everyone celebrated God’s goodness.

Of course, while everyone was expected to give the tithe to God, not everyone did.  So God had this to say in:

Malachi 3:8-10 “Will a man rob God? Yet you rob me.

“But you ask, ‘How do we rob you?’

“In tithes and offerings. 9 You are under a curse—the whole nation of you—because you are robbing me. 10 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.”

To these folks who were not giving their tithe, the first tenth of their income, God says, “You are robbing me.”  Strong words!  There are other places in the Old Testament where it says that the tithe “belongs to the Lord.”

Leviticus 27:30 A tithe of everything from the land, whether grain from the soil or fruit from the trees, belongs to the Lord; it is holy to the Lord.

The tithe, the first tenth of what you make, isn’t yours; it belongs to the Lord.  It is holy to the Lord, that means set apart for God.  If you keep it, if you spend it, you are robbing God.

We all understand how this works.  For instance, each month, my mortgage payment is due.  I borrowed money to buy my house, and agreed to pay it back.  So that money is not mine; it belongs to the bank; it is holy to the bank.  And if I keep it, I’m robbing the bank.

Each month, my utility bill is due.  When I moved in and hooked up, I agreed to pay the cost of electricity and gas.  So that money is not mine; it belongs to Avista; it is holy to Avista.  And if I keep it, I’m robbing Avista.

It’s the same with our tithe.  God says, “The first tenth is mine; it belongs to me; it is holy to the Lord.  Keep it and you are robbing God.”

Here’s a crazy thought.  Do you know anyone who robs the bank and then asks the bank to bless them?  “I know I haven’t paid my mortgage in a year, but would you bless me?  Give me some more money!”  Crazy!  But that’s what people do to God all the time.  They rob Him and then ask for blessing!

Here’s the cool thing.  If you give God the tithe, you won’t have to ask for blessing because He has already promised to bless you!

Malachi 3:10-12 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. 11 I will prevent pests from devouring your crops, and the vines in your fields will not cast their fruit,” says the Lord Almighty. 12 “Then all the nations will call you blessed, for yours will be a delightful land,” says the Lord Almighty.

Give God the tithe and you won’t have to ask for blessings; you will be blessed!  You won’t have room enough for it all His blessing!

You might be thinking, “Fine, Joe, the Old Testament taught tithing, and Israelites practiced it.  But what about the New Testament?  We’re not under the Old Testament law; we’re under grace.”

Yes, and from the beginning, Christians have believed that those of us under grace will do more than those who were under the law.  The church fathers, the pastors and leaders of the church during the first 5 centuries, believed that the tithe was the starting point of Christian giving, and that every grace-filled believer exceeded it.  So grace isn’t an excuse to give less; it’s the reason we give more!

Did Jesus teach tithing?  It’s here in Luke.

Luke 11:42 Woe to you Pharisees, because you give God a tenth of your mint, rue and all other kinds of garden herbs, but you neglect justice and the love of God. You should have practiced the latter without leaving the former undone.

Jesus is correcting the Pharisees for their legalism.  Legalism always gets things out of whack, and that’s what happened here.  The Pharisees were fastidious about tithing.  They even gave the first tenth of their garden herbs.  These were spices, and they were meticulous about measuring out one tenth of these tiny amounts of garden spices.  But they were not nearly as careful about justice or the love of God.  In other words, they majored in the minors and minored in the majors.  Jesus says, “You should have practiced the latter (justice and the love of God) without leaving the former (tithing) undone.”  So Jesus endorsed the practice of tithing, and added that we keep it in perspective.

Last Sunday we read in Luke 16 that Jesus considered money a test, and if you were not faithful with worldly wealth, who would trust you with the true riches.  Same idea.  Money is a test.  There are things more important than money, true riches, like justice and the love of God.  So it’s not either/or; it’s both/and.  Seek justice, love God, and tithe.  That was Jesus’ teaching.

Giving the first 10% of our income is an act of faith.  When I tithe, I’m saying, “God I trust You to meet my needs.”  If we can trust God for our eternal destiny, we should be able to trust Him to meet our financial needs.  I feel sorry for people who live with a crippled confidence in God and miss out on so much of His blessing.  Trust God!

I have given God the tithe since I was in the 8th grade, and God has poured out His blessings on me.  I can’t afford not to tithe.  Years ago, I made my tithe automatic.  I have my mortgage automatically deducted from my account each month; I do the same with my tithe.  That way I don’t forget and spend it and rob God!  You can do that at your bank, or through our online giving.

God said to bring the whole tithe to the storehouse; that was the temple, the place where they worshipped.  I give my tithe here at Life Center, my home church, the community of faith where I worship.  When people ask me where the tithe should go, I always say, “to your home church, where you are fed spiritually.  If you buy your groceries at Albertsons, you don’t make the check to Safeway.”

Here’s an interesting observation.  Every tither I know says, “God has blessed me so much.”  And most non-tithers I know say, “I can’t afford to tithe.”  Think about that.  Every tither says “God has blessed me so much” and most non-tithers say, “I can’t afford to tithe.”  I think Forrest Gump would discern a pattern there.  “I may not be a smart man, but I’m gonna tithe.  And that’s all I have to say about that.”

         Roy doing Johnny Cash: “This tithe of mine.”

  1. Give a freewill offering.

Did you notice in Malachi 3 that God talked about “tithes and offerings”?  The tithe is the first tenth that belongs to God; an offering was something above and beyond that.  In the Old Testament, it was often called a “freewill offering”, meaning that you gave it because you wanted to, not because you had to, or were expected to.  Freewill offerings were given for lots of reasons.

  • Freewill offerings were given to God as an expression of thanks or worship. Someone moved by God’s goodness said, “I want to give God more.”  I mentioned that our tithe is deducted automatically each month; it’s actually more than a tithe because we enjoy giving an offering to God too.  Leviticus 22:18, Deuteronomy 16:10
  • Freewill offerings were given for special projects, like building the Tabernacle or the Temple, or supporting a specific ministry. Many of you did this to help us build this building or more recently finish the north parking lot.  By the way, have you noticed a difference getting in and out of here?  Laina and I made what for us was a large contribution to both those projects, above and beyond our tithe and offering.  We also give monthly to a couple missionaries whom we love.  Exodus 35:29, 1 Chronicles 29:9, Ezra 2:68
  • Freewill offerings were given for the poor. The instructions about giving in 2 Corinthians 8-9 were about an offering Paul was collecting for the poor in Jerusalem.  In just a few minutes, you’ll have a chance to give a freewill offering for the poor; we’re going to give to our benevolence fund, which is used to help the needy in our community.  Like many of you, Laina and I gave to the turkey drive and we give to our benevolence fund.  We also have sponsored two children, one in Guatemala and another in Bangladesh, for many years.  Sponsoring kids is a delightful way to give to the poor.  I was able to go to the Casting Crowns concert in October and I heard Mark Hall say, “This should be automatic for us.  You become a Christian, here’s a Bible, and here’s a kid you can sponsor.”  I don’t think that our giving to the poor should stop there; but it’s sure a great place to start!  Deuteronomy 15:7-11, Luke 12:32-33, 14:12-14, 2 Corinthians 8-9.

Laina and I, like many of you, have experienced the joy of this kind of “above and beyond” giving.  It is a joy.

ILL: Several weeks ago I met with a lady who is new to Life Center, although I have known her and her husband for over 30 years.  She mentioned that one of the great joys in their life together is giving.  They started giving freewill offerings to ministries that they believed in, an one day realized that they were giving away 25% of their income.  They have made lifestyle choices so that they can give at that level—choices to live on less so they can give more.  This couple is not wealthy by American standards—they are a middle income couple.  But each month she writes a check to the church for their tithe and an offering.  And then she writes 18 other checks to various Christian ministries that they support.  18 checks each month…above and beyond!  And they love it!  Counterintuitive!

Benevolence offering here.

Every dollar you give will be given to those in need in our community.  You are giving to the poor.  Here’s how we distribute it.  If you know of someone in need, you can call the church and submit a request.  We will give to you what we are able and you can take the gift to the person in need on behalf of all of us.

By the way, would you look in your program; there’s a pie chart there describing our church budget.  Here’s how we spend the money you give.

  • 47% is for personnel: this pays the salaries and benefits of the 46 people on our church staff.
  • 25% is for facilities: mortgage, utilities, maintenance, repairs. This figure includes about $9000 a month that we are currently paying on our old property.  We are paying the bulk of the mortgage for New Heights, a young church that we are helping to get established.  Eventually they will buy the property from us, but meanwhile, we’re helping them to the tune of $9000 a month, so that could actually go in the next category.
  • 14% is for outreach: we give this away. Some of it goes to our denomination to be used for church planting and its other programs.  Some of it goes to international missions, and some to local ministries.  We’ve included a list of ministries that we support on an annual or monthly basis.  What is not included in this 14% is anything that we fund outside of the budget with a special offering, such as benevolence.  So if you add in the special offerings that we give away, and the $9000 a month from facilities, we’re giving away between 15-20% of our income as a church.  And I hope that percentage grows!
  • 14% is for operations: this includes all the other expenses to make ministries happen; one example would be curriculum and supplies for Adventureland. Each ministry has certain costs associated with it, and they are budgeted here.

We ask you to give your tithe and an offering; we thought you should see where it goes.  And we also wanted you to see that we as a church are doing what we ask you to do.  We don’t spend it all on us.  We give a lot away.

One more thing.  Because we love to give, we’re going to give you regular opportunities to give an offering.  Each month, we’ll pick something special—last month it was Tom’s Turkey Drive, this month it’s benevolence—and we’ll give you the opportunity to give a freewill offering.  We’re not going to pressure you, just give you the opportunity.  If it rings your bell and you want to give; great.  If it doesn’t ring your bell, if you don’t feel moved to give to that particular cause, great.  It’s a freewill offering.

  1. Give a sacrificial gift.

A third kind of giving is sacrificial giving.  This is when God asks you to go way out on a limb and give more than you think you can.  There’s a story in Luke that is a great example of sacrificial giving.

Luke 21:1-4 As he looked up, Jesus saw the rich putting their gifts into the temple treasury. 2 He also saw a poor widow put in two very small copper coins. 3 “I tell you the truth,” he said, “this poor widow has put in more than all the others. 4 All these people gave their gifts out of their wealth; but she out of her poverty put in all she had to live on.”

It’s one thing to give out of your surplus.  I can tithe and give a freewill offering and still have plenty—that’s surplus giving.  It’s another thing to give everything, to give what you have to live on, to give and not know where your next meal is coming from.  This widow did that.  She gave her last penny, and had to trust that God saw and would provide for her.

There’s a story about another widow in 1 Kings 17.  A drought had caused a famine in the land.  God told Elijah to go to Zarephath where a widow would feed him.  When he got to town, he met the widow gathering sticks.  He asked her for food and drink, and she said that she had only a handful of flour left and a little oil in a jug.  She was going to make a meal for her and her son so they could eat it and die!  (She was a cheery woman.)

1 Kings 17:13-14 Elijah said to her, “Don’t be afraid. Go home and do as you have said. But first make a small cake of bread for me from what you have and bring it to me, and then make something for yourself and your son. 14 For this is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says: ‘The jar of flour will not be used up and the jug of oil will not run dry until the day the Lord gives rain on the land.’ ”

Think of what he was asking this starving woman to do!  First, make me some bread.  First, feed me, and then you and your son.  If you do, you’ll have enough until rain comes.  What would you have done: feed yourself or feed the prophet?  If she had used her last bit for herself and her son, they would have died.  But she gave sacrificially, her last bit of food, and God provided for her.

Every now and then, I think God asks each of us to do something sacrificial, something that isn’t easy, something that taxes us, something that strains our resources so we have to trust Him.  When God asks that of you, I hope you’ll say yes.

ILL: I was 21 years old and leading a youth ministry in Eugene.  We had a Tuesday night Bible study at Noel’s house; as many as 140 kids would cram into his house.  Afterwards, I would give rides home in my van—a 1970 Ford Econoline van with no windows and no seats except the two front seats.  The back was carpeted and we had a couple bean bags, and I’d cram as many as two dozen high school students in the back and drive for two hours taking kids home.  Sometimes we’d stop to pick up hitchhikers.  They’d roll back the sliding side door and be greeted by a mob of students just waiting to tell this poor captive hitchhiker about Jesus!  That van was my transportation and was an essential for my ministry.

         Then God told me to give it away.  I wrestled with that for a few weeks.  What would I drive?  “I’ll provide.”  How would I get the kids home?  “I’ll provide.”  Finally, I obeyed, and gave the van away.  I had no money to buy another car, and so now I had no car; I was completely dependent on others to get me places.  It was a sacrifice.

Want to hear what happened?  That’s the next point.

Give the tithe to God.

Give a freewill offering.

Give a sacrificial gift when God calls.

Give…give…give…

  1. And it will be given to you!

ILL: So I’m without a car, and Noel shared his with me for the next couple months.

Then one day a lady called me on the phone.  “Joe, I have this extra car, and I was wondering if you need a car.  If you do, it’s yours; I’ll give it to you.”  It was something like an Oldsmobile Electra, one of those big gas-sucking boats…but it was a car.  I thanked her and she drove the car over and gave it to me.  But I heard of someone who needed it worse than me, so I gave it away to them…and kept borrowing Noel’s car.

A month later, I got another call.  This was from a young couple with two kids whose parents had just given them a new-to-them used car, so now they had two cars.  Now, most young couples with kids think it’s essential to have two cars, but this young couple thought that if they had 2 cars and I had none, they should give me one.  So they gave me their 1967 VW Beetle.  I drove that car for over a year.

Just before getting married, I thought it might be good if I got something more reliable than that Beetle.  So I sold the Beetle and started looking.  Then I got a phone call.  Someone wanted to help me out so they gave me a check for $2000, which combined with the Beetle money, paid for a 1970 Volvo sedan.

One day I added it up.  I had given away a van worth about $900.  Afterwards, I received two used cars and $2000 cash, many times more than I had given away.  You can’t outgive God.

I’ve listed some Scriptures here; every one of them says the same thing.  Give and it will be given to you.  Give and God will bless you.  The blessing may come back in the form of money, or may take some other form.  Maybe your car will run longer, or your kids stay healthy, or you get a better job.  God’s blessings take many forms, as you’ll see in what I’m going to share next.

I’m going to finish by reading a letter that a young couple sent me shortly after they finished their three-year pledge for this building.  When they made the pledge they were engaged, but not married.  He was working part time, and she full time, and neither of their jobs paid a high wage.  So making a three year pledge above and beyond their tithe was a sacrifice that required significant faith.  Here’s their letter.

Dear Pastor Joe,

My wife and I made a commitment 3 years ago to donate $200 a month to the building fund.  I have never seen the promise of Malachi 3:10 more clearly in my life.  In the three year period, we:

  • Were given four almost new appliances, a lawn mower, and 2 hour long massage sessions at an upscale spa.
  • Made two trips across the US.
  • I was taken to my dream location (Australia).
  • Were able to pay for our wedding (each of our parents chipped in a third of the costs!)
  • Have been to three gorgeous Bed and Breakfasts.
  • Have purchased a very nice home and
  • Have remodeled our entire upstairs (bathroom and kitchen included).
  • People have given us countless hours helping in those remodels.
  • Purchased new Bedroom, Dining Room and Living Room furniture.
  • I went from part time to full time and changed to a job I love.
  • My wife had a promotion into a job she enjoys more and it came with a sizeable raise.
  • Had incredible luck with our car and home being in good shape without major repairs needed.
  • Have had great health.
  • Have been able to purchase everything we needed and much of what we wanted.
  • The money we had been putting towards the building fund is now going towards a new car (which has meant we haven’t had to cinch our belts!)

These are only the financial blessing God has given us!  Our marriage has been great and we’ve been surrounded by incredible friends and family and part of a church we love.  God has been good to us.  Thank you so much for the opportunity to allow God to show his extraordinary love to my wife and me.  This experience will always affect the way I give in the future.  God Bless,

Signed…(name withheld)

P.S. Enclosed is a check for the same amount as our new car payment—a thanks to God for His provision.

Give and it will be given to you.  It’s counterintuitive.  But it’s sure a fun way to live!

December 16, 2007

Blingonomic$

Part 4: Five minutes after you die

Luke 16:19-31

Opening:

Today in the last part of “Blingonomics”, we’re going to read a story Jesus told about a rich man and the poor beggar who lived at his gates.  When both of them die, some amazing things happen.  What happens when you die?  And if we could we see what would happen to us when we die, would it change the way we live now?

ILL: Sometimes reading tombstone epitaphs reveals some different views of what happens after we die.  Ripley’s Believe It or Not has made a collection of unusual epitaphs from all across the country.

For instance, one in Uniontown, Pennsylvania, says: Here lies the body of Jonathan Blake. He stepped on the gas instead of the brake.

From Thurmont, Maryland: Here lies an atheist. All dressed up and no place to go.  (When C.S. Lewis heard about this inscription, he said, “I’ll bet he wishes that were so.”)

Here is a tombstone of a hypochondriac that just says: I told you I was sick.

Here’s one from Wetumpka, Alabama. Solomon Pease.  Pease is not here, only the pod. He shelled out and went home to God.

So what happens after you die?  And what does that have to do with our bling?  That’s what we’re talking about today.

Offering and announcements:

Lewis and Clark state championship 2 weeks ago: Austin Ehlo.

Love and Respect (video).

Christmas Eve: invite card, help (especially on Monday).

Thanks for benevolence offering, and Tom’s Turkey Drive (video).

Introduction:

Last year, I received an email from Jim Millard, a missionary in Japan—many of you will remember him from this summer, when he and his wife were one of three missionary couples we interviewed.  Jim not only leads a church in Japan, but trains pastors all across Asia.  In this email, he mentioned that they were putting on a marriage conference for pastors and their wives in Cambodia, something that, to their knowledge, had never been done.  Most of these pastors are

very poor, and so even though the cost per couple was small by American standards, it was more than most could afford.  Jim was sending an email appeal to his mailing list, asking us to donate so that all these pastors and their wives could attend this marriage conference.  They needed $11,000.

I had one of those moments when I felt a nudge from God, and I called Bill and asked if we could underwrite this event.  Bill and the missions team said yes and we sent a check for $11,000.

Over three hundred people attended this conference, and when Jim was here in July, he told me that it was life-changing for many of them.  Most of them had never had any Biblical teaching on marriage.  They have been raised in culture where husbands dominate their wives, so the teaching to love your wife like Christ loved the church was new to them.  There was a lot of repenting and rejoicing going on.

At the end of one session, each of the husbands came forward with his wife, told her that he loved her and gave her a rose.  For most of these wives, it was the first time they’d ever been given a rose…or told in public that they were loved.  It was very moving.  Take a look at this…just a short video taste of what happened.

         Video on Cambodia.

I wanted you to see that because you made that possible!  That $11,000 was money that you gave in offerings here.  Your offerings made it possible for all those Cambodian pastors and their wives to have this life-changing experience.  Thank you.  In July, when Jim showed me the pictures and video and told me how impactful this conference was, it dawned on me that we’d never told you what you did…and so I wanted you to see…and say thanks.

Here’s my confession to you.  I’m a very future oriented guy.  Once something is done, I’m on to the next thing.  This means that I don’t do a very good job of celebrating when something wonderful happens.  Sorry.  And this is a good example.

Another example: this week, the KREM 2 folks brought a huge cargo van down to pick up all the gifts from the Tree of Sharing.  I don’t know if you saw them all last week, but it was a huge pile, and it filled their van to the brim.  One of their workers said, “Your church is so generous.  We really love your church.”

So here’s a big pat on the back to all of you!  Thanks again for your generosity!

Earlier I asked the question, “What happens when you die?  And what does that have to do with our bling?”  Jesus tells a story about a rich man and the poor beggar at his gate that forces us to think about our riches with an eternal perspective.  Here it is…

Luke 16:19-31

“There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and lived in luxury every day. 20 At his gate was laid a beggar named Lazarus, covered with sores 21 and longing to eat what fell from the rich man’s table. Even the dogs came and licked his sores.

22 “The time came when the beggar died and the angels carried him to Abraham’s side. The rich man also died and was buried. 23 In hell, where he was in torment, he looked up and saw Abraham far away, with Lazarus by his side. 24 So he called to him, ‘Father Abraham, have pity on me and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue, because I am in agony in this fire.’

25 “But Abraham replied, ‘Son, 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. 26 And besides all this, between us and you a great chasm has been fixed, so that those who want to go from here to you cannot, nor can anyone cross over from there to us.’

27 “He answered, ‘Then I beg you, father, send Lazarus to my father’s house, 28 for I have five brothers. Let him warn them, so that they will not also come to this place of torment.’

29 “Abraham replied, ‘They have Moses and the Prophets; let them listen to them.’

30 “ ‘No, father Abraham,’ he said, ‘but if someone from the dead goes to them, they will repent.’

31 “He said to him, ‘If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.’ ”

There was a rich man…very rich.  Purple and fine linen were the most expensive clothes of the day; this guy was a power dresser!  And he lived in luxury every day; he feasted every day on the finest and most expensive foods—prime rib, caviar, and Little Debbies.  Super rich!

At his gate was a beggar named Lazarus, which means “God helps”.  Lazarus was as extremely poor as the rich man was extremely rich.  He was crippled, had to be carried to the rich man’s gate, where he waited every day, hoping for a few table scraps.  The dogs, wild street dogs, licked his sores.  Super poor!

The super rich and super poor…a striking contrast.

Then they both died.  Lazarus died and the angels carried him to Abraham’s side—to heaven.  The rich man died and was buried…and woke up in hell.  Heaven and hell…another striking contrast.

In this story, Jesus gives us a glimpse of the afterlife…what happens five minutes after you die.  Here are some things that I think are crystal clear.  Five minutes after you die…

  1. You will be wide awake.

In this story, both the beggar and rich man woke up on the other side—there is life after death.  They didn’t die and cease to exist.  They didn’t die and enter a time of soul sleep.  They died and woke up on the other side, one in heaven and the other in hell.

Five minutes…five seconds after you die, you’ll be wide awake.  You’ll still be alive.  When Jesus was dying on the cross, He turned to the thief who was crucified next to Him, and said,

Luke 23:43 “I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise.”

When would he be in paradise?  Today.  Not someday in the distant future.  Today.  No time delay, no jet lag.  Today.  When you die, your spirit goes to the other side.

Just before Jesus died, He said,

Luke 23:46 “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.” When he had said this, he breathed his last.

When Jesus died, His spirit went to be with God.  His body was buried in a tomb where it stayed for three days, until it was resurrected.  In that same way, when we die, our spirit goes to be with God.

Philippians 1:21-24 21 For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain. 22 If I am to go on living in the body, this will mean fruitful labor for me. Yet what shall I choose? I do not know! 23 I am torn between the two: I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far; 24 but it is more necessary for you that I remain in the body.

Paul is in prison, facing death.  He is torn between living and dying.  He says,  “I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far.”  Paul understood that five minutes after he died, he’d be wide awake, in the presence of Jesus.

2 Corinthians 5:8 We are confident, I say, and would prefer to be away from the body and at home with the Lord.

To be away from the body—that is to be dead—is to be at home with the Lord.  When you die, we bury your body, but you are alive with the Lord.  Then when Jesus comes at the end of this age, there will be a resurrection of the body.

1 Thessalonians 4:14 We believe that Jesus died and rose again and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him.

When Jesus comes again, all who have died in Christ will come with Him, and He will raise their dead bodies.

1 Thessalonians 4:16-17 For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. 17 After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever.

The resurrection happens at the end of the age, when Christ returns.  Meanwhile, those who have died in Christ are with Him.

This life is not all there is.  There is life after death.  Five minutes after you die, you will be wide awake.  Five minutes after you die…

  1. You will be filled with gratitude or regret.

You are going to wake up filled with incredible gratitude or incredible regret.  There is no middle ground.  Lazarus woke up in heaven and was grateful.  The rich man woke up in hell and was in agony.  Five minutes after you die, you will be filled with great gratitude or great regret.

This story is fascinating because it’s the only place that gives us a glimpse of a person in hell—the words, thoughts, feelings and experience of someone in hell.  Now I know that the Greek word here is “Hades”, and theologians debate the differences of Hades and Gehenna and hell.  But I think it’s clear from the passage that the rich man is in a place of torment and agony—those are the words that are used.  Whatever you call it, it was hell!

ILL: A Gallup poll found that 78 percent of Americans believe in heaven and 78 percent believe they have a good or excellent chance of going there. Sixty percent of Americans believe in hell, and only four percent believe they have a good or excellent chance of going there.

I don’t enjoy talking about hell, but Jesus did, and we should know what He said about it.

First, this story makes it clear that hell is a place of torment and agony.  The rich man said, “I am in agony in this fire.”  And later he wants to warn his brothers to avoid “this place of torment.”  Jesus described hell as a fire that never goes out.

Mark 9:43 If your hand causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life maimed than with two hands to go into hell, where the fire never goes out.

Other Scriptures use terms like “outer darkness” and “bottomless pit” to describe hell. Whatever hell is, Jesus used the worst terms that he had available to describe it.  Hell is a place of torment and agony.

Second, this story makes it clear that hell is a place of memory.  In verse 25, Abraham tells the rich man to remember.

‘Son, 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.’

Remember that while you had everything, Lazarus had nothing.  Remember that you passed him every day and did nothing.  Remember that every day you had the chance to do some good, to help him, and you did nothing.  Remember?

Hell is a place of memory…but not good memories…regrets.  Hell is full of regret.

Some people ask how a loving God could send people to hell.  God doesn’t send people to hell; they send themselves.  You have choice where you wake up after you die.  Whether you wake up with gratitude or regret depends on you.  God gives you the opportunity to know Him, to trust Him, to follow Him now.  It’s your choice.  Lazarus chose to trust God; the rich man didn’t.  You say, “How do you know that?  It doesn’t say that in the story.”  No, but it’s easy to deduce.  The rich man walked by Lazarus every day and did nothing.  He had all those riches and spent it all on himself.  That’s not what a believer in God does.  John asks:

1 John 3:17 If anyone has material possessions and sees his brother in need but has no pity on him, how can the love of God be in him?

How can you say you love God and let a beggar die at your gate while you feast?  No, the rich man didn’t love God, didn’t trust or follow God.  And that’s why he was in hell.  He didn’t go to hell because he was rich.  Abraham was rich and he was in heaven.  The rich man went to hell because he had no love for God or man; just himself.  God didn’t send the rich man to hell.  He sent himself there.

But God did send someone somewhere.  God sent His Son into the world to die for us and bring us back to Him.  God sent His Son so you wouldn’t send yourself to hell!  God sent His Son so you’d choose Him and choose heaven.

And if hell is a place of regret, heaven is a place of gratitude.  It’s better than anything we can imagine.

1 Corinthians 2:9 However, as it is written: “No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love him”—

What’s the most beautiful thing you’ve ever seen?  Heaven is better than that.  What’s the most beautiful thing you’ve ever heard?  Heaven is better than that.  What’s the best and greatest thing you can imagine?  Heaven is better than that.

I’ve listed a few verses from Jesus and the rest of the New Testament about heaven.  Here are two:

1 Peter 1:4 and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade—kept in heaven for you,

Peter says that you are born again into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade.  God has something saved for you in heaven, and unlike everything on earth, it won’t end.  Everything here perishes, spoils and fades—it’s all temporary and decaying.  But not in heaven!  Everything here is dying; everything there is bursting with life.  Everything here is decaying, getting worse; everything there is getting better!  Everything here perishes, spoils and fades.  Everything there lives, grows and gets brighter, better and more beautiful.

ILL: Think of our bodies.  Here, our bodies grow and get stronger up to a point, and then they start to decay.

         How many of you went to a high school reunion this summer?  You know what I’m talking about!  At my last reunion, I looked around and wondered, “Who are all these old people?  They don’t look anything like the kids I graduated with!”  Decay.

I’m going to The Dalles, Oregon this week to do my uncle’s funeral.  My uncle Jack was 82 when he died last week.  In March, he was playing in a national racquetball tournament in LA.  He told me he was ranked #2 in the nation…and then said there were only two 80-year olds still playing!  In March he’s playing racquetball; in April, he’s diagnosed with stage four esophageal cancer, and he hasn’t been able to swallow food or drink since.  I watched him decline.  I went to see him two weeks ago, and he was so weak and sick—not at all the robust man I remember.  Decay and death…everything here perishes, spoils and fades.

But in heaven we’ll have new bodies that don’t get sick, don’t get old, and don’t die.  In heaven, I’ll be able to dunk…with either hand!  Right now my uncle may be getting ready to serve a racquetball game with a brand new body, strong and healthy and beautiful.

Here is how John the apostle saw it.

Revelation 21:1-4 Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. 2 I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. 3 And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. 4 He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”

It’s a beautiful picture isn’t it?  Every tear wiped away.  No more dying or mourning, no more crying or pain.

It’s that…or a place of agony and torment.  Your choice.  But five minutes after you die, you will be filled with gratitude or regret.

  1. You will be able to look back on life with clarity.

The rich man and Lazarus both die, and find themselves fully awake, one filled with gratitude and the other with regret.  And suddenly, they could see life with clarity.  For the first time, the rich man could see what really mattered.  And you know what it was?  It wasn’t his money or his bling.  It wasn’t his beautiful gated home, or his expensive purple and linen clothes, or his lavish dinners.  Only one thing matters: people.  Five minutes after he died, it was crystal clear: people are what matter.  We should care for people.

  1. We should care for the poor “at our gate”. 24-26

So he called to him, ‘Father Abraham, have pity on me and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue, because I am in agony in this fire.’

25 “But Abraham replied, ‘Son, 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. 26 And besides all this, between us and you a great chasm has been fixed, so that those who want to go from here to you cannot, nor can anyone cross over from there to us.’

This is really the crux, the point of the whole story.  I said earlier that the rich man’s sin wasn’t being rich—Abraham was rich and he was in heaven.  The rich man’s sin was that he spent it all on himself, and didn’t share any with Lazarus who was at his gate every day.  He gave nothing when he had so much and Lazarus had nothing.

Abraham tells him, “In your lifetime you received your good things, while Lazarus received bad things, but now,” now it’s time for justice.  “Now he is comforted here and you are in agony.”  It’s a complete reversal.  The one who was in comfort is in agony.  And the one who was in agony is in comfort.  Listen to the words of Jesus.

Luke 6:20-26

20 Looking at his disciples, he said:

“Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God.

21 Blessed are you who hunger now, for you will be satisfied.

Blessed are you who weep now, for you will laugh.

22 Blessed are you when men hate you, when they exclude you and insult you and reject your name as evil, because of the Son of Man.

23 “Rejoice in that day and leap for joy, because great is your reward in heaven. For that is how their fathers treated the prophets.

24 “But woe to you who are rich, for you have already received your comfort.

25 Woe to you who are well fed now, for you will go hungry.

Woe to you who laugh now, for you will mourn and weep.

26 Woe to you when all men speak well of you, for that is how their fathers treated the false prophets.

Does this make anyone else uncomfortable?  Good!  It should!  Jesus said that there is a great reversal coming between the rich and the poor, the well-fed and the hungry.  Why would He say this?  I think Jesus said it to motivate us to share the wealth now, to start redistributing our riches here on earth as it is in heaven, to start correcting injustice, and caring for the poor.  And it starts at our gates.  It starts with the poor and the needy at our doors—the people we see every day as we go to and from work or school.

  • The panhandler on the corner.
  • The homeless person huddled under the bridge, or trudging up the street.
  • The neighbor whose heat got turned off last month.
  • The kid whose folks can’t afford new shoes or a good coat.
  • The elderly man or woman who just can’t keep up anymore.
  • The mentally ill, the handicapped, the outcast, the loser.

You see them every day…unless you’ve just become numb and see through them.

It’s interesting that the poor man had a name, Lazarus, and the rich man didn’t.  Usually it’s reversed.  We know the rich by name, but the poor remain nameless.

A couple weeks ago I heard someone say something that really bothered me.  He said that giving to charity can be bad for us.  It can insulate us from the poor.  It can make us think that by giving to an institution that helps the poor, we have done our duty to the poor, and we don’t have to actually meet the poor.  I don’t have to know a poor person—I can stay safely removed from poverty.  Then the poor don’t have a name.

But Jesus gave the poor a name: Lazarus, which means “God helps.”  I think Jesus is saying that God knows the poor by name and helps them personally, and He wants us to do the same.

I have to confess that I am far removed from poverty.  I live in a nice home, in a lovely neighborhood, far from poverty.  My friends and neighbors are all doing quite well.  I give a lot to charity, to help the poor.  But I don’t give much to Lazarus.  I don’t stop to buy the homeless guy a cup of coffee and learn his name and hear his story.  Like the rich man, I can walk past Lazarus at my gate and never even know his name.

ILL: When I was in college, I had a summer job that required to me to travel up and down the west coast.  My company gave me a per diem for food and lodging, but if I had a place a stay, I could pocket what I didn’t spend.  So I tried to stay with people I knew, but occasionally I landed in a town where I knew no one…like Eureka, California.

         At the end of the day, I stopped at a phone booth, looked in the yellow pages under churches, and found a pastor who put his home number in the yellow pages ad—not a good idea!  I called when I thought I could catch him—at dinner time—and explained that I was a youth pastor from Eugene passing through on my summer job, and could I roll out my sleeping bag on his floor.  All I needed was a place to roll out my bag.  What would you have said?

He hesitated and then said that his church supported the local mission and they’d have a bed for me.  I went to the mission, where I had a wonderful evening—one of the workers was a young college guy like me and we played our guitars and talked late into the night.  I had a great time—but I thought, “Look at what that poor pastor missed: a chance to hang out with me for a night!”  Seriously, here is a case of giving to charity and overlooking Lazarus at the gate.

But I can’t be too hard on that pastor—I don’t even put my number in the yellow pages ad!  And if got a call like that, I might do the same thing…which bothers me.

Here’s the challenge for me…and for many of you.  Care for the poor at your gate.  Open your eyes this week to see the people at your gates.  Go out of your way to meet one.  Put a face and a name on poverty.  Stop and buy that person a cup of coffee and learn his name and hear his story.  Then help.  And then it won’t just be charity…it will be love.  You’ll be loving God, because Jesus said, “Whatever you do for the least of these brothers of mine, you do for me.”  When you love the poor, you’re loving Jesus.

And I think the rich man saw that clearly…five minutes after he died.

The other thing he saw clearly was:

  1. We should care for those who are far from God. 27-31

27 “He answered, ‘Then I beg you, father, send Lazarus to my father’s house, 28 for I have five brothers. Let him warn them, so that they will not also come to this place of torment.’

29 “Abraham replied, ‘They have Moses and the Prophets; let them listen to them.’

30 “ ‘No, father Abraham,’ he said, ‘but if someone from the dead goes to them, they will repent.’

31 “He said to him, ‘If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.’ ”

In verse 27, the rich man thinks of someone other than himself for the first time.  He has five brothers, presumably all like himself.  He begs Abraham to send someone to warn them, so they wouldn’t end up like him—in hell.  Five minutes after he died, he had clarity: he finally cared about someone besides himself.

If we could spend one moment in hell, we’d be far more concerned for the people around us!

This is the big stinkin’ deal here at Life Center!  We want to take as many people to heaven as we can.  We want to depopulate hell!  That’s why we’re encouraging you to invite friends to Christmas Eve.  Do find, tell, bring!  Find someone you love, tell them what you know, and bring them with you.  Their eternity is at stake!  So love people…please.  Love people!  Love them no matter what they do.  Love them unconditionally.  Love them extravagantly, sacrificially, crazily!  And when they ask you why, tell them about the One who loved you that way.  The One who loved you so much that He left heaven, came to earth as a baby born in a barn, and gave His life on a blood stained cross…all for you.

Please care for people who are far from God, and help us bring them close.  Some people say Life Center is too big.  I’ll tell you what is too big.  Hell is too big.  And if you could spend one moment there, you’d see with crystal clarity what matters.  People are what matter to God.