Sunday, April 26, 2009

The Big 7

Part 2: Greed



ILL: Envy and Greed, two of the seven deadly sins, were walking down a road one day when they were confronted by an angel. The angel offered one of them everything he could wish for. The only catch was that the other one would receive twice as much. Greed-wanting twice as much-quickly asked Envy to choose first. After a little thought, Envy asked for one blind eye.

We’ll talk about envy in a few weeks; today we’re talking about greed.  More isn’t always better!  We’re going to talk about how greed affects us, and how to overcome it by building the virtues of generosity and contentment.



          Ronda Sheldon 10th anniversary: Ronda has been part of Life Center since 1993; she met her husband Brian here, and has volunteered on our worship team, in multiple ways in our kids’ ministry, and in the women’s ministry.  She has been on staff since January 1999 as the Children’s Ministry Administrative Assistant.  Her job is to do “Whatever the directors need you to do,” which includes maintaining records for one pastor, 5 directors, over 400 volunteers, and more than 2000 families.  She and Brian adopted Sarah in 2004, and Daniel in 2007.



          Yesterday, I took a few minutes in prayer to ask God, “Am I greedy?”  It was an interesting conversation.  I encourage you to do the same right now.  Let God speak to you.


Introduction: I want to start with a story.

ILL: Millard Fuller was a millionaire before he turned 30.  His success fueled his greed, and he seldom stopped to enjoy what he earned.  He hurled himself with increasing zeal into new ventures which promised more money and greater opportunities for investments.  Then one day, unexpectedly, his wife, Linda, told him that she was leaving him.  The news shook him to depths of his being and forced him to reevaluate his life and the things for which he had lived. 

Millard Fuller discovered that only Jesus could satisfy his hunger, so he committed his life to Christ.  Then he sold all his possessions and along with his wife, devoted himself to serve the poor.  You may not recognize his name, but you probably know the organization he founded in 1976: Habitat for Humanity.  Since then, Habitat volunteers have built over 300,000 houses around the world, including 190 homes here in Spokane. 

Millard Fuller died in February-a rich man.

Last fall, you gave a huge offering for Habitat, and we built a house here in Spokane.  We were thrilled to be able to build a house for a family in our church, Benny Gallagher and his daughter, Rachel.  You gave thousands of dollars, and hundreds of volunteer hours to build this house-and I want to thank you for your incredible generosity.  In fact, because of your generosity, Life Center was named the Spokane Habitat Partner of the Year for 2008.  (Invite Gallaghers up.)

          Let’s look at a few pictures:

o   Bill Snyder donated the excavation; here’s Benny talking to Bill.

o   No one put in more hours than Benny and Rachel.  Rachel shows that she’s handy with a nail gun!

o   Pete Hernandez, shown here with Benny and Rachel, donated a lot of the electrical work.

o   Big thanks to Karl Ziegler, and Ziggy’s, who made major donations to the project.

o   The house was finished in December. It was dedicated on December 13-it was stinking freezing cold!

o   Mary Hiss, who was our champion on this project, presented the keys to Benny and Rachel. 

Those of you who worked on the house got to know Benny and Rachel, since they put in more hours there than anyone else.  It was a joy getting to partner with you in this project!

          Benny and Rachel thank you.

          One last thing to celebrate: your generosity not only helped Benny and Rachel, but many others as well.  They will pay off their interest-free mortgage, and all the money they pay goes back into the Habitat fund to build other homes.  In other words, the money you gave goes into the Habitat program and keeps recycling, working over and over to build more homes.  Also, our local chapter of Habitat tithes on every project to Habitat International, and that money is used to build houses around the world.  The tithe from Spokane Habitat has built over 200 houses around the world.  You were so generous that Life Center was able to give Habitat the money to pay the tithe, so your gifts not only built Benny and Rachel’s home, but will build some houses overseas as well.  

          So thank you for your generosity! 

          I wanted to celebrate the completion of this project and thank all of you, and I thought this is a great Sunday to do it, since I’m talking about greed, and its corresponding virtue, generosity.  This is part two of “The Big 7”, a look at the Seven Deadly Sins and the Seven Holy Virtues.  If you weren’t here last week, I’d encourage you to pick up the CD of that message at the info center; you can also get it on our website in MP3 or go to iTunes and get the podcast.  In last week’s talk, I gave the history of the Seven Deadly Sins and explained why we’re looking at them.  We’re using them as a lens to examine our hearts, repent of sin and ask Jesus to help us build virtue.  Last week was pride, this week is greed.


1. The sin of greed: a selfish and excessive desire for more than is needed

What is greed?  Webster says that it is “a selfish and excessive desire for more than is needed.”  More!  More!  This is the fundamental cry of greed.  Greed is never satisfied.  The more it gets, the more it wants.  More!  More!  More money, more stuff, more chrome, more power! 

But is it wrong to want more?  Chrome and power-definitely not!  Is desire a sin?  I want food to eat, clothes to wear, and a roof over my head-is it wrong to want those things?  When does desire become “selfish and excessive”?  Some people would argue that desire is natural and beneficial.  For example, consider this speech:

ILL: “The point is, ladies and gentlemen, that greed is good.  Greed is right.  Greed works.  Greed clarifies, cuts through and captures the essence of the evolutionary spirit.  Greed, in all of its forms-greed for life, for money, for love, knowledge-has marked the upward surge of mankind.  And greed-you mark my words-will not only save Teldar Paper, but that other malfunctioning corporation called the USA.”

          These are the words of Gordon Gecko, Michael Douglas’ character in the movie Wall Street.  Gecko’s argument is a contemporary version of the highly influential economic theory of 18th century philosopher and economist Adam Smith.  Smith believed that when an individual pursues his self-interest, he promotes the good of society more than if he intends to benefit society.  Self-interest benefits everyone: this is idea is the foundation of capitalism.

          Scottish philosopher David Hume called greed “the spur of industry” and suggested that without it, the economy and human progress would grind to a halt. 

          The great philosopher, Donald Trump, said, “You can’t be too greedy.” 

So, is greed good, or is it one of the seven deadly sins?  Is it the engine of economic progress or is it a form of idolatry that enslaves us and impoverishes others?

          Let’s go back to our definition.  Greed is “a selfish and excessive desire for more than is needed.”  Desire is not wrong; in fact, it is natural and good-until it becomes selfish and excessive.  But where is that line?  And what is “more than is needed?”

          For example, I need clothes-would you agree?  I certainly want you to wear some!  I need clothes-but look at this beautiful ensemble I’m wearing-do I really need to look this good?  Wouldn’t I be fine just wearing an old t-shirt like Simon Cowell?  And you ladies, do you really need those beautiful clothes?  Honestly, wouldn’t a burlap bag do the trick? 

          This is an example of where the line between need and desire is thin.  Yes, we need clothes to cover our nakedness, protect us from the elements, and keep us warm in the never-ending Spokane winter.  But we also appear to need clothing that adorns the body and is attractive.  Offer any woman anywhere a choice between a burlap bag and an attractive dress, and she’ll take the dress-every time.  We were created to be creative, to love beauty.  Hence the outfit instead of a burlap bag.

ILL: Speaking of outfits, a couple years ago, Laina and I were enjoying dinner with three other couples, and the talk turned to motorcycles.  One of the ladies asked if I wore a leather outfit.  Bikers don’t wear outfits.

          Which raises another question: are motorcycles a need or a desire?  My bike is not only economical transportation, it is part of my mental health.  I get on my bike, get the wind in my face, I sing and pray, and I can feel my emotional tank refilling.  I have one friend who told me that his bike would be one of the last things he would part with because of its affect on his mental health.  How many of you know what I’m talking about?  I have a pillow on my bed that says, “You never see a motorcycle parked outside of a psychiatrist’s office.” 

So is it need or desire?  The line between desire and need is thin.  Here’s an exercise: in groups of 2-4, make a list of legitimate needs.  What do we really need?

          Greed is a selfish and excessive desire for more than is needed.  Greed is desire gone bad, taken to extremes. But we draw the line between desire and need differently, which is why I want to encourage you again to ask God, “Am I greedy?”


Why is greed a sin?  Let me list a few reasons.

Greed is a sin against yourself: it ruins you.  A greedy person is an unhappy person: he is never satisfied, never has enough, and is unable to enjoy what he has for very long. 

ILL: Have you ever said, “If I just had this, I’d be happy”?  And you get it, and you’re happy… until a new, better, shinier model comes out.  I have said this about skis, computers, cameras, phones, backpacks, gadgets…you name it.  More, more!

Greed means you’ll never be satisfied, which is why Jesus warned us:

Luke 12:15 “Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; a man’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.”

Life is more than the sum of what you own; greed reduces your life to a collection of things.  Paul put it this way:

1 Timothy 6:9-10 People who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge men into ruin and destruction. 10 For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs.

Greed ruins people.

Greed is a sin against my neighbor when my having more means he must have less. 

ILL: I was the oldest of six kids, and money was tight at our house.  We had a rule at meals: no seconds until everyone has had firsts.  I got in trouble several times for taking seconds because it meant someone else went without.  Anybody else grow up with a rule like that?

That’s an obvious application of my greed resulting in someone else having less.  It’s not as obvious when the person is halfway around the world.  As Americans, we need to consider how our consumption is affecting the poor around the world.  We are 6% of the world’s population consuming over a third of the world’s goods.  We must ask ourselves how that affects others.  Greed can make us take more than our fair share; greed can also make us unwilling to share.

1 John 3:17-18 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? 18 Dear children, let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth.

Strong words!  John says that if you are able to give to someone in need and refuse to do so, you don’t love God.  Your love for God shows up in action-specifically the action of giving to those in need.

          Greed is the cause of conflict. 

James 4:1-2 What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you? 2 You want something but don’t get it. You kill and covet, but you cannot have what you want. You quarrel and fight. You do not have, because you do not ask God.

Trace most wars back to their causes and you’ll find greed.  Trace most personal conflicts back to their sources and you’ll find greed.  As the saying goes: “Follow the money.”

Greed is a sin against our world: it threatens to destroy our planet.  Economies driven by unbridled consumption and governments who promise ever-increasing prosperity, because no one dares to promise anything less, will lead to the depletion of the world’s resources.  More than half the planet’s original forests have already been lost, and a third of what is left will disappear in the next 20 years.  One-third of the world’s coral reefs have been destroyed or seriously damaged.  Our desire for a richer, more extravagant way of life will keep on eating up the rain-forests, the coal deposits, the ozone layer, and spoiling the air we breathe and the water we drink.  When we pursue a legitimate desire for prosperity without limits or regard for the effect on the planet, we will destroy our planet.

God commanded the Israelites to care for the land they lived in, which included giving the land a Sabbath.  Every 7th year, the land was to lie fallow, to rest.  God also said that if they disobeyed Him, they would be removed from the land into exile. 

Leviticus 26:35 All the time that it lies desolate, the land will have the rest it did not have during the sabbaths you lived in it.

That is a great reminder to us.  This is our Father’s world-it belongs to Him, not us, and we’re to care for it.  If we don’t, we may find ourselves evicted!

Greed is a sin against God.  Greed is idolatry, it is misdirected worship towards a false god. 

Colossians 3:5 Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry.

How is greed idolatry?  The greedy worship something other than God.  Greed tries to satisfy our restless souls with things that were never met to satisfy it.  In the Old Testament, idolatry was worshiping a statue; today, idolatry is greed, worshiping money and stuff.

Greed keeps us from God.  Luke 18 tells the story of a rich young ruler who came to Jesus and wanted to follow Him.  Jesus told him:

Luke 18:22-25 “You still lack one thing. Sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”

23 When he heard this, he became very sad, because he was a man of great wealth. 24 Jesus looked at him and said, “How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God! 25 Indeed, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.”

What kept this young man from following Jesus?  Greed.  Given the choice of Jesus or money, he chose money.  His greed kept him from God.

          You might be thinking, “Thankfully, Jesus doesn’t ask all of us to give up everything.”  Au contraire!  I think He does.  When you begin to follow Jesus, He is your Lord, your Leader, and you put everything at His feet: your time, your money, your stuff, your life.  Jesus said you can’t serve both God and money.  If you choose to serve God, He has your money. 

          Greed is a sin against yourself, your neighbor, your world, and your God.  So how do we overcome it?


2. The virtues of:

          We overcome greed by developing a couple virtues.


A.   Generosity: to be liberal in giving.

          The classic virtue that is usually considered the opposite of greed is generosity.  To be generous is to be liberal in giving.  Perhaps the best way to pry the fingers of greed off of your heart is to give.  It is certainly what Jesus recommended.

Matthew 5:42 Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you.

Matthew 6:2-4 “So when you give to the needy, do not announce it with trumpets, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets, to be honored by men. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full. 3 But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, 4 so that your giving may be in secret. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.

Matthew 19:21 Jesus answered, “If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”

Luke 6:30-31 Give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back. 31 Do to others as you would have them do to you.

I know one man who takes Jesus literally and gives to everyone who asks him. 

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.”

Give!  There is no better way to overcome greed than to give.  One of the reasons generosity is so effective in overcoming greed is that it makes us aware of the needs of others.  When I’m greedy, I’m thinking only of myself; when I’m generous, I’m thinking of others.

ILL: An American family made a commitment to support five poor children in Haiti.  Every month they faithfully sent a little more than $100 to help feed, clothe and educate these 5 orphans who otherwise had no hope.  To keep their commitment, sacrifices had to be made.  The kids rode secondhand bikes, and their Christmas presents didn’t compare favorably with their friends’.  But they stuck with their commitment for over a decade.

One day, the father of this family announced that his company was sending him to Haiti for business.  By traveling economically, they could all go, and meet the children they had been supporting all these years.  The second day they were in Haiti, the family hired a jeep and drove several hours out to the village where the children lived.  The children were now teenagers, and had been told of the visit, and had been waiting eagerly in front of their school since early morning to meet their American friends. As soon as the jeep stopped in front of the school, the 5 Haitian kids and the two American kids bounced into each others’ arms.  Despite the language barrier, these young people communicated their affection for each other.  At the end of that special day, there was an unplanned ceremony in which the Haitian kids gave to their American friends Christmas ornaments which they had made out of twigs and sisal.  After a long and affectionate goodbye, the Americans got back into their jeep to return to Port au Prince. 

On the return trip, the two children sat in pensive silence. Their silence seemed so strange that their father asked them what was wrong.  “Oh nothing is wrong”, answered his daughter.  “I was just thinking that there is nothing we could have done with our money over the last ten years that would have made us happier than we are right now.” 

Nothing will make you happier than when you look beyond yourself.  Discover the joy of sharing!  Give!

          If you feel yourself growing greedy, fight back!  Give!


B.   Contentment: to be satisfied with what you have.

Hebrews 13:5 Keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have, because God has said, “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.”

Contentment isn’t usually listed as one of the Seven Holy Virtues that correspond to the Seven Deadly Sins.  I’m adding it because I think it is the exact opposite of greed.  If greed says “more, more”, contentment says “enough”.  I have enough.  I am satisfied with what I have.  Would you say that with me?  I have enough.  I am satisfied with what I have. It’s very hard to say, and harder to live.  It is counter-intuitive, because we all want more.  It is counter-cultural, because we are bombarded with advertising that is designed to convince us we need more.  Everything within us and around us screams, “More, more!”  The quiet voice of contentment whispers, “I have enough.” 

ILL: A rich businessman was disturbed to find a fisherman sitting lazily beside his boat.

“Why aren’t you out there fishing?” he asked.

          “Because I’ve caught enough fish for today,” said the fisherman.

          “Why don’t you catch more fish than you need?” the rich man asked.

          “What would I do with them?”

 “You could earn more money,” said the businessman, “and buy a better boat so you could go deeper and catch more fish. You could purchase nylon nets, catch even more fish, and make more money. Soon you’d have a fleet of boats and be rich like me.”

          The fisherman asked, “Then what would I do?”

          “You could sit down and enjoy life,” said the businessman.

          “What do you think I’m doing now?” the fisherman replied.

More isn’t always better.  Sometimes we simply have to say, “Enough.”  I have enough nice clothes.  My car is good enough.  I have enough stuff.  In fact, most of us, including me, don’t have enough; we have too much!  My house is cluttered with clothes I don’t wear, books I don’t read, toys I don’t have time to use.  I need to do some giving!  I have enough.

          We build generosity by giving; how do we build contentment?  Here are a few classic spiritual disciplines or practices that will build contentment, and strangle greed.

Sabbath.  The Sabbath is taking every seventh day, and stopping work, stepping out of the rat race, to rest and worship God.  It’s more than a day off; it’s a God-day.  We take the day to enjoy God and His good gifts to us.  Graham Tomlin, in his book on the Seven Deadly Sins, explains this beautifully:

“It is a day for walking in the country, sleeping in a bit longer, meeting with Christian friends and strangers for worship, reading books for the fun of it, dreaming dreams and enjoying food.  Greed will make it hard for us to do this.  The voice of greed inside us will tell us that there is a lot to do, that if we are going to achieve, to get the promotion, to expand our empire, we will need to keep working.  But the voice of God tells us something different.  That voice tells us to slow down, to be happy just to be, to slowly learn the great art of doing not very much and feeling fine about it.  This takes some learning, but when we do learn it, it is one of the best antidotes to greed there is.”

The Sabbath is a weekly way to say, “Enough.  Enough work, enough hurry.  Now it’s time for rest, for God, for enjoying life.” 

          Waiting.  This spiritual practice has fallen out of favor in our busy society.  We don’t like to wait-for anything!  How many of you hate to wait in line?  How many of you count the number of people in the check-out lines so you can get in the shortest line?  And some bozo needs special help, and they call the manager, and you’re stuck waiting.  Listen to these verses:

Psalm 27:14 Wait for the Lord; be strong and take heart and wait for the Lord.

Psalm 37:7 Be still before the Lord and wait patiently for him;

Psalm 40:1 I waited patiently for the Lord; he turned to me and heard my cry.

Psalm 130:5-6 I wait for the Lord, my soul waits, and in his word I put my hope. 6 My soul waits for the Lord more than watchmen wait for the morning.

Wait for the Lord.  When was the last time you just sat and waited for God? 

          How does waiting overcome greed?  Greed is fueled by our impulsiveness.  We see things and buy them impulsively, without waiting.  But if we waited, if we let the impulse die, we’d buy less and be happier. 

ILL: Last fall, I took a tent in for repair to a shop that also sold skis.  They had a sale on some skis-last year’s model-to make room for the new skis.  They were half off!  Half off!  I was ready to buy them, then I decided to wait.  Give it a couple days.  And as I waited, I remembered that I haven’t skied the last two winters.  Waiting kept me from buying something I didn’t need.

I recommend that you practice the discipline of waiting whenever you see something you want to buy.  Just wait a few days-wait for God and see what happens.

          Simplicity.  I admit up front that I am no expert on the spiritual discipline of simplicity-in fact, I suck at it!  Here’s what I do know.  The more you get, the more you have to maintain, organize, use and store.  Greed-more, more!-only complicates our lives, never simplifies it.  Richard Swenson, in his terrific book, Margin, shows that the more time-saving devices we use, the less time we have.  We get all this stuff to make our lives better, but are they?  Or are they just more complex, more busy? 

ILL: Every summer I go backpacking.  I live for several days with only what I can carry on my back.  And live becomes very simple: walk, eat, go to the bathroom, sleep.  One of the things that I love about the experience is the simplicity of it.  Life slows down.  Richard Byrd, the famous polar explorer, wrote in his journal, “I am learning…that a man can live profoundly without masses of things.”

Jesus repeatedly talked about simple living, about not worrying, not accumulating, but trusting God.  As I said, I’m no expert on simplicity.  But if you’re struggling with greed, you might want to read Richard Foster, or one of many others who have written beautifully on the practice of simplicity.