Monday, March 18, 2013

Is There Anything Wrong With Wealth?

In Victory Atlanta's "Godconomy" series, Johnson Bowie delivers his "Joyful Generosity" sermon.  There are two economies for the Christian.  There is the way God treats money in His economy and then there is the world's economy.  Jesus says that at the end of the day we have to choose between these economies because we can't serve both God and money.  As Christians, we want to do things God's way, right?

Johnson has had many opportunities to travel worldwide to places like Haiti, Belgium and Peru and he has an acute awareness of problems we have in America or "First World Problems" which he calls "FWPs".  These FWPs are things that we regard as a problems but the rest of the world considers them laughable. Delivering his description these FWPs, Johnson mimics Jeff Foxworthy's "You might be a redneck if...", but substitutes it with "You might have a FWP if..."   We might have an FWP if you are frustrated because the thermostat is set to high in the winter; if the Imac and Iphone runs out of batteries at the same time;  If you are upset with your barista because she put to much sugar in your latte;  If you are frustrated with your spotty coverage of 4G phones or if you are upset because you can't fit your phone in your skinny jeans!!

The majority of what we consider are problems really aren't true problems.  The majority of people listening to his message aren't worried about where their kids are going to sleep or what they are going to eat.  In our world in the U.S. there is a natural drift away from God's way of thinking, but when you see the dirt floors and sheet metal roofs of poorer countries, you get perspective.  When you see the kid who works for $30  a month and this is what you spend on coffee, it adds perspective.  Three billion people in the world live on less than $2 a day.  Half of them live on less than $1 a day.  A quarter of the people alive have no electricity.  If you make more than $25,000 per year, you are in the top 10% in the world.

Last year, Johnson was watching the Wall Street protesters and he was thinking as he saw signs that said "We are the 99%" that, to the rest of the world, they were mostly all in the top 10% in the world!!  If you earn $1000 over the summer as a teen, you've just earned more than most of the globe earns in a year.  It doesn't feel this way though because we are in the wealthiest country in the world.  Even our homeless live better than half the world!  We have money.  By the world's standards, we are rich.  So, what does God have to say about this and about us and about the wealthy and about the poor and about our struggles etc.?  I Timothy 6:17 says:

"Teach those who are rich in this world not to be proud and not to trust in their money.  Their trust should be in God, who richly gives us all we need for our enjoyment. Tell them to use their money to do good. They should be rich in good works and always being generous to those in need, always being ready to share with others. By doing this they will be storing up their treasure as a good foundation for the future so that they may experience true life."

Sometimes we get detached from our world and we just give to others who can do the work themselves or on our behalf. But God tells us to get our own hands dirty.  You cannot buy your way into heaven.  The price has already been paid by Jesus.  His forgiveness and our faith gets us in.  As Christians, our generosity is a good foundation.  If we know that we were once building our own kingdom before we were Christians, but now we build up His kingdom, we have the foundation for heaven.  It is good.

Generosity, though, can have conflicting meanings.  Many think, "I tithe and then I keep the rest for myself."  The other side or extreme of generosity is to give everything we have away.  The reality is that neither one of these beliefs works.  Tithing is NOT generosity; it is obedience.  The other extreme is a commitment to poverty; how miserable!  We should find Joyful Generosity somewhere in the middle.

The Coronado Bridge in San Diego has as many people jump off of it as does the Brooklyn bridge.  Why?  Because money doesn't solve our problem!  It is our response to money that can determine what is going on in our hearts.  Can you say you are a generous person?  Jesus' radical generosity serves as the model for all of us to be generous right?  If we are fully committed disciples of Christ, this is true.  II Corinthians 8:9 says;

For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though He was rich, yet for your sake He became poor so that you through His poverty might become rich....

Jesus did not die so that Christians could drive Ferraris.  Eternal life is the true riches for us.  Jesus became temporarily poor so that we could become eternally rich.

"I am so glad that Jesus didn't give 10%";  that He didn't show up, skimp on us and just tithe His blood.  He gave it all.  He poured His life out. Laws of the Old Testament told us what to do but they don't address what Jesus' New Testament deals with, the heart.

It's interesting in the Bible, how Jesus talks to different people about the kingdom of heaven and to some, He tells to give 10%, yet to others He tells to sell everything and follow Him.  Why would He do this?  It seems it sends conflicting messages to Christians.  Well, How much would you have to sell before you were giving your whole heart to God?  The heart of Jesus is to pour it all out!  For God so loved the world that He gave and we love God, so we give.

God delights in our enjoyment of his gifts.  So God says, give it all away and then He says enjoy what you have at the same time!  As a father, Johnson has never given his kids presents and then expected them to give stuff away.  In the same way God delights when we delight in His blessings.  God's not upset when we are wearing nice clothes or driving two cars.  He's a good dad.  In fact, He's the perfect dad.  To Him, it's just not about giving 10%...

"If a man begins to doubt whether he may use linen for his sheets, shirts, handkerchiefs and napkins, he will afterward be uncertain also about hemp... For he will turn over in his mind whether he can eat without napkins or go without handkerchief.  If any man should consider daintier food unlawful, in the end, he will not be at peace before God, when he eats either black bread or common food, while it occurs to him that he could sustain his body on even coarser food.  If he boggles at sweet wine, he will not with clear conscience drink even flat wine, and finally he will not dare touch water if sweeter and cleaner than other water."  John Calvin

Where, then, does it stop when someone is urged to give it all away?   There will always more.  If your family has more spoons in the house than people, should you get rid of your extra spoons?  We must first learn to delight in what God has given us.

If you see a person with a nice car and you are critical of what he is driving because it is so nice, keep in mind that what you are driving is much nicer than what the guy with the moped is driving!  See, it is hard to enjoy what God has given you when you are judgmental of others.  God is a really really good dad and He gives us what we need for our hearts.  All we have to do is honor Him.

Wealth can be a very good thing.  A lot of people can mess up when they love money.  Money is not evil but the LOVE of money is... Proverbs 6:6-8 says, "Go to the ant, you sluggard; consider its ways and be wise!  It has no commander, nor overseer nor ruler, yet it stores its provisions in summer and gathers its food at harvest."  God says this is a good way to live life!

Johnson's grandfather had a good deal of wealth and he loved Jesus.  He gave generously to the church and to people.  Johnson is still blown away by the number of people who come to him and tell him how his grandfather so greatly blessed them.

Having wealth increases your ability to be generous.  Do you know why?  BECAUSE YOU HAVE MONEY!  If you are in debt, how do you help someone out?  by co-signing?  The good Samaritan had money.  Members of the early church in Acts had money!  They were gifted to give riches and they had the revelation that their wealth was not just for them.  One of the best ways to be generous is to open up a separate account to be given away. Why is it that we trust God with eternity but don't trust him with tomorrow?

Our wealth becomes an issue when we care more about our tomorrow than someone else's today.  

The bible says being in debt is like being the tail and not the head.  How much time have you spent looking at a dog's tail?  It's not a good place to be.  When we get into debt, we "go turtle" and focus more on paying off debt.  As a church, Victory Atlanta has had experiences of strategically taking on debt to dig wells, feed the hungry and to fight the slave trade.  So they manage their funds strategically and find the room to be generous too.

A few weeks ago, Johnson was working on a sermon and his father in law dashed into the room and told him that there had been an accident.  They dashed out and sped down the street to the scene where Johnson's SUV was smashed up and the airbag had been deployed.  His wife was in the front seat and he jumped out, ran to the passenger side and hugged his wife asking if she was okay.  Was his car more important at that point?  NO.  It was an important time that gave perspective of what is important.  

In the book of John, Mary is at the feet of Jesus.  She opens up a very expensive bottle of perfume (worth a year's wages) and pours it on Jesus' feet.   This seems like a one-time, random incident until you look at what happened in the previous chapter.  In John 11, Mary was weeping with with her sister Martha because their brother Lazarus had died and was buried in a tomb.  Jesus appears and raises Lazarus from the dead.  Fast forward to Mary and the perfume.  Now you understand why she is basically pouring her life savings on His feet.

It helps if we can understand that whatever we don't get here, we will get in heaven.  Let's say you never got to take your trip to the Alps.  What is the new version of the Alps going to be in heaven?

The heroes of the faith knew that this world was not permanent.  They were looking forward to the New Jerusalem.  They were looking forward to a new world.  They wanted less here so other could get there!  We can save up and work towards things, but we need to keep in mind that one day we will close our eyes here and open them in heaven.

When we join our hearts with Jesus with the understanding of what we can do, what our purpose is here and what heaven is like, we enter the world of Joyful Generosity.

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