I’m heading into dangerous territory. The path is mined by a multitude of people who point fingers at others who have money problems. My wife instructs me all the time, “Don’t say anything about money. The answer is ‘We’re doing just fine.’” You can have health problems. Sure, some health problems can be caused by poor decisions, but often those are forgiven easily. Money problems are different. Money problems mean that you didn’t grow up when you should have. Therefore, there is never much sympathy given when someone complains about being broke. Logically run through the condemnation cycle. Did you have the money to buy “x”? Then why did you buy it? Then why did you not have the money? Regardless of what you say to answer the questions, you did wrong by getting into money problems.
But, really? The pursuit of money is the root of all evil, according to 1 Timothy 6:10, but what if things don’t work out as you planned? What if God is challenging you to trust in Him more? We’ve had a few black days for the stock market in recent years. It’s not only the evil investors that lost everything. Sometimes, the “perfect Christian” loses his or her investments.
I had a friend who was going to retire at the end of October 1987, until Black Monday, 19 October 1987. On Tuesday, 20 October, he walked quietly into the bull-pen. I had been the straw boss of maintenance training (all the work, no extra pay), having developed the first two courses to be taught in 1986, but by late 1987, we had a full-time boss. My friend was stoic as he went to his desk until one of the vultures asked gleefully, “How much did you lose yesterday? “$20,000” was the reply. There were a few who said, “Ouch,” but another vulture asked how his retirement was looking. His reply was, “What retirement? Who said anything about retiring?” In spite of his bravado, I approached to ask if his resignation had made it past the boss’ desk. He replied, “You know how much he cares to be our boss. It was still in his in-box. It is now confetti in our secretary’s file 13 (trash can).” In less than 6 months, he walked out the door for the last time. Since he was still working, he didn’t need to sell his stock and it rebounded. It wasn’t what he had before, but it was enough to chance retirement.
My wife and I knew a couple who had job and health problems that hit about the same time. They asked and received money from the church, but they secretly had money saved that they were saving for a retirement that never happened.
As for me, when I got out of the Army, I bought a house before my first pay check. The condemners would say, “Why did you do that? It’s your fault.” I was told that the state income tax was negligible. I’d had Texas as my home state in the Army, a state with no state income tax. When my first pay check arrived, I was instantly house poor. We did okay, but the debt started to climb. My parents could have helped, but they could not understand how an engineer with a master’s degree could make so little. They lied about their nest egg, but they wanted me to be forthcoming about my lack of one. The budget was easier to maintain after the boys left home, but they always have problems. My wife always helped them. She still helps them. They are her babies, and you have to think of the grandchildren…
My wife believes firmly in Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount. In Matthew 5:42, Jesus tells us to “give” to those that ask and don’t turn away when someone wants to borrow. Lending to your children is like giving. They’ll have their hand out again before they start paying it back. My older son tries very hard to be self-sufficient, but there are times when things happen that aren’t in the budget. Our younger son is a music teacher in the South. His job is the first cut when they can’t balance the school’s budget. So far, he has been able to find more work.
That’s the way the world economy is right now. Everyone’s job is unstable. I’m not an economist, but I have heard from customers around the world and everyone is waiting for the next collapse. Slow growth may be the answer, but the world is filled with people who don’t want to wait, especially when they are hurting.
I mentioned loaning money. What about things that are not loans? Jesus said in Matthew 5:42 to “give”. He grants us gifts. The gift of faith is one of those gifts. We are to give gifts to others. My wife argued this recently while I was working a temporary job. We spent some of our money on gifts when my thought was to save, because “we probably won’t be back here for a while” we bought gifts for the grandchildren. But you have to understand our mindset. We are getting old. A financial advisor at my last job suggested that I work until I’m 83 years old before I retire. Probably, he ran the numbers and figured I’d be dead by then. This was right before they forced me into an early retirement at 62. So, why save at this point? I’ll let my wife get her gifts for the grandchildren. They all love it when she comes to visit. One of our granddaughters doesn’t say “hello”, she says “Did you buy me dresses?” She’s my wife’s girly-girl.
Did we live beyond our means? Yes, but no more than most Americans. Our younger son once won a Super Nintendo system at the local grocery store. We thought we were blessed, until the two boys mastered each game we purchased in the first weekend and they were instantly bored. There was always a newer game that was better than the others. Admittedly, The Legend of Zelda took more than a weekend. We always felt that our financial exile would be over soon. I had the knowledge and the skill to do great things, but the financial wasteland is where we remained. Did Jeremiah avoid being exiled to Babylon? Yes. (Jeremiah 40:1-6) Did Jeremiah avoid being exiled to Egypt? No. (Jeremiah 43:1-6, although the upstart ruler defied Jeremiah in doing so.) Jeremiah is probably one of those mentioned in Hebrews 11:39-40. Everyone loves the parade of heroes of faith, but they stop short, before they read that some of those heroes did not share in the promise. No one likes that verse.
The story of Jeremiah going to Egypt in Jeremiah 42 and 43 illustrates this study. The upstart ruler, Johanan, had killed Ishmael, who had killed Gedaliah, the Babylonian appointed governor. Zedekiah, the king of Judah, had already been taken to Babylon after his eyes were plucked out. Now Baruch, Jeremiah’s assistant, told Johanan that God would protect them and that they were not to go to Egypt. God knew they would start worshipping the false gods of Egypt. Why did Johanan disobey God? First, he refused to accept what Baruch said as coming from God. Does that sound familiar, considering many current events? Second, he trusted the security that Egypt provided instead of trusting an unseen God. Johanan had faith in a mighty army. He had no faith in God.
It is the tendency, especially in our modern culture, to blame anyone, but ourselves, for our problems. Of course, God is at the top of the list in many categories of problems. The bookends of the commandments are having faith in anything other than God and wanting what others have. Both of these commandments are rooted in selfishness. Blaming everyone, but ourselves, is part of that package. My wife and I usually shared in the blame when something was bought beyond our means. I still remember defying her and getting the VHS video camera, anyway. Of course, our video tape of the boy’s Christmas is a cherished possession. A few years ago, we converted it to a DVD for the boys for a Christmas present.
Our biggest purchase that put us in financial stress was the house. We purchased it when interest rates were astronomically high, right after the Jimmy Carter years in the White House. The pay did not increase as much as the cost of living, making it harder to make ends meet. When I finally got a better paying job and we moved to Mississippi, a lower cost of living area, the house in South Carolina would not sell. Now there were two house notes and two car notes. My pay raise was a lot, but it wasn’t that good. After two and a half years, we were ready to turn in the keys to our old house, but the real estate agent paid a month’s house payment. She thought she had the nibble that she needed. The house sold, but we were destroyed financially. We have often laughed about this tragedy by thinking of how God’s timing is last minute. He rarely bails you out of trouble without a customary waiting period. I was upbeat, looking for the blessing in everything. We had survived, but only months later the NASA site where I was working closed, and we all lost our jobs. I cashed in my IRA at a stiff penalty, just to put food on the table.
My wife had not worked during our time when I was working in Mississippi, but with me unable to find work, she was able to. God provides, even if it is difficult. But, with us, at the last minute. I think that was to show that it came from Him. A nearby hospital wanted to change their image in the community. They were the death hospital. The new administrator said that no one would be hired for the surgical wing unless they were certified. My wife had been turned down before, but with the new edict from the top, they hired her, just when I lost my job. By this point, we were down to one house note and one car note. Her pay wasn’t enough, but it helped. When she went for her initial employment physical, she was, again, turned down. She looked at the paperwork, upside down in front of the doctor. The doctor had put down the reason for dismissal as “too old”. Forty-three was too old? She ripped the papers from his grasp and marched into the administrator’s office. She was at work the next day. Of course, we could have sued, but our thought process has always been to work for what goes on the table. Suing didn’t enter her mind. For the full year that I was out of work, she was abused by the doctors and nurses. She was the outsider. She was the one hired who knew what she was doing, not that the doctors didn’t, but the staff in general was inept. They would rather my wife do the work rather than learn what they were doing wrong. Even that would have been livable, if she hadn’t been the victim of every prank in the book, from doctors and nurses alike, sometimes endangering patients. Anyone on call could go outside the thirty-minute radius without being reprimanded, but my wife had to sleep at the hospital on a recovery room gurney, because we lived barely outside the thirty-minute radius (thirty minutes only if you had nothing but green lights and went a little over the speed limit – a law abiding 35 minutes). When I got a new job and my wife turned in her two-week notice, the young community college graduate who had been hired after my wife hit my wife on the shoulder. She said, “Don’t leave. If you leave, they’ll start abusing me like they have you.”
Why bring up this story? When you hear that someone has financial problems, it may just be the sign of the times. It may not have anything to do with their sins or their parent’s sins. More stories reach the church’s prayer list than ever before. People are losing their jobs after twenty years or more of faithful service. To company management who are trying to balance the company budget, everyone beneath them are expendable. If they don’t use the ax, the people above them will use the ax on them.
An unexpected amount of money falling into your lap could be a curse. The theme of this study is that God is preparing His own for the next life, and too much money knits us to this life. We’ve all heard about lottery winners that lost all their money, and they were worse for it. Large endowments that have been given to churches have sometimes had the same effect. Ah, let’s expand beyond the ability to pay and the church growth will make up the difference. That almost never works. A church that grows is not the rich church. It is the church that is rich in the Holy Spirit, pouring out to everyone and making the church a magnet. People come from miles around to try to find out what make these people different.
Since the First Draft
If you have read my post entitled “What Illiterate Wrote This”, you will notice that the preceding information may be good stuff, but it doesn’t tie to the theme of this Bible Study. If people have too great a reliance on money, how can their faith grow? I do not recommend the path that I took. You need to start saving early. Of course, don’t overspend. You should never rely on the next pay raise to pay for something. I could go on and on. But living with very little in savings and on a fixed income causes you to learn how to live with less. The things that you thought were so important become meaningless. My wife and I spend our savings, when we do, on the kids and grandchildren. Especially when we go visit.
We know far too well what the meaning of “Give us this day our daily bread.” Is it scary? Yes and no. If we did not have a firm foundation in our faith in God, we would have died from fright. The devil tempts us with “What if” moments. We panic briefly, wondering if savings can handle it, but then I think of my parents. They had over fifty times the savings that we have when my Dad retired, yet they lived in fear every day. They were worried that one medical problem would wipe the savings out. If God chooses to test our faith in that manner, we will rely on Him for the solution to that problem.
I once had a friend who had owned a large boat that he docked on the Columbia River near Kennewick, WA. He said, “If you ever get the idea that you want a boat, take a paper bag full of $20, $50 and $100 bills. Kneel next to the toilet. Take a hand full of money and throw it into the toilet and flush it. Watch the money go down the drain. Then get another hand full and do the same thing. When the bag is empty, if you enjoyed that, you need a boat!” His point was that all of his money went into the water – so to speak.
How can you have more faith in God with regard to money? Don’t flush it down the toilet, give it away. Not all of it, but do you give a comfortable amount to the church? Until I turned 65, I was ineligible for Medicare. My medical insurance was, by far, the highest bill each month. We drained one bank account to a horrible low figure during this time. (My wife was already on Medicare.) Yet, we still gave to the church, again out of savings. What should you give? More than is comfortable to give, and then more still. Don’t put God to the test. Don’t say, “God I gave to the church, now my next upset in finances is on You.” But if you really have faith that God will provide, don’t cling so tightly to your wallet. The hand that clings to the wallet hasn’t gotten the message from your heart that God will provide.
Matthew 17:24-27 (NIV)
After Jesus and his disciples arrived in Capernaum, the collectors of the two-drachma temple tax came to Peter and asked, “Doesn’t your teacher pay the temple tax?”
“Yes, he does,” he replied.
When Peter came into the house, Jesus was the first to speak. “What do you think, Simon?” he asked. “From whom do the kings of the earth collect duty and taxes—from their own children or from others?”
“From others,” Peter answered.
“Then the children are exempt,” Jesus said to him. “But so that we may not cause offense, go to the lake and throw out your line. Take the first fish you catch; open its mouth and you will find a four-drachma coin. Take it and give it to them for my tax and yours.”
The temple tax had been paid since the time of Moses (Exodus 30:11-16). Joash, in an attempt to repair the temple, invoked the tax of Moses for temple repair (2 Chronicles 24:9). It was defined as an annual tax in Nehemiah 10:32-33. Jesus makes no issue with this tax, actually creating a miracle to pay his and Peter’s tax. This may be a miracle, but Jesus proved that God provides.
“Tell us then, what is your opinion? Is it right to pay the imperial tax to Caesar or not?”
But Jesus, knowing their evil intent, said, “You hypocrites, why are you trying to trap me? Show me the coin used for paying the tax.” They brought him a denarius, and he asked them, “Whose image is this? And whose inscription?”
“Caesar’s,” they replied.
Then he said to them, “So give back to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s.”
Jesus’ answer here avoids the question, so as to avoid the trickery of the Pharisees, but it shows His attitude toward money. Jesus’ answer is a trick turned on those who wished to trick Him. Even though Caesar’s picture was on the coin, all of creation belongs to God.
Matthew 19:16-22 (NIV)
Just then a man came up to Jesus and asked, “Teacher, what good thing must I do to get eternal life?”
“Why do you ask me about what is good?” Jesus replied. “There is only One who is good. If you want to enter life, keep the commandments.”
“Which ones?” he inquired.
Jesus replied, “‘You shall not murder, you shall not commit adultery, you shall not steal, you shall not give false testimony, honor your father and mother,’ and ‘love your neighbor as yourself.’”
“All these I have kept,” the young man said. “What do I still lack?”
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.”
When the young man heard this, he went away sad, because he had great wealth.
“Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.”
Not money, but richness. It’s odd that we spend so much time trying to reach a comfortable financial state, and we ignore Jesus’ warning. All have sinned (Romans 3:23), but Jesus allowed the rich man to believe he was perfect. But Jesus asked him to give away everything. We want comfort. We want security. We then rely on our jobs, our savings, our family. If our faith in God isn’t strong enough for us to give away everything, when everything is taken away, do we blame God or turn to Him in faith?
Matthew 6: 22-24 (NIV)
“The eye is the lamp of the body. If your eyes are healthy, your whole body will be full of light. But if your eyes are unhealthy, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light within you is darkness, how great is that darkness!
“No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.”
From the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus explains that our eyes guide our body. Then He mentions not serving two masters, God and money. Is this a coincidence, or is Jesus correlating what we seek after, from a worldly sense to money. As a side note, church business meetings spend over half the meeting time on money issues, while very little of the meeting is spent on faith issues, sometimes no time is granted for faith issues at all. Are we guilty of having two masters?
NOTE: It is in 1 Timothy 6:10: “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.” These are Paul’s words to Timothy, not in red letters.
Have you ever borrowed money from your parents? If so, did you pay it back?
Have you ever purchased something in anticipation of a pay raise or promotion that did not come? You thought you would have the money, but it did not materialize?
Have you ever bought anything without having the funds for it? Was it exhilarating or was it frightening? Did you ever think you were testing God (Matthew 4:7, Deuteronomy 6:16)?
Have you taken a job where they did not want you, but were forced to hire you by others? How would that make you feel, being disliked by everyone? Could you endure abuse to maintain the job? What if losing that horrible job meant not having money for food?
Have you ever been turned down for government help (food stamps, social security, welfare) when you were more needy than the people getting the help? If you knew that they lied to get the help, would you turn them in or use the same lie to get the assistance? (For example, you are turned down for food stamps because you own a car, thus you have an asset. But the car has a sizable loan against it. You leave the welfare office and the other people receiving their food stamps without hesitation arrive in a Lexus, or Cadillac, or Mercedes. You find out that they have the car registered in their children’s names, hiding the asset. Would you do that?)
If your church received a windfall of cash, would that affect your giving? Would you stand in line with your ideas on how to spend the money? Would your first thought be helping others or helping the church (new building, new equipment, more better-funded programs)?
Did the church ever see your needs and provide help without asking? (In Washington state, the church knew that I was out of work (only four months that time) and they knocked on our door the week before Thanksgiving with a bushel basket of everything needed for Thanksgiving dinner and a coupon for the turkey. We’d never asked for help. They recognized the need.)
Have you ever asked the church for help financially? Did you pay them back?
Have you ever lost your job? Were you out of work long enough to lose unemployment benefits (usually six months unless the government extends it)? Did you feel God’s hand on your life or did you feel all alone?
What will you do as a result of this Bible lesson to prove to yourself that you rely on God instead of money?