Thursday, October 4, 2007

Financial Peace 1: Dangerous Blessing

KNU International English Church

Josh Broward

October 7, 2007

Dangerous Blessing

Genesis 12:1-3, Deuteronomy 8:1-20, 1 Chronicles 29:10-16,

1 Timothy 6:9-10, 17-19, Matthew 25:14-30

Video: “The Societal Machine” by Brian McClaren: (Watch it by clicking the link, or read the text below.)

One way to describe how human societies work is to compare them to a machine. A machine is a tool - a device - that we use to achieve a desire. And it seems to me that there are three desires we are always trying to achieve in a society. We’re trying to achieve a desire for prosperity, a desire for security, and a desire for equity.

Now I believe that Jesus, and the message of Jesus, really the whole scriptures, the whole mission of the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob is to help human beings achieve prosperity, equity, and security in a wise way, a way that will work. It’s as if we need to do these things in the way the Creator designed us to do these things and not in some other bogus way that might seem right to us but ends up being completely self-destructive.

What I think tends to happen to every faith – happens to every faith: Christianity, Judaism, Islam, every faith – is that we take the radical message from God about how to achieve prosperity, equity, and security, and we end up domesticating that message, keeping the God-talk, keeping the religious institutions, keeping all of the trappings of religiosity, but we take that message and we put it into someone else’s agenda for prosperity, equity, and security.

I believe that Jesus’ message – he called it “the good news” – now think about “news”. News is a story. “The good news” is a story that can heal us. I think Jesus’ message of good news is a story that if we believe it, then we begin bringing healing into human society.

In fact, I believe the greatest single thing we can do to be part of the healing of our society is to stop believing the other stories we are being told. And we’re told them in the news media; we’re told them in the advertising; we’re told them in our schools; we’re told them in the movies and the TV shows. There’s this covert curriculum at work in our society, always teaching these alternative stories, alternative ways to go.

I believe Jesus invites us to become un-believers in relation to those dominant stories and to be nonconformist in relation to those dominant, popular stories. And he invites us to believe a radically different story – his “good news.” It’s a story about the Kingdom of God. It’s a story about the world working the way God wants it to work. It’s a story of us learning to say as Jesus said, “Not my will, not my plan for prosperity, equity, and security, but your will be done.” It’s what he teaches us to pray in the Lord’s Prayer, “Your Kingdom come. Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”

Prosperity, equity, security. I think he’s right. I think everyone everywhere wants prosperity, equity, and security. We work, we save, we buy, we form governments, we give, we invest, we trade, we sell, we negotiate, we sign treaties, we borrow – all in an effort to bring prosperity, equity, and security.

Have you ever stopped to ask: “What is God’s plan for prosperity, equity, and security for me and for the world?” Have you ever stopped to wonder: “How does God really want the world to work?”

God’s basic plan for humanity is found early in the Bible, in the first book, in Genesis, when God calls Abram (later called Abraham) and begins a movement of “the people of God” in the world. Let’s read that now:

(1) The Lord had said to Abram, “Leave your native country, your relatives, and your father’s family, and go to the land that I will show you. (2) I will make you into a great nation. I will bless you and make you famous, and you will be a blessing to others. (3) I will bless those who bless you and curse those who treat you with contempt. All the families on earth will be blessed through you.”

God says to Abraham, “I want you to leave everything you’ve ever known. Go on an adventure with me into the future. Do this, and I will bless you. I will make you into a great nation, and I will make you famous.”

One thing the Bible is clear about is that God really does want to bless us. God really does want to give us what we need. God love every single human being on this earth, and God wants us all to have prosperity, security, and equity. God wants to bless us all.

But that’s not the whole story. God blessing us is just half – or really less than half - of God’s plan. Brian McClaren, the guy from the video, explains that God says more to Abraham, “Leave your people. Now, step out into the unknown … into a journey where you don’t know who you are anymore. As you do this, I will give you a great new identity: you will become a new kind of people in the world; you will have a new identity. And that new identity – as a people blessed by the one true and living God – will bring blessing to all the other peoples.” [1]

We aren’t just blessed so we can be blessed and celebrate our blessing: “Oh, isn’t this great?! God has blessed us! Oh, God you are so good! Thank you for blessing us.”

We aren’t blessed because we are special or more valuable than others: “We are the blessed people. God has blessed us because we are faithful. We deserve this blessing. We’re blessed, and you’re not. Na, na, na.”

We are blessed to be a blessing. God said to Abraham, “You will be a blessing … All peoples on earth will be blessed through you.” I’m not sure exactly why, but God always wants to involve us in his work in the world, and this is also part of our blessing – that we get to make a difference in the lives of others.

McClaren explains that “one of the greatest heresies [or false teachings] … for both the Jewish people and Christians (and maybe Muslims, too …) is a failure to take seriously these lines of poetry [from Genesis 12]. When religions assume that their adherents [believers] are chosen only to be blessed, and forget that they are blessed to be a blessing, they distort their identity and they drift from God’s calling for them. When they assume that they are blessed exclusively rather than instrumentally, when they see themselves as blessed to the exclusion of others rather than for the benefit of others, they become part of the problem instead of part of the solution.”[2]

And it’s here that we see that this blessing that God gives us is dangerous. We can become so focused on the blessing, so wrapped up in being blessed, that the blessing actually becomes a curse. The blessing can actually become something that separates us from God, something that pushes us away from God’s work in the world. Listen to how God described this in Deuteronomy 8.

(1) “Be careful to obey all the commands I am giving you today. Then you will live and multiply, and you will enter and occupy the land the Lord swore to give your ancestors. … (7) For the Lord your God is bringing you into a good land of flowing streams and pools of water, with fountains and springs that gush out in the valleys and hills. (8) It is a land of wheat and barley; of grapevines, fig trees, and pomegranates; of olive oil and honey. (9) It is a land where food is plentiful and nothing is lacking. It is a land where iron is as common as stone, and copper is abundant in the hills. (10) When you have eaten your fill, be sure to praise the Lord your God for the good land he has given you.

(11) “But that is the time to be careful! Beware that in your plenty you do not forget the Lord your God and disobey his commands, regulations, and decrees that I am giving you today. (12) For when you have become full and prosperous and have built fine homes to live in, (13) and when your flocks and herds have become very large and your silver and gold have multiplied along with everything else, be careful! (14) Do not become proud at that time and forget the Lord your God, who rescued you from slavery in the land of Egypt. … (17) He did all this so you would never say to yourself, ‘I have achieved this wealth with my own strength and energy.’ (18) Remember the Lord your God. He is the one who gives you power to be successful, in order to fulfill the covenant he confirmed to your ancestors with an oath.

(19) “But I assure you of this: If you ever forget the Lord your God and follow other gods, worshiping and bowing down to them, you will certainly be destroyed. (20) Just as the Lord has destroyed other nations in your path, you also will be destroyed if you refuse to obey the Lord your God.

When God has blessed us, that is exactly the time to be careful! Why? The great danger is that God’s blessing can become more important to us than God himself. We can worship the blessing rather than the God who blesses. We can think this “blessing” is something we have earned, something we have a right to, something we can keep for ourselves. We can forget that God’s plan is to bless the whole world through us.

When we keep the blessing, we corrupt the blessing and ourselves. Blessing is designed to flow like a river from God to us to others. When we stop up that river of blessing, the blessing gets corrupted. We become a stagnant pool, dead water. The blessing becomes a curse, and it rots our souls.

Listen to what Paul says about this in 1 Timothy 6:

(9) But people who long to be rich fall into temptation and are trapped by many foolish and harmful desires that plunge them into ruin and destruction. (10) For the love of money is the root of all kinds of evil. And some people, craving money, have wandered from the true faith and pierced themselves with many sorrows. …

(17) Teach those who are rich in this world not to be proud and not to trust in their money, which is so unreliable. Their trust should be in God, who richly gives us all we need for our enjoyment. (18) Tell them to use their money to do good. They should be rich in good works and generous to those in need, always being ready to share with others. (19) By doing this they will be storing up their treasure as a good foundation for the future so that they may experience true life.

When we focus our lives on the blessing, and when we keep God’s blessing for ourselves, we are endangering our faith and setting ourselves up for trouble. We may be “pierced with many sorrows.”

On the other hand, when we let God’s river of blessing flow through us, blessing us and blessing others, we’ll find that God “richly gives us all we need for our enjoyment” and we will “experience true life.” There is truly nothing better than seeing God bless someone else through you. That is the best feeling in the world.

The real key here is ownership. God is the real owner of everything. King David understood this. Listen to his prayer when Israel was preparing to build the temple (1 Chronicles 29):

(10) “O Lord, the God of our ancestor Israel, may you be praised forever and ever! (11) Yours, O Lord, is the greatness, the power, the glory, the victory, and the majesty. Everything in the heavens and on earth is yours, O Lord, and this is your kingdom. We adore you as the one who is over all things. (12) Wealth and honor come from you alone, for you rule over everything. Power and might are in your hand, and at your discretion people are made great and given strength.
(13) “O our God, we thank you and praise your glorious name! (14) But who am I, and who are my people, that we could give anything to you? Everything we have has come from you, and we give you only what you first gave us! (15) We are here for only a moment, visitors and strangers in the land as our ancestors were before us. Our days on earth are like a passing shadow, gone so soon without a trace.
(16) “O Lord our God, even this material we have gathered to build a Temple to honor your holy name comes from you! It all belongs to you!

Wealth and honor and power belong to God. Any money we have or any power or skill that we have to make money are the result of God’s blessing in our lives. We do not rightfully own anything. When we give to God, we are only giving back what he first gave us. We are not owners of anything. We are only God’s managers.

Let me give you an example. I need two volunteers to help me here. X, here is 100,000 won. This is your money, for the next 5 minutes. But X, you don’t want your money to sit there and do nothing, right? You want it to do something. You want to invest it. Y, here, is an investment bank. X, give your money to Y. Now, X and Y have a trust relationship, in finances it is called a “fiduciary trust.” X has trusted Y with his money. Y has possession of the money. But let me ask you a question. Who owns the money? Who is the owner of the money? But Y has the money. Possession is 9/10 of the law, right? Not when there is a trust relationship. Y is just the money manager. X is the owner.

Now, imagine that Y’s wife calls him up and says she needs a new pair of shoes, and these shoes that she needs just happen to cost 100,000 won. Y says, “Hey, no problem. X just gave me 100,000 won. Let’s go shopping!” What will happen? The trust relationship will be broken. How is X going to feel about this?

I want you to get this. This is important. Who is God in this picture? X. And who are we? Y. God has entered into a trust relationship with us. God has invested his resources in our bank account. We have possession of the money, but God is the owner. We are God’s investment bank. We are God’s money managers.[3]

Think back to God’s basic plan for the world, God’s basic plan to give everyone on earth prosperity, security, and equity. God blesses us, and we bless others. God blesses us, and all people on earth are blessed through us. God has established a trust relationship with us. God is investing his resources in us so that God can bless the whole world through us. We are God’s resource managers. The money is in our account, the skills and talents are in our head, but it all belongs to God. And God intends for these resources to be used for his mission to bless the entire world.

Listen to what Jesus says about being managers of God’s resources and blessings (Matthew 25):

(14) “Again, the Kingdom of Heaven can be illustrated by the story of a man going on a long trip. He called together his servants and entrusted his money to them while he was gone. (15) He gave five bags of silver to one, two bags of silver to another, and one bag of silver to the last—dividing it in proportion to their abilities. He then left on his trip. (16) The servant who received the five bags of silver began to invest the money and earned five more. (17) The servant with two bags of silver also went to work and earned two more. (18) But the servant who received the one bag of silver dug a hole in the ground and hid the master’s money.

(19) “After a long time their master returned from his trip and called them to give an account of how they had used his money. (20) The servant to whom he had entrusted the five bags of silver came forward with five more and said, ‘Master, you gave me five bags of silver to invest, and I have earned five more.’ (21) The master was full of praise. ‘Well done, my good and faithful servant. You have been faithful in handling this small amount, so now I will give you many more responsibilities. Let’s celebrate together!’

(22) “The servant who had received the two bags of silver came forward and said, ‘Master, you gave me two bags of silver to invest, and I have earned two more.’ (23) The master said, ‘Well done, my good and faithful servant. You have been faithful in handling this small amount, so now I will give you many more responsibilities. Let’s celebrate together!’

(24) “Then the servant with the one bag of silver came and said, ‘Master, I knew you were a harsh man, harvesting crops you didn’t plant and gathering crops you didn’t cultivate. (25) I was afraid I would lose your money, so I hid it in the earth. Look, here is your money back.’ (26) “But the master replied, ‘You wicked and lazy servant! If you knew I harvested crops I didn’t plant and gathered crops I didn’t cultivate, 27 why didn’t you deposit my money in the bank? At least I could have gotten some interest on it.’

(28) “Then he ordered, ‘Take the money from this servant, and give it to the one with the ten bags of silver. (29) To those who use well what they are given, even more will be given, and they will have an abundance. But from those who do nothing, even what little they have will be taken away. (30) Now throw this useless servant into outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’

What would God say to you right now?

“Good work. You are doing your job well. I invested blessings in you, and you are spreading them around the world.”

Or would God say something else? “That’s a terrible way to live! I invested my good resources in you, and you are burying them in your own life. You are wasting your life and your money on yourself. I gave that life and that money to you to bless others. I trusted you, but you are letting me down.”

What does the Bible say about money? Well, it says a lot, far more than I can say today. But here is the Bible’s basic message about money: God blesses us so that God can bless the whole world through us.

We are all deeply blessed by God. We are blessed financially, spiritually, emotionally, academically, professionally. We are blessed. Now we have the opportunity to allow this river of blessing to continue its flow from God to us and on to others here and around the world. God’s plan is that we will be part of changing the world, spreading God’s blessings around the world.

Let me give you two challenges today.

First, open the conversation of money. Money is usually a private, secret matter. But I encourage you to start talking about it. Ask your friends and people you trust a few questions: What does it mean to participate in God’s mission to bless the whole world? And are we doing it?

Second, I am issuing you a 5,000 won challenge. Our ushers are going to come now and pass out some envelopes. Inside each of these envelopes is 5,000 won. As God’s ambassador today, I am initiating a trust relationship with you. This is God’s money, but God is investing it in your bank. This is a practice exercise to help us get used to being God’s resource managers.

Take this money and use it to bless the world. You are blessed with 5,000 so that you can go out and bless someone else. You have total freedom as to how to use the money. There is only one restriction: you must use it to bless someone. You have three weeks. In three weeks, we will all report back on how we used God’s money.

[1] Brian McClaren, The Story We Find Ourselves In, (San Francisco: Josey-Bass, 2003), 64.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Dave Ramsey, Financial Peace video series.

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