Last week Pastor Ben and Minnie helped us see the importance of having a plan when it comes to our money and generosity. They taught out of Luke 12; from the Parable of the Rich Fool. You know, the guy who had a great year -- a great harvest -- but didn’t have a plan to give any of it away. His thinking went something like this: these are “my crops, my barns, my surplus, for my enjoyment and my happiness.” He became rich; but not towards God and others. He didn’t have a plan to be generous. And Jesus’s parable shows the foolishness in that approach.
We need to have a plan. And so Ben and Minnie challenged us to begin giving a percentage of our income, if we are currently not giving. (Some of us might have even been challenged to increase our current percentage of giving.) Quite a few of you took the challenge; which is great! And I’m sure some of you stepped into the challenge, even if you didn’t fill out a card -- and that’s cool.
But some of us weren’t ready. And let me make clear, we get it. This is no easy thing to step into. And so today I want us to talk through why it’s hard for some of us (and really, all of us) to start giving towards God’s mission and purposes. And let me just get out of the way that it isn’t because we don’t have enough -- although that might be true for some; nor is it because we don’t have a desire to be more generous -- because most of us do have a desire. Then what is it? In the very next passage after the Parable of the Rich Fool Jesus gives a reason why we are hesitant. Take a look.
Luke 12:22-34 - Do Not Worry
22 Then Jesus said to his disciples: “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat; or about your body, what you will wear. 23 For life is more than food, and the body more than clothes. 24 Consider the ravens: They do not sow or reap, they have no storeroom or barn; yet God feeds them. And how much more valuable you are than birds! 25 Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to your life? 26 Since you cannot do this very little thing, why do you worry about the rest?
27 “Consider how the wild flowers grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you, not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. 28 If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today, and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, how much more will he clothe you—you of little faith! 29 And do not set your heart on what you will eat or drink; do not worry about it. 30 For the pagan world runs after all such things, and your Father knows that you need them. 31 But seek his kingdom, and these things will be given to you as well.
32 “Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father has been pleased to give you the kingdom. 33 Sell your possessions and give to the poor. Provide purses for yourselves that will not wear out, a treasure in heaven that will never fail, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys. 34 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.
When it comes to money, do you worry? It’s okay if you answer, yes. I believe worry is our default. I don’t know an area in our lives that causes more stress and anxiety than this one. We worry about the money that we have and the money that we don’t have. We worry about our debt… and our investments. We worry about not having enough or losing it all. It’s just non-stop. (And worry is something that plagues the rich and the poor -- but just in different ways.)
And in the passage, what Jesus reveals to his disciples and us is that: Worry is one of the main things that will get in the way of the generosity that God desires from all of us. And that makes sense. Worry has to do with the future. No one in their right mind -- whether you have a lot or a little at the moment -- is going to give away something that they believe they are going to need later on. Our level of generosity is directly correlated to our level of worry. Notice that I did not say that our level of generosity fluctuates with our level of wealth. As our worry goes up, our generosity will go down -- and vice versa -- regardless of our net worth. In the Parable of the Rich Fool Jesus is talking to people with means -- people who have an abundance. But then he shifts and begins to teach his disciples -- who weren’t wealthy. But nevertheless, what grips them both -- what keeps them from being generous -- is worry.
But I love this passage. For those of us who are stressing about money -- Jesus comes alongside of us and gently tells us, Do not worry. I know that I’m calling you into something that seems scary -- into a generous and open-handed life. But you have nothing to worry about.
Easier said than done. Right?! We can’t just not worry. We can’t just not think about something that is bothering us. So what do we do? We have to do something with our worry -- we have to trade it in for something else. Hear me, Jesus is not just trying to remove worry in your life; but he’s wanting to increase your trust in the Father.
‘Do not worry’ is not sufficient enough as a strategy to make us generous. Jesus makes the point that we have to be captivated by and dependent on our Heavenly Father's love and generosity. And I’m telling you, once we take Jesus at his word, and we realize that we are in good hands, only then are we able to be free from the power of money and live open-handed and generous lives.
Here’s what I want to do with the rest of our time. I want us to talk about why we worry, and interweave throughout why Jesus believes we no longer have to worry. Last week Ben and Minnie gave us the how of generosity; today I want to give us the why.
Why do we worry about money? In verse 30 Jesus references “the pagan world” as a comparison to what our approach should be. The word “pagan” is referring to those who go through life without awareness of God’s presence. So Jesus is making the point that it makes sense that they are concerned about money; concerned about what they will eat or drink -- not just today, but way into the future. They are not aware of God’s presence and activity in their lives. They don’t know his love. But you, he tells them. You know God as Father; and he knows exactly what you need. The pagans are like orphans; but not so with you.
We all start out as pagans -- unaware of God’s presence; which creates in all of us a unique and interesting relationship with money. We are a product of our environments. Each and every single one of us have been formed by our own unique journey and history with money. And some of us have a lot more baggage to mine through to get to where Jesus is trying to take us.
In a book I read over the summer called the Psychology of Money, the author gives an example that speaks into this point: we wouldn’t expect someone who lived through the Great Depression and lost it all to have the same mindset (or approach to money and investing) as someone who made a killing during the 1990’s tech boom. That makes sense to us, right?! And so some of us have a scarcity mindset because we grew up with nothing. Yes, we might have come into some money over the past decade; but we’re still afraid we might lose it.
Once it was decided that we would be doing this series, I knew that I would be doing this message on worry -- because it’s so much a part of my story and faith journey; of going from worry to trust. I’ve shared in the past that I grew up in Newark, New Jersey in low income housing projects. We were on welfare; which was embarrassing to me (not sure why, because we were all on welfare). My mom paid about $95 rent for a four bedroom, two bath apartment. Which seems like a luxury for us here in San Francisco, with our tiny living spaces. But it was roach infested and we had a bullet once hit our window. So it wasn’t a desirable place to live. Most of us wouldn’t live there, even for free.
Now, I’m not telling you this for you to feel pity for me. But don’t you think that my upbringing played a significant role with how I relate to money? Absolutely. Just as your upbringing played a role -- even if it was the complete opposite of my experience. For me, just the memory of the projects, and not wanting ever to go back to that, causes me to think about money differently than you would.
Taking it a step further, let’s not overlook the significant role that our parents played with how we relate to money. Whether or not you are a great saver can be traced back to your parents. I’m not saying that if your parents were savers that would make you one automatically. Many times we take on the opposite of their approach because we were so frustrated by it. I have a good friend, who is financially savvy, well-off and capable of purchasing a home where he lives; but doesn’t want to because he saw how much his parents struggled being homeowners. Most financial advisors would say ‘that’s a big mistake.’ But it impacted him so much that he won’t do it.
Here’s the question that I want us to wrestle with today: Regardless of our upbringing or current mindset towards money, are we willing to trade it in for the mindset of Christ? Are we willing to stop doing things like the pagan world -- like those who are unaware of God’s presence -- and begin living and giving like children of God the Father? Life and generosity looks different for those who are followers of Jesus.
Does that mean that it’s easy? Not at all. If I’m being honest I still struggle with generosity. I don’t think I’m nearly as generous as I could be or as I would like to be. I’m good with the planned stuff -- everything Ben and Minnie were talking about last week, I’m good. I don’t have a problem with giving a tithe and beyond, or meeting my HOME commitment. I’ve been doing that stuff since I became a Christian at 18. (It’s much easier to start giving 10% when you’re only making $200 a week.)
But my struggle is with the unplanned opportunities. Like when my wife wants to buy a gift at the end of the school year for all of the kids’ teachers as a thank you. I’m like, Can’t we just say ‘thank you’? They don’t even like that teacher. I’m looking for any excuse. (The struggle is real!)
But hear me, I’m constantly trying to fight through that greed and temptation to hoard BECAUSE I don’t want to be controlled by money. I don’t want money telling me what to do or how I need to feel. As Jesus said elsewhere, we can only have one master: God or Money. And I personally have decided to follow Jesus, not money. Jesus gets to dictate where my money goes, not worry. And so I force myself to loosen my grip, and not be so selfish, and trust that God will provide if he’s calling me to be generous. Because listen, as Jesus said, if God takes care of the birds of the air, and he clothes the flowers of the field, how much more won’t he do it for me? How much more won’t he do it for you?
But herein lies the problem: many of us don't really believe God will come through when we need him most. So we worry. And we store up without sharing. But the interesting thing about our faith is that we will only experience God’s provision when we begin to take steps toward generosity—despite our worries. And as we see him coming through, we will find ourselves worrying less and less.
Let me also make a plug for Minnie’s budgeting workshop at this time. Do not underestimate the effectiveness of a budget. Minnie shared this with me: Planning and budgeting actually helps reduce our worry because it brings clarity on where you can and can't spend. What Minnie is going to help you see in this workshop is that you don’t have to worry about your money when you have a plan to follow.
Listen, I know that what we are talking about in this series is not easy. It goes against our very nature. And even common sense. Many years ago, when I was processing God’s call to give a tenth of my income, here’s how I understood it. I was being asked to believe that God could do more in my life with 90% than he could with 100%. And I know, it doesn’t make sense -- but most things in God’s kingdom are upside-down. But over the years all I have experienced is God’s faithfulness and provision. We have to trust that if God calls us to generosity (and he calls all his followers to this) that he will take care of us as we respond in faithfulness. That’s faith.
But worry, on the other hand, casts doubt on God’s care for us. Taking it a step further, when we worry we are actually putting ourselves in the place of God. Let me explain. Only God is omnipotent (meaning all powerful); and only God is omniscient (meaning all knowing). But worry operates in this way, with this belief: that we alone know the future, we alone know what is good for us, and we alone have the power to provide for ourselves.
But faith believes Jesus when he says that we are not orphans like the pagan world. But we have a Father in heaven who loves and cares for us. Faith holds on to what Pastor Ben has been teaching us that we don’t have to worry because we are in good hands. Faith latches on to 1 Peter 5:7 where we are told to cast all our anxiety on God because he cares for us.
I’m going to invite the band on the stage at this time because they are going to lead us in a song called Jireh. The name Jehovah Jireh means ‘the Lord will provide’. And it originates from the time when Abraham was asked by God to sacrifice what was most precious to him, which was his son. Abraham did not hesitate; not because he was heartless. But he believed that God would provide a way out. That even if he had to sacrifice his son, that God would somehow raise him back to life. And God did provide. As Abraham raised the knife to strike his son, an angel stopped him and said, Now, I know that you fear God (now I know that you trust God). And after the angel stopped him, Abraham looked up and he saw a ram caught in a thicket; which he sacrificed instead of his son.
Two things strike me about this story: Abraham was commended for his faith not simply because he believed something about God but because he acted upon what he believed. Faith without works is dead. But secondly, God’s provision only came after he took steps to sacrifice Isaac, his son -- not before. Listen, if we are waiting to be generous until we have enough, that moment may never come. I don’t know about you but it seems to me that the ‘enough line’ is always moving.
But listen, if God is Jireh to you, you are not anxious or worried. No. You are confident that he will provide for everything that you need. So let’s respond to our God; because he is Jireh -- he is enough.