It’s been a while since we did that, but in that series, we talked about the fact that there is a pattern or fabric to all of reality and it’s the wisdom that we acquire that enables us to perceive that pattern and live in harmony with it. And probably one of the most important works that I quoted was from Blaise Pascal who made this comment. And this statement that I’m going to share with you is somewhat the philosophical basis of my view of counseling men when they come to share their struggles, their problems, you know, I kind of base everything on what I’m getting ready to read to you. So, listen to Pascal’s quote.
He says, “Human beings find life to be unsatisfying and incoherent as time goes by because they have false beliefs and false ideas on matters important for living a high quality of life.” He goes on to say, “Therefore, it is critical that we gain genuine wisdom by uprooting false beliefs and replacing them with true insights and perspective. Now, false beliefs or false ideas about life and reality can be a real problem because we often are not aware that what we believe is false until we get burned by the belief.”
And a great example of this is, in the physical realm, just to kind of get an idea of what I’m talking about, took place in that plane crash that occurred a week or two ago if you think about it. The pilot, as he looked at the runway, truly believed with all of his heart, that the runway in front of him was the runway he should take off of, but unfortunately, it was like 3,000 feet and the plane needed what, five to 7,000 feet to take off. And he sincerely believed that this was the right runway. He was going to take off. And he took off down the runway and most likely didn’t realize that his belief was false until it was too late.
False beliefs can be devastating in all areas of life, but particularly in the three issues that we’ll be considering during this series. And, you know, Jesus Himself warned of this danger. And He shares it on two separate occasions, which to me indicates its vital importance to understand. He shares it in the Sermon on the Mount. Then He also shares it in a completely different setting, which we see in Luke chapter 11. Listen to Jesus’s words. He says, “The eye is the lamp of your body. When your eye is clear, your whole body also is full of light. But when it is bad, your body also is full of darkness. Then watch out that the light in you is not darkness. If therefore your whole body is full of light with no dark part in it, it will be wholly illumined as when the lamp illumines you with its rays.”
Now you probably are, as you listen to that, saying what in the world is He saying? Because for years I would encounter the same language in Matthew, and then Luke and thinking, what in the world is He talking about a couple years ago. I decided to do a little research on it because I was so intrigued by it. And in verse 35 (Luke 11:35) where it says, then watch out that the light in you is not darkness. He’s saying, make sure the light you think you have is not really darkness. And what He’s saying is the eye, you know, in the physical realm, the eye is what we see through, but He’s not talking about the physical realm, He’s talking about the spiritual realm.
And so, basically the eye is what we see life through. It’s how we perceive reality. It’s the lens through which we see life or a term that we use quite often, it’s a perspective. It’s a perspective. And furthermore, it is important to recognize, Jesus is revealing that our perspective, our perception of reality, can be rooted in falsehood. In other words, He’s saying, you can have false ideas about life and be oblivious to it. And He says, if that’s the case, your life will be full of darkness. As Pascal said, life will be incoherent. It’ll be unsatisfying. But He also says our perspective can be rooted in truth. And then when this happens, He says, our lives will be full of light, and we will have the ability to walk in wisdom.
And this is crucial to understand guys. Truth illuminates. It illuminates. That’s what Jesus says here, He uses that word. It illuminates. It allows us to live and harm with the pattern and fabric that God designed and placed into life.
So, what I will hope to do these next three weeks is not to teach you how to conduct your life, but really just to share with you some Biblical truth that hopefully will enlighten and shape your perspective. And I believe this is so crucial because our perspective ultimately is what impacts our priorities and the way we conduct our lives.
Now this morning, like I said, I’m going to start with the issue of money, material wealth, materialism, and just a couple of introductory thoughts. You may be wondering, why didn’t you title the series, “Money, Sex and Relationships”? Well, Dr. Tim Keller shared something, and I thought about this. He did a series on the seven deadly sins. And of course, one of the seven deadly sins is greed, and his wife told him, she says, I guarantee you, when you get to the study on greed, you’ll see a huge drop in attendance. And he didn’t believe her, but sure enough, the week arrived that he was going to share on greed and, and just saw this huge drop in attendance. And as he kind of asked around, what he realized was that the men that didn’t show up, didn’t show up because they didn’t feel like they had a problem with greed. That it wasn’t an issue in their life.
And so, I’ve got you here this morning and you’re here and you can’t get out and I’m going to talk about it. But it’s kind of interesting. What he was saying was like, if you gave a piece of paper to a group this size of men, and you ask this one question and you need to answer it yes or no, he said, if I ask this question, do you struggle with greed? How would most of you answer? He says, almost everybody would say, no, I don’t struggle with it. And he has a church of over 10,000 people in New York City, mostly professionals who do very well financially. And he says, I’ve had people come to me for counseling and they’ll talk about their marriages, they’ll talk about their addictions, they’ll talk about their sex problems, and they’ll give me all the lurid details, but he says, in all my years, 14 years in New York, I’ve yet to have anybody come to me and say, I struggle with greed. I struggle with materialism. I struggle with the love of money. Why is that?
Well, as I go through this, I’m going to lay this out. But I find that to be quite interesting, just our perspective on the money, the material wealth, the material things that we have. It’s important to realize that money in itself is morally neutral. You don’t see anywhere in the Bible that God or anybody identifies it as being good or evil, but what you see, and by the way, Jesus speaks about the issue of money 20 times more than He does the issue of sex, which should get our attention. What you primarily see is warnings, warning us of its dangers. One in particular, there are a number of warnings, but one particular is beware of its deceptive power in our lives. Beware of its deceptive power. It’s like, any of you saw the movie Wall Street, remember how Holbrook says money makes you do things you don’t want to do?
I’m not sure how many of you familiar with this department in the University of Michigan, but every month, they’re the ones that issue the consumer confidence survey that often impacts the stock market the day that it comes out and they do a number of sophisticated surveys on the consumer, and one of the things they did was they did a very broad survey and asked the question, what one thing, as a consumer, what one thing in life do you think you need to make your life better and improve its quality? One thing. They said, almost every response was “more money”. More money would make my life better, would enrich my life, would enrich my relationships. That’s it. And I don’t know about you, but it makes you wonder, when does, if that’s the case, when does a person get to a point where they have enough? Where there’s a contentment?
This is a really interesting story. Ron Blue, who’s an economist and a financial consultant, supported this missionary organization over in Africa and they worked with a group of people who lived in abject poverty. Blue wanted to observe this missionary work and asked this Christian missionary who was trying to reach these pagan people, you know, just to observe the work and see what he was doing, and he asked the question, what’s your greatest barrier in reaching these people with your message? Without hesitating, the missionary said, materialism. And Blue was dumbfounded because he looked around and all he could see was poverty everywhere. And he said, how could this be? And the missionary said, well, it’s really quite simple. If a man has a manure hut, he wants a mud hut. If he has a mud hut, he wants a stone hut. If his hut has a thatched roof, he wants a tin roof. If he has one cow, he wants two cows. If he has one wife, he wants two wives, and he says, on and on and on.
I think that’s a great story that shows you the natural condition of the human heart. This is why the author of the book of Ecclesiastes says, whoever loves money, never has money enough. Whoever loves wealth is never satisfied with his income.
Now I just share all this with you because this is one example of its deceptive power. And again, the problem is when we’re deceived, generally, we’re not aware of the deception until we get burnt by the belief. Guys, I think and feel very strongly that this is an important issue to look at because of something Billy Graham said. Graham said, if a person gets his attitude towards money straight, it will help straighten out almost every other area of his life. Now that’s an interesting thought. In other words, he’s saying our attitude and perspective on money impacts many other important areas of our lives. And the secular world will tell us this. Psychology Today did a survey, an extensive survey on the influence of money in our lives. And the most startling conclusion they arrived at is that those who were most preoccupied with money, not those who had the most necessarily, but those who are the most preoccupied with money are the least likely to be involved in satisfactory love relationships. And that’s not surprising. Cause we also know that money is the number one issue that causes marital conflict. So, guys, it’s important that we get our perspective right and that it be rooted in God’s truth.
So, what I want to do over the next 20 to 25 minutes is share with you four or five Biblical insights on the issue of money and material wealth. Again, I’m not going to tell you how to handle your money. I just want to give you some insights to hopefully maybe shape your perspective.
Now I think most of you are aware of the fact that I teach these Investigative Studies and it’s interesting, just to digress for a second, I’ve taught usually one-on-one or one-on-two, but it’s always interesting why, men come to me for this. A lot of times men want to meet because they’re not sure they’re going to Heaven and it troubles them. And if anybody in the audience feels that way, I would encourage you to go through The Investigative Study because Christianity is the only religion in the world that has what’s called assurance of salvation because every other one is your good has to outweigh your bad. Now there’s one exception and that would be Islam, the Muslim religion, because there is one way to assure your salvation there. It’s to blow yourself up or to martyr yourself for the cause of the faith.
I have other men come because Christianity is more of a concept and not a reality. But then there’s so many that come just, they’re trying to find their faith and as they struggle with it, one of the things that seems to always come up, if I become a Christian, what is God going to require me to do with my financial resources. Always seems to come up. And what I see is this fear of Christ’s words to the rich young ruler who said to Jesus, I followed the law, I’ve done everything. And Jesus says, well, I’ve got one thing else you need to do. You need to sell everything you have and give it to the poor and come follow Me.
And I think when everybody reads that, they have this great fear. That’s what God is going to ask me to do with my life. Now I share, I share that with you because I want to kind of set the record straight. Dallas Willard, who I quote quite often, very Godly, wise, intelligent man, says this “In order to qualify as the voice of God, a thought, perception, or other experience must conform to the principles, the fundamental truths of Scripture. It is the principles, not the incidentals of Scripture that count here. Study of the Scripture makes clear that certain things are fundamental, absolute, without exception. They show up with stunning clarity as we become familiar with the overall content of Scripture. In I Corinthians 11, for example, we find women being advised not to have short hair and men being informed that on them long hair is shameful, but such things are clearly incidental. On more serious matters, in Mark 10, Jesus tells the truly fine young man who’d come to Him that he must sell all he has and give the proceeds to the poor. This too, contrary to what many have thought, is incidental to people generally, for Jesus did not ask this of everyone he met. In the particular case of this young man, of course, Jesus’s directive went right to the heart of his special problem with wealth but is not a principle to which all must conform. Why? Because it is not a teaching emerging from the whole of Scripture, and it should not, without further consideration and guidance, be taken as God’s Word to you or anyone else.”
I mean, think about it. He’s in the home of Zacchaeus. Zacchaeus was a wealthy tax gatherer, and the real issue in Zacchaeus’ life was the fact that he was dishonest, because he says, when Jesus is leaving, he says, I’m going to give half of my wealth away and to anyone I’ve defrauded, I’m going to give him four times what I’ve defrauded him. And Jesus says, salvation has come to this house tonight, but notice He doesn’t say Zacchaeus, you’re holding out on Me. What about the other 50%? You don’t see Him do that. When Nicodemus comes to Him, again, a wealthy Pharisee, Jesus doesn’t even bring up the issue. He homes in on the spiritual condition of his heart and says, you must be born again, Nicodemus. He runs into the encounter with the Samaritan woman at the well. Doesn’t even mention money to her. He focuses in on her relational problems, her sexual problems. She’d been married five times and was currently living with a man. Jesus seems to always laser in on the issues that impacted people’s spiritual lives and their relationship with Him. And so, the question this morning is, if He sat before us, what would He home in on in our lives? What are the issues in our lives that keep us from a deeper relationship with Him?
Now, a second thought I want to just share, but this, I think is important, there are many people in the world who believe that wealth creation is one of the great evils of life and it’s the reason so many people are poor. But every resource that I read said wealth creation is well thought of in the Bible. In fact, I thought Tim Keller made an excellent point when he said, “In Genesis, you see the garden, and you see Adam and Eve are gardeners and they’re instructed by God to make the garden productive.” You know, they’re not asked to be park rangers just to watch over it. And throughout the New Testament, you see Jesus give us the different parables. Most specifically, I can think of the parable of the talents and the owner goes on a journey and he trusts his wealth to his slaves. And he doesn’t ask them to be like a Brink’s security guard to protect it and watch over it. In fact, he curses the one slave who, in fact, does that. He expects them to be productive. So clearly guys, the Biblical mandate is for us to take undeveloped resources and make them productive. That’s God’s mandate to the world.
Now, I would contend that the greatest danger, the greatest danger money and wealth has in a person’s life, listen to this clearly, is its ability to corrupt us, and we’re not aware of it. Think about that. Its ability to corrupt us and us not be aware of it. See, I contend, we are generally oblivious to how money affects us. It has a power over us, and a big part of that power is its ability to blind us. In other words, its ability to make us oblivious to its corrupting power.
There’s a great verse in Luke 12:15, where Jesus says beware and be on your guard against every form of greed, for not even when one has an abundance does his life consist of his possessions. By the way, it’s kind of interesting, you know, because this is pertinent to the topic, I did a word study looking up all the times in the Bible you see the word “beware”, you know, it consistently kind of crops up. And it’s interesting that the number one issue that we’re told to be aware of is false teaching. Isn’t that interesting? Just the danger again of having false beliefs, but here He says, beware and be on your guard against every type of greed. Notice, nowhere do you see Jesus say, watch out for all types of adultery, or all types of stealing, or all types of cheating, and it’s not because these are less serious in the sight of God. It’s just because we’re not blind to these. If you commit adultery, you know it. If you steal from your employer, you know. It may not bother you, but you know you’ve done it.
And I think why Jesus is warning us here is because He says we have a problem detecting the greed in our hearts. It’s just like pride. I think pride and greed are the two most deadly issues we have to deal with because they exist in our lives, and we can’t see it. We can see it in other people’s lives. We just can’t see it in our own. And that’s probably the main reason we’re blind to our love of money is because there’s always somebody out there who has more than we do. There’s always somebody out there that has a bigger house, has nicer cars, who spends more lavishly than we do. So, I can always find somebody to point the finger at and say, he’s got the problem. I don’t.
Tim Keller says this, very serious. He says, “If this is true, that greed is rampant, but no one sees it as true in his life, therefore, I propose that if you take the text of the Bible seriously, anybody listening to this sermon, you should make it your working hypothesis that it’s also true of you to some degree.”
And this is, I think guys, what I’m sharing with you this morning is a crucial first step if our perspective is going to be transformed. You know, I use the illustration all the time, but I think it’s a good one, of Ebenezer Scrooge. He was the miserable, miserly, greediest man in this community. And he didn’t even see it. He thought he was a generous man. He gave, he lent people money, at exorbitant interest rates, but he lent people money. He gave Bob Cratchit every Christmas off and paid him. He just thought he was so good. And then of course, he goes through that series of events, the ghost of Christmas past, the ghost of Christmas present, the ghost of Christmas future, and you know what, for the first time he sees himself the way he really is. And he wakes up on Christmas morning and he says, I will no longer be the man that I have been.
One of the best applications I can give you on this, and I think it’s important, is something I get from Matthew 7:3-5, where Jesus says, why is it that you are always pointing out the speck in your brother’s eye, but you don’t see the log that’s in your own. And so, a great prayer to pray is Lord, show me the logs in my life. Show me what is true of my life regarding money and material wealth. Show me what is true of my heart. And as I’ve often shared, He’s very faithful to do that, but that’s a good thing because it humbles us, it gives us a contriteness and it strips us any self-righteousness we have.
Now I want to take, really quickly, a brief look at a wealthy man in the Bible who I believe we can learn a lot from, because in my mind he had the ideal perspective on wealth. And it was King David, right at the end of his life. Right at the end of his life. And this was at a time when Israel was at its zenith militarily, as far as their wealth goes, spiritually, morally, and this was right, I’m going to read from I Chronicles 29, at the end of the chapter, he dies. So, it’s right before he dies, and he’s gathered all the people.
Listen to this. “So, David blessed the Lord in the sight of all the assembly. And David said, blessed are You, oh Lord God of Israel, our Father forever and ever. Yours, oh, Lord is the greatness and the power and the glory, the victory and the majesty indeed, everything that is in the Heavens and on earth, yours is the dominion, oh Lord. And You exalt Yourself as head overall. Both riches and honor come from You, and You rule over all and in Your hand is power and might and it lies in Your hand to make great and to strengthen everyone. Now, therefore, our God, we thank You. And we praise Your glorious name.” And then down in verse 16, he says, “all that we have comes from Your hand and all of it is Yours.”
Now, David is saying that all that we have is a gift of God. He says, Lord, it comes from You and Your hand. Do we see it that way? Or do we see it as this is something I did for me? I did it myself. God had nothing to do with it. Let me ask you, listen, I won’t point anybody particularly, but you know, we have a number of, I think, prosperous men in this room, but just take an individual who lives the American dream. He grows up, gets a good education, starts a business, is very innovative, works hard, creates this huge company, becomes very wealthy. Let me ask you to think about this. First of all, he has been given good health. He couldn’t do it without good health. It’s a gift of God. He was given, obviously, talent and ability. The gift of God. Obviously, there are opportunities that come along, and the circumstances and the time, I mean, imagine trying to start a new business back in 1930, when the Great Depression was starting. I mean, here we are at a time where we have, we’ve had years of prosperity, a few recessions, but basically a great economy. I mean, think about this.
Think about this guy who had been born in Bolivia a hundred years ago. Do you think he might have done as well as, I’ve just described? And it’s interesting in Acts 17, we’re told God gives to all people life and He determines our appointed time in history and the boundaries of where we live. Verse 26, Acts 17 (Acts 17:26). All that we have, as David says, I think he’s right, comes from the hand of God.
And so, there are two responses we can have. One, as he does in verse 13, we therefore, our God, we thank You and we praise Your glorious name. David is humbled by God’s goodness, and he is very grateful, and that should be our attitude every day of our lives. We should be on our knees, thanking Him for His goodness to us and all that He’s blessed us with, because, if not, there’s a second response and it’s the natural human response. And the natural human response is, if we don’t give thanks to God, in Deuteronomy 8:17, it says, otherwise, you will say in your heart, my power and the strength of my hand made me this wealth. And you’ll say in your heart, I don’t need God. I just don’t need Him.
But it’s significant to look at a second thing David said. Not only was he humbled, not only was he grateful for God’s goodness and God’s blessing, but he says, Lord, everything really is Yours. Everything really is Yours. In Psalm 50:12, God says the world is Mine and all it contains, and He can give it to whoever He wants. Do we really believe that? We should believe it. In one degree, you know it’s really not yours because the day you die, you lose everything. So, in one sense, it’s yours temporarily.
And this is where we get the idea of stewardship. And I’m sure you’re all familiar with that word stewardship, or you hear it a lot. We’re coming up upon that time of year where churches have stewardship week or stewardship month or whatever. The idea of stewardship comes from this idea that God owns everything and entrusts is resources to us and we’re told to be productive with those resources and manage them well. In one sense, we’re like money managers. Think about it. We’re like money managers, but this is the big question. Are we managing the money we’ve been entrusted with in a way that is in line with the purposes of the owner? I’m going to ask that again. As are we managing the money we have been entrusted with in a way that is in with the purposes of the owner?
I mean, let’s assume that I go to a money manager, a stockbroker, or whatever, and I just say, I’m going to give you this money. It’s been in a retirement account over here, but I’m going to give it to you. You manage it. Now, you need to know that this is for my retirement. I’ve got a 20-year time horizon. I want it invested conservatively and maybe in conservative stocks and bonds, that’s what I desire, but I’m going to let you make the actual decisions and choices and you manage it for the next 20 years. Now, if that money manager or broker just completely disregarded everything I asked him and went and invested it in high-flying tech stocks, in puts, or calls, or whatever, you know, in business today, that would be fraud. And as we sit here today, we realize that would be fraudulent, but do we ever stop and wonder what are the values of the owner of God as I’m managing these resources that He’s entrusted to me? Well, let me just say this very clearly. This is God’s number one value: human beings and the human community.
And therefore, I believe it is His desire that we plow as much as we can into the lives of human beings, into the community, but particularly with a focus on people who are in need materially and spiritually.
And one final point I want to make before I move to my final principle. Jesus, on several occasions, this is huge, on several occasion, uses different parables to communicate the idea of stewardship, like the parable of the talents. And in every parable, in every case, no exceptions, the owner always comes back, and the steward has to give an account of how faithful and responsible he was. Whenever there’s stewardship, there’s always accountability.
Now, one final principle I want to share with you and then I’m going to wrap this up. In Proverbs 11:24, and in II Corinthians 9:10, and a host of other Scripture, it’s this idea of called the scattering principle, this idea of scattering seed. And the word scatter, of course, is taken from agriculture, you know, where you scatter seeds and the more you scatter, the more you gather, the more you sow, the more you reap. But if you hold onto the seed, there’s no crop.
But when you scatter it, the seed, it comes back in a better form, because if you think about it, the seed itself can’t be eaten. And the scattering principle is saying to us that we are blind to the purposes of money unless we see it as seed. And the best way you turn your wealth into true riches is to be generous and seek to give away as much as you can.
Because as we think about holding onto our seed, I’m going to hold onto it all of my life until the day I die, I’m reminded of a verse in Proverbs and every time I read it, it gives me the chills. It’s Proverbs 11:4, and it says, “Riches do not profit in the day of wrath.” In I Timothy 6, we’re told, be generous and ready to share, storing up for yourselves the treasure of a good foundation for the future. Now what strikes me is throughout Scripture, there seems to be an underlying teaching, always regarding our perspective on time, and that our perspective on time ultimately impacts what we treasure in this life. I mean, think about it. If all this earthly life is, if that’s all there is to life, this earthly life, and then that’s it and I die and I’m food for the worms, then naturally I’m going to treasure the earthly possessions of this life because that’s really all that matters. And I’ll rage against death because death takes away from us all the fruits of our labor. That was what the author of Ecclesiastes said, that was the biggest problem he had with working all of his life and working hard, laboring hard, having all this fruit of his labor stored up. And he says, and then you have to die, and you have to leave it to somebody else and he says, and you don’t know if he will be a wise man or fool, and yet he will control all the fruit of my labor.
The other perspective on time is this. Life and you seeing life in light of eternity. In other words, my life on earth is a short journey to the celestial city and that I am a temporary steward to all the resources that have been entrusted to me. If that’s my view, it will impact my perspective on material wealth. It’ll make me realize I am just a steward. And if that’s my perspective, if that’s my understanding of this earthly life, then it will impact what I treasure most in this life.
Ron Blue was correct when he said, “The longer term my perspective, the better the choices that I’ll make today.”
And I guess you could add this. The longer term my perspective, the better the choices I’ll make with the managing of the money that’s been entrusted to me today.
I’ll leave you with one final thought. This is from Bob Buford. Several years ago, Buford sold his company for something like $60 million. And his only son unfortunately died. So, he has no heirs, and his goal is, he and his wife, is they want to give away all their money over the course of their lifetime. But he shares about something that had a major impact on his life and it impacted his view of all that had been entrusted to him.
He said, “A turning point in my own life was a conversation I had 20 years ago with Michael Kami, one of the country’s top strategic planners, who was not a Christian, not a religious man at all. He was just a strategic planner. I made an appointment with Mike to explore my own future plans. I wanted to get his professional advice about some of the options I was examining. During the course of the conversation,” and this was before he had sold his business, “during the course of the conversation, Mike asked me to describe my basic interests and motivations. So, I began telling him about all the things that interested me, but suddenly Mike stopped me in mid-sentence and asked a question that changed my life. He said, what’s in the box? The question took me by surprise. In fact, I didn’t get it at first. In the box? What does that mean? So, I asked, what do you mean by that Mike? What’s central to your life at this point? Mike said, If there were only room for one thing in life, what would it be? He took a pencil and sketched out a small square on a sheet of paper and said, from what you’re telling me, Bob, there are two things at the top of your list of priorities, your religious faith and your business. Mike indicated that the shorthand for that was either a dollar sign or a cross. And he pointed at the box and said, before I can help you decide how to focus your interests, you have to decide what’s in the box. Would it be the dollar sign or the cross? And suddenly I knew I had a choice to make. Now and then, in the midst of life’s complexities, we come to a point where the options are limited and very clear. This was one of those moments. What would it be for me? More money, more success, or more energy transferred to the calling I sensed so strongly. I considered those two options for a minute or so, which seemed like an eternity. Then I said, well, if you put it that way, it’s the cross. And then I reached over to pencil across, into Mike’s box. That one decision helped to frame everything I’ve done since that day. It wasn’t that the small cross indicated that the work I felt called to do to serve God was my only loyalty in life. There was also family, customers, employees, recreation, and the like, but that little cross had designated the primary loyalty for my life between then and now.”
You know, that’s a great question. What’s in the box? And I am convinced of this. Once we get the answer to that question right, all other areas in our lives will fall into place. But we’ve got to get that one question right. What’s in the box? What is our primary loyalty and life? When God designed us, He designed us so that He would have first place in our lives and then everything else would fall into place accordingly. Let me close in prayer.