Monday, April 7, 2008

The Challenge of Affluence


Yesterday I preached on Hosea 10:1-2


Hosea 10:1 Israel is a luxuriant vine that yields its fruit. The more his fruit increased, the more altars he built; as his country improved, he improved his pillars. 2 Their heart is false; now they must bear their guilt. The Lord will break down their altars and destroy their pillars.

The passage speaks of Israel's relationship to the affluence God granted them. Instead of using their wealth for the glory of God, they built altars to false gods. Instead of seeing affluence as something to be managed and shared, they turned their energies toward building false places of worship- a direct insult to the Lord of all things- including money and material things. The main proposition of my sermon was concerning how wealth (affluence) has always been a challenge for the Church in every age.

Our church is in an affluent suburb of Kansas City. I think it would be utter dereliction of pastoral duty to not speak concerning the manifold Scriptural warnings concerning the peril of affluence. Certainly there is nothing sinful about affluence, in fact, it creates a great opportunity for the advancement of God's glory, however various forms of idolatry lurk with a misguided view of wealth/possessions. Brian Griffiths, who is an advocate of wealth-creation (and the right use of the same) recognizes the perils of wealth-


“The mere fact of owning wealth tends to produce a spirit of arrogance and self-reliance. Success tends to breed a philos­ophy of possessiveness: things become mine, my money, my property, my company, my work force. Wealth gives people a false sense of security; it deadens the life of the spirit; it makes people unresponsive to the good news of the gospel.”


Griffiths echoes the important, Holy-Spirit directed words of Moses to the Church on the brink of great wealth when he warns in Deuteronomy 8-

Deut. 8:17 Beware lest you say in your heart, ‘My power and the might of my hand have gotten me this wealth.’ 18 You shall remember the Lord your God, for it is he who gives you power to get wealth, that he may confirm his covenant that he swore to your fathers, as it is this day. 19 And if you forget the Lord your God and go after other gods and serve them and worship them, I solemnly warn you today that you shall surely perish. 20 Like the nations that the Lord makes to perish before you, so shall you perish, because you would not obey the voice of the Lord your God.


As you may know, the bible has something like 2,350 verses that concern money or wealth. I am so appreciative of the ten-week Crown Ministries study I took over three years ago. I am not aware of a better discipleship plan for this important area of life. Crown biblically displays how we handle our affluence influences our relationship with the Lord, possessions compete for first place with the Lord in our lives and so much of life revolves around the use of money.


The full sermon will be online at our church website by tomorrow. I am guessing more than a few people were tweaked by the sermon, some are probably mad. I can relate to such reactions as the whole subject convicts me every time I consider it. I won't kid you, preaching on the subject makes me nervous, probably because of my own conviction in this area. I did receive a very encouraging email from a brother in the church, I'll share it here, changing the names.


Pastor,


I want to thank you again for the sermon this morning. I am grateful for your faithfulness to God's Word. Thank you also for the application! It was good to hear the statistics you shared. I was challenged, Jane and I just finished a good conversation about money, stewardship, trusting God, etc. The Holy Spirit has been working these same things in my heart and I rejoice to hear it from the Bible.


Long and many have been the trials in my life over money and possessions vs. the affections of my heart! I can't count the times that I have been blessed by God, only to turn around and build altars to other gods. Many times the Lord has had to chasten me and let me reap the rewards of my own sin. I grieve over the lost time and opportunities and how I dishonored Him! I wish I could say that I never struggle with this anymore, but God in His loving & patient way keeps bringing me along like His little child.


I doubt that all who heard you today feel the way I do. However, I don't think one person left today without feeling something! I am sure many are angry, many are sad, many are probably discouraged. Pastor, I know you love your flock are care about them. I know you feel their hurts also. Please don't let the strong emotions & hurt feeling of those you care about discourage you or doubt your words - THEY WERE SENT FROM HIM! Redeemer Presbyterian Church needed to hear that today. Thank you for not fearing men. Thank you for lifting up Christ. I am blessed to have my family under your ministry. I want my children to hear the Bible! I am eager to see God use this in the life of our church, regardless if it increases giving or not. He will build His church! Just like Bob Lemon said many years ago about George Steinbrenner - "I am happy just to be along for the ride."


For His Glory, Richard

9 comments:

Frontier Forest said...

I have heard many challenging and stirring sermons on stewardship, giving and tithing, but never before have I been so personally confronted by my own self-erected alters of idolatrous values. This message was a first for me! Cheri and I will seriously examine our own opportunities of spiritual affluence.
Pastor Tony, following your thoughts, before and after taking the Crown course, I too tried to rationalize my way out of this eternally valuable, 10 week investment. My limited concept of giving and failure to understand, “God owns it ALL” went this direction, “Why do I need to take Crown? After all, we have been tithing for years!”
One thing for sure, that generous individual who silently gave unto the Lord, through Redeemer understands God’s principles of “life style-giving!”
I would to the Lord that every believer, serious about the Lord, would take the Crown course. In every area of life, contagious, life-style giving is indeed as joyous and hilarious experience that results. Their may be living before Crown, but there is indeed, life more abundant than ever before possible after Crown.

inthylight said...

Hey Rev.,

This younger brother (with all of my Johnson County-ness still coming out my ears) is glad to hear you are courageously swinging the sword, even where it hurts. We need more of the wounds that heal (Hos. 6:1).

Along the same lines, I thought you would appreciate Rutherford's echo from the past: On the Perils of Rank and Prosperity.

grace and peace, LO

Seawolf Parkway said...

So Peter Popoff isn't right?

Reepicheep said...

I had to look up Peter Popoff...

No, he's definitely not right.

Phantom495 said...

Tony, this ties in beautifully with your Sunday evening teaching. God is Sovereign! No matter what control we try to exert over our own lives, our finances, or anything for that matter, GOD still owns everything, and He allows us to use it for His Glory! Amen, Praise God! What more can we say! The fact that God is Sovereign gives me so much comfort and so much freedom! Thanks for preaching what God has called you to, His Word!

Rick Calohan said...

Tony,

Your sermon on Sunday like on any given Sunday was the Gospel, it was properly preached and it was properly sound, and if any of us were offended, it was because we were convicted.

We could easily be the Pharisee as it is written:

Luke 18: 9 He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and treated others with contempt: 10 “Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. 11 The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed thus: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. 12 I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.’ 13 But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’ 14 I tell you, this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.”

Or we can be the Widow as it is written:

Mark 12: 41 And he sat down opposite the treasury and watched the people putting money into the offering box. Many rich people put in large sums. 42 And a poor widow came and put in two small copper coins, which make a penny. 43 And he called his disciples to him and said to them, “Truly, I say to you, this poor widow has put in more than all those who are contributing to the offering box. 44 For they all contributed out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had, all she had to live on.”
But Lord our God commanded us in Malachi 3:10 “Bring ye all the tithes into the storehouse, that there may be meat in mine house, and prove me now herewith, saith the Lord of hosts, if I will not open you the windows of heaven, and pour you out a blessing, that there shall not be room enough to receive it.”


You mention 10% as a good start since that is what a Tithe is define in the Bible. Everything above that is viewed as offerings and gifts.

I am reminded of Dr. Kennedy’s sermons on Tithing and like your sermon a key question should be asked, did you pass the tithing test or did you rob God today?

Here are the five principles of stewardship that Dr. Kennedy indicated:

• The earth is the Lord's.

• God wants us before ours.

• We are to bring the first fruits of all that we receive.

• They are defined in the test of the tithe,

• If we pass the test, there are great blessings in store for us.

Two classic sermon texts by Dr. Kennedy can be found here for those who still wonder if they are the Pharisee or the Widow.

THE DEVOTED THING

http://www.coralridge.org/nem/NEMrelatedmessage.asp?dt=0414

and

ENDING FINANCIAL WORRIES

http://www.coralridge.org/nem/NEMrelatedmessage.asp?dt=0415



I recommend both for those who still believe they cannot afford to tithe or still have questions as to how much they should give.

Reepicheep said...

I generally don't approve Anonymous posts, so I initially rejected this post, but thinking about it, I thought answering the questions might be helpful to some

Do we have a responsibility to our own finances, homes and families first? Or to our churches first?

I suggest taking Crown as it answers this question thoroughly, but briefly I would say our responsibility with the money God has entrusted to us should be used to support home/family and Church, not one or the other. The tithe is a helpful starting point that assists us in ordering other aspects of our finances. If we are unable to tithe, something is out of kilter in our family spending, etc. Again though, this question demands more thorough treatment, Crown does just that.

What if the church makes bad financial decisions and gets into trouble, is it our responsibility to bail them out?

That's hard question, to be honest. I suppose it would depend on the confession and repentance of the leadership who made the decisions that led to the "trouble". Churches, like the individuals who make it up, make financial mistakes. Alot would depend on the demeanor of the leadership and their endeavor to do differently in the future. Tough hypothetical question. honest.


Should churches follow the Crown Financial principles?

Yes, generally I would say so. I know Crown is opposed to debt for the work of God's ministry, but in other places, as it relates to building facilities, they hedge by noting if the value of the mortgaged property is higher than the money being borrowed AND it won't impinge upon the ongoing mission/ministry of the church, then it may be permissable to borrow for such equity enhancements. Frankly, that was our take on our current sanctuary. Our property value is currently over $10 million (conservatively), we owe $3 million. We are working toward paying that off inside of 5 years and it isn't hindering the ministry. Finally, we won't be building a sanctuary again, so this was a one time decision. All this to say, generally yes, a church should follow Crown principles.

Should churches get overextended on their finances or build buildings they cannot afford and then expect the members to bail them out?

No, Churches and Individuals shouldn't "overextend".


Should churches live in extravagance or should they be content with what they have?

Depends what one means by "extravagance". They should be good stewards of what they have and make necessary enhancements to minister in the context they are called to minister in. I would have to know particular case to make a judgment, that's assuming my opinion matters in such cases outside my own context.


Who do churches pay tithe to? Do they have to?

No, Churches don't "tithe". All the funds a church takes in should be used for God's work. That can mean upkeeping facilities, paying ministry staff, day to day operations, ministry maintenance and development, missions local and abroad, mercy ministry/relief of the poor.

Qayaq said...

I listened to the now infamous sermon and frankly I don't see what the problem was. I am assuming that you were saying that to them who have been given much, much is to be expected. JOCO and especially that part of JOCO is VERY affluent, (I think the average income where I live is $20,000 per year, and that has come up!) and so are expected to give more financially.

The people of Redeemer are affluent so they are expected to give more to support the kingdom of God. God has blessed some to be able to support ministry efforts and still live better than most.

Most churches with 350 members do not take in 3/4 of a million dollars a year nor do they have a $5,000,000 sanctuary, God has definitely blessed Redeemer with affluence and so in that way I guess you are saying more is expected of them.

Does the 10% come from gross or net? If gross, lets say a family makes $100,000 annually that would be $1,000 a month, if net considerably less. $1,000 a month is pretty steep for some. Maybe paying tithe would force a family to get there finances in order.

Reepicheep said...

Erick,
I probably overplayed how "infamous" the sermon was or would be, there really hasn't been a backlash or something like it.

I think you interpreted right- to whom much is given, much is expected, and we need to be faithful in that way.

I would say the tithe should come from our gross income (not just because I'm a pastor!). Most people get paid X amount, then, based on that figure, Caesar takes his, pre-tax deductions might happen, and also our tithe should be taken. That's my take anyways.