Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Is Luke 12:15 really about money?

Thank you sworley, for your comment concerning Luke 12:15. Many people believe, as you put it, “money is the vehicle.” Yes, money is the vehicle, so to speak, of the teaching but money is not the teaching. The passage is not about the man’s finance or money. The man in the parable is already rich. (Luke 12:16) If being rich was the issue, much should be said on his current state of prosperity. However scripture makes no issue over his
stated prosperity, the term rich or being financially rich is not the issue. The issue is the relationship between the fool and his riches.

The fool began to trust in his ability (self-worship) and forgot God’s provisions. He repeatedly makes reference to his crops, his grains and his barns. The problem is not money—it’s about worship. The rich fool began to worship the idol of self and not give praise to God for who
He is—provider and sustainer of life. God’s response to the fool’s idolatry of self was to require his life—He just stopped providing it. The text does not indicate the reason behind the fool’s death other than to advise:

This is how it will be with anyone who stores up things for himself but is not rich towards God.”[1]

God turned the rich fool over to his god—self. If the rich fool believed in his ability to provide for all his needs, let him provide his own life. This returns us to verse 15 stating that life does not come from possessions. Life comes from God. Just because we make a lot of money and have nice things does not mean we are self-sustaining life givers. We are merely the creation of God
for His glory. God willingly provide life and blessing to all men.
Many well intentioned pastors and Christian financial consultants use this verse and passage as a pull-quote because it contains the words greed, possessions, rich and the phrases, “rich towards God”, and “abundance of possessions.” All of which sound like financial terms and issues, owever the point is not about riches or money directly. If being rich was an issue in scripture, why is Job so highly regarded by God? Abraham, Jacob, Joseph all retained high levels of wealth along with most of their descendants. Money is not the issue with the individual in this parable—idolatry is the issue; his created purpose is toworship and glorify God, not self.
Financial greed or stockpiling goods for the purpose of financial prosperity is not the issue being confronted. Relationship and worship of God is the spiritual matter being addressed in this parable. Just because scripture contains parables using money or possessions does not mean the verse is about money or possessions specifically, most likely it contains a different meaning
altogether. The use of parables in scripture is to use terms and topics familiar to the audience—and what is a more familiar topic than money.

This concept of understanding the meaning of parables is applied every time Jesus used crops as an illustration. Every Christian understands Jesus is not talking about farming when He uses crops in a parable. As with any parable, the direct concepts being taught, whether money or farming are good sound pragmatic views, nonetheless are not the focus of the parable or teaching. Much like a word picture or story to illustrate a point, there is an underlying point being made.

The parable of the wheat and tares, in Matthew 13:25, quickly comes to mind. Although the introduction of the parable is marked with the comparison to the Kingdom of God in verse 24, the reader understands the story is about more than just proper agriculture techniques. Jesus is talking about the kingdom. Always remember:

Parables use real world illustrations to address spiritual matters.

The rich fool’s problem was not that he wanted to store all his grain in new barns or that he wanted to achieve further financial gain from the crop. Remember he was already rich. He replaced God with himself—idolatry.

Another indication Jesus was not addressing a specific issue of money in this parable
is revealed in His transition from the singular to the plural when addressing the statement in Luke 12:13:

“…Teacher, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me.”

Jesus’ response to the statement transitions from a singular “you” in verse 14 to a plural “you” in
verse 15. This shift signifies a transition from the specific statement to address everyone in the crowd—this became a teachable moment. Jesus used a parable related to the statement to address the underlying spiritual issue of idolatry.

God desires our uncontested love for Him through worship and honor. Our created purpose is to praise God—just as God intended Adam to worship Him and keep his commandments. Adam’s relationship to God was not one of servant; Adams relationship to God was one of love and honor through personal relationship. Adam’s relationship with God is the same personal relationship offered to man today through Jesus Christ.

[1] This statement has a direct association to storing grain for the tithe as stated in Malachi 3.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Giving or Tithe?

There are still a good majority of believers who use the term tithe to reference the portion of income given to the God through the church. Is tithe an Old Testament term? Should churches use giving in place of tithe? Regardless of the term used, make sure the congregation understands the definition of the term.


I notice in traditional churches, the term tithe is most often used to define the portion of income given to God through the church. This term can have a negative effect on giving. Here is why, the term tithe indicates a minimum necessary in giving. Quite often, many individuals do not give more then the tithe (ten percent); they have given what is required. This is not the case overall—but it does happen.


Many non-traditional churches utilize giving to indicate the portion of income given to God through the church. Tithe is not often used but the principle of tithe is taught without focusing on the term. The term giving allows individuals to incorporate all they do for the church into one term. “I give to the church through helping in Sunday school.” The use of giving rather than tithe, can limit financial support; many individuals believe their giving includes service and not just a reference to finance.        


My experience with either term is about the same. The terms used are not as important as the definition of the terms. Pastors and church leadership most clearly communicate the definition of terms. One caveat, avoid the use of stewardship when discussing monetary giving. The term is too broad and inappropriately used when discussing the topic of money.     

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Friday, May 15, 2009

3 steps to increase giving

Statistically 20% of the congregation contributes 80% of the operational funds for the church. So with that, the other 80% of the congregation only contributes 20% to the overall budget of the church. Keep in mind, this is a statistical market generalization of churches nation wide. I have done a limited review of this information with the churches I work with and find the numbers to fluctuate between 25/75 and 10/90. So this seems to be a good estimate of the national climate. 


The question remains, for many pastors, “how can I increase the giving in my church?” Quite often, many pastors spend hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars on books, CDs, DVD series for Sunday school and Discipleship training to no avail. Some pastor go to the extent of having a guest speaking address the church or hold financial consulting seminars to stimulate giving in the church.


There are 3 easy steps to stimulate giving in a church.


Step 1: Address the issue outside of the pulpit


Don’t use the pulpit as a platform to address the financial faithfulness of a congregation. Churches have gone through this type of battering for decades and turn a deaf ear to this type of confrontation. Talk directly to the church: letters, emails or during a business meeting—any forum other than the pulpit.


Step 2: Be honest about the topic


Do not use Bible verses or address the congregation’s faithfulness to the church or God. This is a matter of financial imbalance. The issue is not about faith or love for God. Make the topic business not biblical.


Step 3: Challenge those who feel they cannot afford to give


Challenge those who do not tithe to bring one dollar for offering each week. What is the reason for one dollar? If there are 50 or more people in the church not giving any money toward offering, this will increase church income by 50 dollars a week or 200 a month—think of what the church could do with 200 dollars more a month.


The key to this challenge is to have those individuals ask, “Did I miss that dollar this week?” If the individual cannot pinpoint a specific occasion where that dollar would have made a difference in there life during that past week, you demonstrate that they can afford to give some portion of income to the offering every week. If those individuals are successful, increase the challenge by a dollar every week until they reach a threshold of giving. When they reach that threshold, ask them to look back over their period of giving and have them give or write a testimony to be used in a special service to praise an honor God for His faithfulness.


Always remember people want to give but do not always see the opportunities to follow through with those intentions. As pastor, our job is to meet people where they are and equip them in the faith. Our responsibility is to love and equip the person. The Holy Spirit will convict and convert the Heart.  

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Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Stewardship and Capital Campaigns

Stewardship is Worship; Capital Campaign is finance—Pastors make the distinction clear. When I am engaged with a church for a Capital Campaign, I always indicate the issue is money. I try not to use stewardship in the discussion of a capital campaign; like it or not congregations associate stewardship with money, and too often stewardship is used to disguise the truth of a capital campaign. No matter how pastors spin the title or address the topic, it sounds of money.


The reason most congregations wince when they hear, “next months sermon series is on stewardship” from the pastor, is because they know it’s code for, “next months sermon series is on how you can give more to the church.”—like it or not that’s what they hear. So why do pastors still use the term “stewardship” to preface finance? A simple answer, the difference between stewardship and finance has not been established.


When I speak to a church concerning a capital campaign I talk about money and when I address the same church about stewardship I talk about worship. Within a few months the church no longer associates stewardship with money. The congregation begins to associates the term stewardship with worship. When the congregation associates term stewardship with worship, the whole dynamic of the topic changes.


The dynamic of stewardship changes because the topic is no longer associated directly with tithe and offerings. Yes, a small part (a very small part) of stewardship does deal with finance. However, finance is not the focusas has been the case for so many years. Stewardship as, “tithes and offerings are down” or “we need to fund a new ministry” is ingrained in the psyche of congregations. Pastors, make a clear distinction between Stewardship and Capital Campaign—Stewardship is Worship; Capital Campaign is finance. Your congregations will thank you for it. 

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Monday, May 11, 2009

How many Bible verses are about money?

Many individuals, in the realm of Christian finance and capital stewardship, pass about 2,000 plus (some as exact as 2,350) verses in the Bible concerning finances. How many of those individuals have actually investigated those numbers? Most of these individuals have forgotten more about biblical finance than I currently know, however many overlook the biblical context of those verses. Many verses Christian financial councilors pull quote (quote a Bible verse to add biblical support) are out of context.  One such pull quote is Luke 12:15: 

"Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; a man's life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions."   


The parable immediately following this verse contains the story known to many as, The Rich fool. Along with Luke 12:15, throughout this parable many pull quotes reside. How ever, the passage is not about finance or money. The man in the parable is already rich (Luke 12:16). The issue is the relationship between the fool and his riches. The fool began to trust in his ability (self worship) and forget God’s provisions for him. The problem is not money—it’s about worship.


The rich fool began to worship the idol of self and not give praise to God for who He is as provider and sustainer. God’s response to the fool’s idolatry of self was to require his life. The text does not indicate the reason behind the fool’s death other than to advice:


 “This is how it will be with anyone who stores up things for himself but is not rich towards God.”    


Stewardship in finance is not the issue being addressed. Relationship and worship of God is the spiritual matter being addressed in this parable.


What does this have to do with how many verses in the Bible address money? Simply this, just because Scripture contains illustrations using money, the purpose may have nothing to do with money, per says, but may have a different meaning all together. All ways remember: parables use real world illustrations to address spiritual matters.   

Are Wealthy Christians Bad Stewards?

Too often I hear guest speakers and financial consultants speak of wealth as if prosperity is the epitome of materialism. Money is not evil; the LOVE of money is the root of all evil. Prosperity is not an indicator for stewardship. Socioeconomics should not be how stewardship is judged—stewardship should never be judged. If wealth is used as an indicator for stewardship, what is an acceptable standard? How poor is poor enough? Only God knows the heart; that is the indicator.


 No matter where a person is economically, God knows the heart and the heart is what God desires. He desires all Christians be conduits of blessing and not containers. Throughout scripture God provided prosperity to individuals who were obedient to His word and conduits of blessing: Abram, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, etc. Those fathers of the faith were entrusted with wealth as tools for the kingdom. Can anyone say their wealth was an example of poor stewardship? Would any Christian today accuse those fathers of the faith of poor stewardship?


God provides the opportunity of wealth to every person. However the definition of wealth is relative. If your definition of wealth is lots of money and a lot of new things, then financial wealth may become an idol—just as wealth of family and friends may become an idol for others. A Christian’s desire for wealth should be in relationship with and for Jesus Christ and not focused on the material wealth of other. I am responsible and accountable for my obedience to God. I am accountable for my obedience and honor to God. What others do with God’s provision for their life is between them and God. Rather than looking at (judging) others stewardship, Christian should focus on their direct personal relationship and accountability to God. You know the old saying, “Don’t point; there are four fingers pointing back at you.”   

Saturday, May 9, 2009

What is Biblical Stewardship?

Biblical Stewardship is the understanding of who you are in Christ and maintaining that relationship through continual communication with God through prayer and scripture reading. Yes, biblical stewardship involves some aspects of finance and service. However, that is not the most import aspect of stewardship. Stewardship is not just:

Someone entrusted with another’s wealth or property and charged with the responsibility of managing it in the owner’s best interest.

Maintaining a close and intimate relationship with Jesus Christ is the crucial aspect of stewardship not tithe, not service, not skills—it is worship!

Stewardship is not about balancing a bank account; it’s about balancing life. The kingdom first then everything else is added (Matthew 6:33). With that however, if any financial consultant advises to focus on reducing debt by not paying tithe or reducing offerings to the church, GET ANOTHER CONSULTANT! Although tithe and offerings, service and skills are not the focus of stewardship, all are important markers of a believer’s relationship with God.

Financial stewardship and the proper management of service to God, along with how a believers honor Him with the skills and abilities He provided, will naturally follow a relationship with Jesus Christ. When God has a person’s heart, everything else will follow. So, what does that mean for a Christian who is deeply in debt and may lose their house or car? It is an example of being human. Mistakes are made every day by believers. The important thing to remember is Jesus has paid the price for those mistakes. Believers need to focus on how to
realign the relationship that will provide wisdom and discernment to battle the problems ahead—not on how to pay bills by trimming tithe.

Friday, May 8, 2009

Stewardship is Relational not Financial

Unlike The flagrant use of stewardship to define how people address their finances, capital stewardship, capital campaign or capital stewardship campaign specifies the area being addressed—personal finance. Keep in mind, stewardship is not a key word used to address finances. Stewardship is a relational word used to describe a Christian’s relationship with God and address any gods that may be hindering that relationship.

When addressing capital stewardship or the topic of tithing—which has everything to do with stewardship as a relational aspect—it is important to understand the worship aspect of stewardship. Christians must first seek to be in a right relationship with God before addressing any aspect of finance. Although the Bible is full of passages and verses on or relating to finance, not all of them address the aspect of money as much as they address the aspect of worship.

For example, in Luke 12:13-21 and 16:1-13, Jesus address the aspect of worship and not the aspect of finances. Jesus merely uses money to illustrate the idol that has come between the believer and God. As important as proper financial diligence may be, a Christian’s relationship and sole worship of God supersedes any notion of money. God is not interested in or bank statements. He is interested in our heart relationship with Him.

Everyone desires financial peace but the focus should not be on financial freedom as much as it should be on worship and focusing on putting God first. Because of the new 21st century church—bank accounts—Christians have associated Stewardship with freedom from the bondage of debt. However balancing a checkbook and getting out of debt does not strengthen a believer’s relationship with God. That thought process is backwards and, unfortunately, is what is often taught today.

Freedom from material bondage will come after a Christian begins to worship God solely and a non-believer begins a relationship with God through faith in Jesus Christ—proper worship then freedom. Much like Christians share with no-believer, “you cannot clean your life up before you come to Jesus; Jesus does that when you come to Him.” Substitute “life” in that sentence with the word “finances” and you will see why stewardship is relational not financial.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Stewardship Definition

Stewardship is more than the term used for manager or overseer. In Genesis 5:15, Abram uses mesheq, pronounced (meh’-shek), to describe Eliezer of Damascus. This word is only used once in all of scripture and means son of possession or heir. Mesheq (meh’-shek) is a relational term one that indicates trust and love. This term goes far beyond the definition of stewardship used today. Most Christian financial counselors and capital stewardship gurus focus on the financial aspect of the term stewardship and not the relationship indicated in the word steward.

In the Hebrew language the word stewardship does not exist—only steward. Stewardship is the verb and steward is the noun. Much like sportsmanship is the act of being a good sportsman or craftsmanship is the act of being a good craftsman. In the Hebrew language the verb is understood because of the relationship between two individuals (as is inferred in Genesis 5). Stewardship is a term of relationship not a term of management.

The definition of stewardship is not:

  • The concept of responsible caretaking; the concept is based on the premise that we don’t own resources, but are managers of resources and are responsible to future generations for their condition.

  • The personal responsibility for taking care of another person's property or financial affairs or taking care of finances

Stewardship is: A deep and overwhelming desire to please God in every aspect of life that individual action is guided by the premise of honoring God in all manner of life. Stewardship is Worship!

God does not desire our time, talents and treasures;
He desires our hearts and the rest will follow suit.