We are at the beginning of the second decade of the new millennium. In the first few years of the new century, we have witnessed some of the greatest accumulations of wealth of all time. The stock market was raging, real estate markets were rising and even after the Internet Stock bubble burst, it seemed that all America continued to sing that old song from the 30's, "We're In The Money".
But as time went on, the real estate market as well as the stock market showed themselves to be the Emperor with no clothes. As companies went from having defined benefit pension plans where retirees would know how much they would get when they retired, to defined contribution plans where the employees took on the market risk, what seemed to be a great idea suddenly has become an albatross, a sign of evil and foreboding of bad times ahead.
No matter what index you look at, the markets have all dropped beyond anyone's worse expectation. But what is worse is the effect that a loss of 28, 35 or 40% means to people who have no other liquid asset base.
The top 1% of the wealthy in America control 33% of all the privately held wealth in the country. The next 19% which consists of professional, managerial and small business owners control 51% of the wealth. That leaves the remaining 80 percent of American workers to share a paltry 16% of the wealth of the nation's economy. That means that salaried and wage employees, while making up the largest portion of the American workforce, have very little control of their own destiny.
This is the reason that I have chosen to use the Book of Ecclesiastes for our text today. The timelessness of the Bible speaks to all generations about the realities of life and what is truly important in the larger scheme of things.
We twenty-first century Americans can learn something from the ancient Israelites. By using the principles of the Bible as a baseline we can understand how the current situation can be overcome on an individual basis. Because just as in Israel, salvation is made of the individual not of the nation. And like Israel we must learn how to live, what things we can control and what things we can't.
In spite of what prosperity preachers teach, the Bible does not say that everyone will be rich. The Smith-Barney brokerage commercials tells the message of what many churchgoers believe about money AND salvation. "We make money the old fashioned way; we EARN it."
God's message is quite different than what is said on Wall Street-He provides to those who don't deserve it, giving to them something they have no capacity to earn and gives it to them without expectation of repayment. He has adopted us into his family as joint heirs with all the privileges of being a natural-born child.
The Lure of Money
Verses 1-. It doesn't matter if you are a Democrat, Republican, Libertarian or Independent, what I am about to say applies equally to all the members of your affiliated party. Most of them are going to bust hell wide open.
I don't say that because of what policies one or the other party has tried or is trying to enforce, or what platform they have or what legislative agenda they have tried to enact. The fact is, while I don't know any of them personally, the Bible says that "There is none righteous, no not one. There is none who seek after God." Rom. 3:10
Most of the legislators in both houses of congress are there to get paid. If not while in office, then after.
It is little wonder that ordinary American's have little say in what happens in the world. There is no lobby for Ordinary Folk. There are no Senator's who are going to go to work to push for legislation that benefits Average Jane and Joe.
But there comes a price for having wealth. The more you have, the more you want. Back in the 60's, reporter asked him how much money is enough. John D. replied, "Just a little bit more."
A New York survey of those making over $200,000 per year showed that while they were much better off than most American's, they felt more aware of their relative lack of wealth as compared to those earning more than they. In other words, they had more anxiety due to not earning millions per year than those who earned under $100,000 per year.
We think that if we have more money, everything will be alright. If only I could make an extra $5,000, $10,000 per year, we'd be ok. We believe, just like John D. Rockefeller that if we just had a little more, everything would be alright.
This is why Solomon says, "There is an evil which I have seen under the sun, and it is common among men: A man to whom God Has given riches and wealth and honor, so that he lacks nothing for himself of all he desires; yet God does not give him the power to eat of it, but a foreigner consumes it. This is vanity, and it is an evil affliction."
The pursuit of wealth has been the hallmark of the American experiment. Time and time again, those who were willing to risk much have been able to reward themselves and their families with a higher standard of living and the betterment of society.
But the Protestant Work Ethic that was instilled by our Puritan forebears that allowed America to become the envy of the world in wealth and prosperity has been corrupted and misplaced.
Rather than placing emphasis on an honest day's wage for an honest day's work, and the reality that each person's vocation, no matter how trivial or mundane, had worth in and of itself, we find that those who lead a corporation by elimination of the workforce are the most highly compensated, rather than those whose effort allows the product to be brought to market.
The Puritans felt that all work, no matter what it involved, had worth as long as the individual realized that he was doing it as "unto the Lord". Beginning in the Garden of Eden, humans have the need to DO, to cultivate, to work.
Now, those who do the least will decide to lower expenses by laying off those who assemble, distribute and sell the items that cause them to be able to be compensated.
What has happened? How did the system become corrupt?
Simply stated, it was because while most people were not Christian during the time of the Puritans, but they at least held to what was a nominally Christian worldview that viewed God as in control and that all things were under his providence.
The Puritans understood that God created everything in the world, everything in the universe and that we are all going the way of all flesh. In other words, no matter how much wealth is accumulated in this life, if you don't have Jesus Christ as savior, there is no amount of money that will get you into heaven, there is not enough money in the world to keep you from going to hell, and that everything in this world is eventually going to pass away.
The Rich man in Luke 16:19-31 would have foregone all of his wealth if he could only have a drop of water to be put upon his tongue to quench the torment he felt. But instead of the ease he had in this life, he could only wish that he could send warning to his family of the reality of hell.
Now, we are in Post-Christian America, where even churchgoing Christians are likely not to understand the basic principles of Orthodox Christianity, that the saying, "God helps those who help themselves" is not in the Bible, but was a quote from Benjamin Franklin. That wealth is not a symbol of God's blessing, but more often a sign of personal spiritual apathy and a declaration of independence FROM God.
In study after study it has been shown that there is an inverse relationship between income and interest in God. In other words, generally speaking the more money you make, the less likely you are to go to church regularly, to pray regularly and to be concerned about God in general.
The Love of Money
What is it that we are to love? How are we to respond to love when we receive it? Why do people sometimes neglect to look out for the needs of others? God is at the center of each of those questions.
In the first place, we are to love God with our whole heart and soul and might. There is to be no one or nor any thing that comes between our relationship with ourselves and our creator, sustainer and redeemer. For unless our relationship with God is in order, our relationship with our families, our neighbors and co-workers cannot be right.
But how many people do we know who boast of what earthly possessions they have or their ability to do this or that, or to go here or there.
In Paul's first letter to Timothy, he compares the life of godliness to that of seeking money for its own sake. (1Tim 6:6-12)-What Paul is getting across to Timothy is that while there is nothing wrong with wealth in and of itself, far too often wealth, the desire to be wealthy and/or the pursuit of it becomes a snare and trap for those who become enamored by its allure. Wealth is a desire that is difficult to satisfy and it becomes a stumbling block to those who seek to serve Christ.
In the Book of Acts, Ananias and Sapphira tried to hold back a portion of what the proceeds of a sale of real estate that they owned from the Apostles to their own destruction. (Acts 5:1-10). It was not that they were wealthy, but that they were attempting to deceive God by declaring that they had given their all, when they only gave a portion.
Look, God owns it all anyway. He doesn't need what you have. But if you want the best HE has, you must be willing to turn over control of what you perceive as yours to Him. As Americans, we tend to look at things and feel that we can accomplish anything on our own.
But as Jesus said in Luke 12:48, "For everyone to whom much is given, from him much will be required..." or as is in some translations "much is expected".
But far too many of us have been guilty of answering the question that writer Denis Brogan asked in the mid-forties; if God was to be replaced..."What would replace Him? Could anything replace Him but 'Democracy' made into an object of worship, or business or success?"
And the business of business is to advance SELF interest. That is, the determination to make money is the overriding principle in the advance of the capitalistic ideal. Michael Douglas as Gordon Gecko in "Wall Street" purring, "Greed is good", is now being transplanted into the real world by Bernie Madoff.
Compare the current hand wringing over our current status of the economy with what Jesus said to his disciples in Matt. 6:25-33. "Therefore I say to you, do not worry about your life, what you eat or what you will drink; nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food and the body more than clothing? Which of you by worrying can add one cubit to his stature? So why do you worry about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they neither toil nor spin; and yet I say to you that even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these.
"Now if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is, and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will He not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? Therefore do not worry, saying 'What shall we eat?' or 'What shall we drink?' or 'What shall we wear?'
"For after all these things the Gentiles seek. For your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But SEEK FIRST the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and ALL THESE THINGS shall be added to you."
And in that last line is encapsulated the entirety of the desire of the Christian; to seek the righteousness that God graciously gives to his subjects in His Kingdom, the gift that none can work for, earn, buy or deserve.
And if we submit to the authority of the only wise God, to whom be honor, glory power and majesty, now and forevermore, we have all our needs cared for.
The Labor of Money
If we are perfectly honest, not only are we all working for the Lord, ME! We want to be on the throne of our lives, we want to have control of our households and we want control of our pocketbooks and billfolds.
In other words, we want a small 'g' god that we can control, one we can dictate our wants, needs and desires to and have the expectation that, like a genie of the magic lamp he will grant us our wishes and the desires of our hearts.
Which leads to the following quote; "Show me a person's checkbook, and I show you what is important to them." Your spending habits tell more about you and your personality and desire than anything else.
Today, when you get home, I want you to do something for me. Take your check book, online bank statements or just the receipts for the past three months. Go back and look at how much you spent on YOU, how much you spent on your Family and then how much you spent on GOD. Then break that down into percentages to see what is important to you.
Now, when I say what you spent on God, I don't only mean what you put into the offering plate, although that's important. I also mean what you spent on developing your relationship with God. You know, music, cd's, books, movies, dvd's, magazines. Anything that would enhance and strengthen your connection, knowledge and love of God.
Then, how much time did you spend in the last month at work. 40, 50, 60 hours? And what were your earnings for that time. Then how much of your time was spent with your family? And how much of that time was spent in meaningful communication?
Then how much of the rest of the time was spent with God? Counting church services. And of that time, how much was spent in "meaningful communication"?
Someday, when I'm ready I'm going to write an essay that may turn into a book. It's about my cousin who died this January. I already have the title for it; it's called "Buddha and the Cross".
You see Artie was what I and the family called him, but for 26 years that he was on the Michigan State Police, he was known as Buddha.
Now, long story short, Buddha was a profane, drunken, womanizing poor excuse for a human being. But at the same time, he was a caring, devoted father, loving son and kind police officer who would help others and think of them before thinking of himself.
After he died, his wife asked me to speak at his funeral. And, as my mentor, best friend and Father-in-law once told me, "You can't preach anyone into heaven or hell. That is all in God's hands."
As I stood and began to speak to his brothers, his wife, daughters, friends and former co-workers, I spoke what I know to be the truth from the Bible. Artie could make you as mad as anything, but he could also make you break out in the biggest smile and heartiest laugh. He could try your patience and he would take the best care of you. He would get on your last nerve, but he would go out of his way to do something good for you.
He knew that he was a sinner; he knew that he deserved punishment. But he also knew that Jesus died for him. And I leave all the answers to all the questions anyone ever has about his fate in the Hands of God, who came to seek and save the lost, to provide a way of salvation not for the righteous, but for sinners.
What does that have to do with the labor of money? Let me tell you. In Isaiah 55, the Lord says, "Ho! Everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and you who have no money, come, buy and eat. Yes come, buy wine and milk without money and without price."
"Why do you spend money for what is not bread, and your wages for what does not satisfy? Listen diligently to me, and eat what is good, and let your soul delight in abundance. Incline your ear, and come to me. Hear, and your soul shall live; and I will make an everlasting covenant with you-the sure mercies of David.
"Seek the Lord while he may be found, call upon him while he is near. Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts; let him return to the Lord, and He will have mercy on him; and to our God, for He will abundantly pardon.
"For my thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways' says the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts higher than your thoughts."
God is not a man that He should lie. Consider yourself. Consider your life. Consider what money cannot buy and seek the Lord while he may be found.
Rev. Adrian Powell is an ordained minister in the Church of God (Anderson, IN). He is an experienced church planter, pastor, speaker and seminar resource, having served and ministered in churches in the Midwest, Eastern and Southern United States.
A strong expositional speaker, Adrian is called to bring the Church the "Whole Counsel of God" in the areas of Evangelism, Apologetics, Grace, Christ and Culture, Unity, Reality and Racial Reconciliation and submission to the truth of Scripture. "The Church needs to remain true to the saying, 'Reformed and Always Reforming'".
A popular preacher of the Gospel, he has also had articles published in the Columbus Dispatch, Urban Trendsetters and national magazines such as Vital Christianity and Purpose Magazine.
A bi-vocational minister, he has over 15 years experience in the Financial Services industry. He is a member of the Society of Financial Services Professionals, the National Association of Insurance and Financial Advisors, has received his Fraternal Insurance Counsellor designation from the National Association of Fraternal Insurance Counsellors and is currently seeking the Charter Life Underwriter (CLU) from the American College. He is also available to speak in chuches on Biblical Economics, Stewardship and Finances, The Truth About Tithing and Real Prosperity.
For questions about speaking schedules and availability, contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org. His website for Biblical Finances is [http://www.adrian4yourmoney.com].