(Deuteronomy 8)

Review: Jesus is Lord and we believe he is Lord over every area of our lives. This is challenging and it is the reason why we need be changed through worship and prayer to surrender all things to the Lord. This is why we have spent some time learning from our Lord; hearing his teaching and his word about money, wealth, and trust.
      We live in a market-driven culture. It is a consumer culture. Because of that, our lives are often centered on finances. This is true for the poor, the rich and everyone in between. Our economy and culture create a "Cash Values" lifestyle and regardless of our financial health we need to conform to the Lord’s teaching on money.
      I want to say a special word to those of you who may be struggling financially or may have questions about your money and how to manage it. Financial struggles are a source of stress and a distraction from life in the kingdom. The solution to financial troubles is not more money, nor should we assume that God is a genie in the sky who blesses us if we learn the secrets of how to get rich God’s way. Yet, I am not saying that we as the people of Christ cannot work with one another to overcome problems created by debt and wealth. In fact, it is very biblical for us to do so and it is critical we do so because of the age we live in.
      There are many people in this congregation that we can all learn from when it comes to managing our finances. Don’t be afraid to ask around. You may have noticed in the announcements that there is a financial workshop planned Saturday, May 7. There are many people in this congregation that we can all learn from when it comes to developing a spiritual view of wealth and money.
      What I want to say to all of us is this: We need to be dealing with this matter in many ways and in many settings and we cannot limit it to three sermons. How we use money and the way we shape our lifestyles are not issues outside the scope of what it means to be a disciple of Christ. This is a vital teaching in the Scriptures and it was a matter Jesus addressed often. And for good reason, because as we have said already ...

  1. Money is not a neutral, secular commodity. It is a power that operates like a god; if we surrender and submit to this power and give it our heart and let it cloud our vision. Rather than use God in the service of money, let us use money in the service of God.
  2. Rather than quibble about tithes and funds and how we spend the Lord’s money, let us give beautifully and understand how our discipleship and giving are matters of the heart and not just line items in our check registers or church budgets.
  3. As Americans living in the materialistic, consumerist culture of our age, we need to hear the word that Moses preached to the Israelites as they entered the promise Land. It is a message that Jesus exemplified in his life and teaching ...

Read Deuteronomy 8.

      Moses’ words are for a future generation that knows only prosperity. They didn’t live through the depression years of the wilderness trek. When you live through the wilderness you realize how much you depend on God. Manna falls from the sky. Water comes from a rock of all places. Quail show up to provide proper nutrition for a wandering people. The wilderness days are tough going lean years but somehow folk just happen to make it. They keep on living and keep on moving. They overcame the danger of snakes and scorpions. Even their shoes and clothes hold up during the journey. They just seem to survive the hard times, but those who saw the waters open up so they could cross over on dry land tell it to the rest. God provided and he still provides. He rescued us with a mighty hand and he sustains us with a mighty hand.
      Now Moses is making this testimony a part of his last words because the generations to follow won’t have first hand experience of the wilderness. They won’t recall what it was like to be slaves and be rescued. They won’t recall what it was like to walk through the sea. They won’t remember what it was like to collect the morning manna. They won’t remember how the quail gathered or how the rock, of all things, started spewing water. All they will know is what it is like to earn a living on the good land and enjoy a decent income from their work. And when they forget about God, who will get the credit for their blessings?

In the classic western movie Shenandoah, Jimmy Stewart stars as Charlie Anderson, a Virginian farmer trying to keep his family out of the Civil War. With one empty place set for his dead wife and his children gathered around the supper table, Charlie begins a litany they obviously have heard before: "Now your mother wanted all of you raised as good Christians, and I might not be able to do that thorny job as well as she could, but I can do a little something about your manners."

He gestures that they all should bow their heads and continues: "Lord, we cleared this land, we plowed it, sowed it, and harvested it. We cooked the harvest. We wouldn't be here, we wouldn't be eatin', if we hadn't done it all ourselves. We worked dog-boned hard for every crumb and morsel, but we thank you just the same anyway, Lord, for the food we're about to eat. Amen."

At least Charlie Anderson paused to speak the name of the Lord. At least he thanks the Lord "just the same." He makes some sort of connection between God and his earnings – even if it is the wrong one. Because of the materialistic, consumer-driven age we live in, we have effectively removed God from any discussion or thought about our ability to earn and our income. Because we live in a land where food is plentiful and nothing is lacking we too easily forget to bless the Lord our God for all he has given ...

Citation: 2000 Phoenix Wealth Management Survey; USA Today "Snapshots" (11-13-00), B1
Percentage of senior corporate executives with a high net worth (defined as having a net worth of $1 million or more, not including primary residence) who credit their current financial status to ...
Hard Work — 99%
Intelligence and good sense — 97%
Higher-than-average I.Q. — 83%
Being the best in every situation — 62%
Luck — 32%

If we are pressed on the issue we would surely all agree that it is God that makes it possible for us to earn a living. We would surely all agree that God not only created the opportunity for us to earn a living and enjoy an income, but that he also sustains us. If we were pressed on the issue we would absolutely give God the credit.
But why must we be pressed on the issue? Why? Because it is so easy to forget what it was like in the wilderness. Some of us don’t even know what it means to live in the wilderness. And so we forget and though we don’t intend to say it, we begin to say "My power and the might of my own hand have gotten me this wealth." Perhaps we don’t say it so boldly, but there are other, more subtle ways to say it and live it.
Who remembers the old TV ad of actor John Houseman speaking on behalf of the financial firm Smith-Barney? At the end of the ad Houseman confidently spoke to the camera saying that at Smith-Barney they earn money the old fashion way – "We earned it!"

Moses warns a prosperous generation, whether they are in Israel or America, to be careful not to forget. Not because God deserves credit (the Lord’s ego is intact), but when we forget to bless the Lord we are vulnerable to other powers and other Gods. Notice the warning: If you ever forget the LORD your God and follow other gods, worshiping and bowing down to them, you will certainly be destroyed. Hold on a second! Where did the worship of other Gods come into this? I thought this was a warning against being arrogant and prideful. It is and we would do well to pay attention to the link between idolatry and materialism. The gods and powers that would seek to rule us do not have to be cast in stone or wood. They may exist in the culture around us like the air we breathe.

We live in a world that judges us on what we do. We describe our earning potential as if it is something genetic. We value ourselves and others on the basis of income and it is a power that can determine things as basic as where you live. Right now I am being evaluated and the decision of a mysterious, faceless "underwriter" will influence something as basic as where I live and maybe even where my children go to school. How am I being evaluated? In terms of my faith – no, that is not allowed and it seems un-American and unfair to suggest that a decision would be made in terms of faith. (Discrimination on the basis of faith isn’t attractive, but what about the reverse? When is the last time you took out a loan based on a binding oath before the Lord?) So, how am I being evaluated? In terms of numbers! Earning and debt percentages! Income amounts! Credit scores! Now this is simply just the way it is and I am not saying it is all wrong (nor am I saying it is all right). But I have a choice to make in this land that is influenced by so many forces. Will I pledge my life and devote my time to "the numbers" or will I bless the Lord God? I can give credit to God but still drive myself to trust in "the numbers."

What shapes our lives and our identity – as individuals and as a people? Is it the numbers? Or is it the word? And if it is the word, is it the Lord’s Word? Have you lived in the land so long that you’ve forgotten the Lord’s presence in the wilderness? Or maybe you are in the wilderness right now? The story of the exodus and the story of Jesus are our stories that makes sense of the humbling wilderness and we must never forget the story – even when we occupy the land.

Chris Benjamin

West-Ark Church of Christ, Fort Smith, AR
Morning Sermon, 24 April 2005

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