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Giving Our Abundance

Right now our nation is going through the greatest transfer of wealth in the history of the world. People in their fifties and sixties are currently inheriting more than $10.4 trillion as their parents die and pass on their wealth to their children. A big question is how will they handle such affluence? What will they do with it?

A sociological study reported in a book called Rich Kids extensively investigated those who inherit large trust funds. The findings were that sudden wealth can be dangerous, often leading to irresponsible living, addictive behavior, gambling, shattered marriages, and division among siblings about how to divide up the family inheritance.[1] Some of us are thinking, “Well, I’d like to get a large inheritance and test that.”

And a man in the crowd shouts out to Jesus to tell his brother to divide the family inheritance with him. “Jesus, there’s money to be had and I want you to straighten my brother out.” How many families become divided in hostility, jealousy, and resentment over family inheritance?

Jesus tells the man that he is not going to get into this because it is not his place or purpose to be a judge of his family matters. But Jesus turns to his disciples and says, “Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed…”

You don’t have to inherit a trust or estate to be on guard against greed. Though the disciples haven’t received an inheritance, Jesus tells them that even they need to watch out. Because stuff can get a hold of us, control us and it leads to greed.

And apparently there is more than just one kind of greed. There are all kinds. Jesus didn’t just say greed, he said, “all kinds of greed.” I had no idea.

The New Testament lists greed as one of the worst types of sin. In two of his letters, Paul says that greed is nothing less than idolatry: it is putting something in place of the Lord God in our lives.[2] Some Bibles will have the word “covet.” Paul writes that the idolatry of greed and covetousness is inconsistent with living in God’s love. God’s people don’t do this.

The essence of greed is keeping what resources God brings our way for our self. It is the attitude that piles up stuff, and lots of it, simply for our own use.[3] We may not murder or commit sexual sin or use abusive language. But what if we are actively practicing greed?

Jesus says, “Watch out!” He gives a warning. Apparently, greed can be a sly thing. And who knows the impact it can have on our souls?

And then Jesus adds this: “…for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of possessions.” One’s life does not consist in our abundance. Our life isn’t about how fancy or how many cars we have. It does not consist in how many homes we have, or how big our home is. It does not consist in how much money, food, or clothes we have. Jesus says life isn’t about whether or not we have the fastest, newest computer or phone. Life isn’t about how big we can make the business, or how full our bank and retirement accounts are.

If life does not consist of these things, then what does life consist of? What is life supposed to be about? That is the question Jesus answers with the parable about the rich man.

Jesus told 38 parables and 17 of those were about possessions. One person apparently counted how many times possessions are mentioned in the bible and found 2,172 references in Scripture. The Bible speaks of possessions three times more than love, seven times more than prayer, and eight times more than belief. About 15 percent of God’s Word deals with possessions.[4] Why? Not because God thinks our stuff is the most important thing about us. But because how we handle our possessions and wealth can reveal how we’re doing with the things that truly are important. And what we do with our stuff plays a huge role in our spiritual health.”[5]

The parable that Jesus tells is about a rich man whose land produced an abundance. This man has done very well. By modern standards this man is wildly successful. He would be interviewed by Forbes, featured in The Wall Street Journal, asked to speak at all the corporate success seminars.

This parable is not about having our needs met or paying the bills. There is a difference between having enough to live, and abundance. This is about abundance.

And the man realizing how much has come to him asks himself, “What should I do?” What should he do with all his abundance? He wonders, and this is his plan: 1) Expand and get bigger by tearing down his current barns and building bigger ones. 2) Take early retirement, and then relax, eat, drink and be merry. That’s his life plan. The rich man is content in self-satisfaction and personal comfort.

Notice how self-consumed the rich man is. He talks to himself, focuses on himself, thinks only of himself, and congratulates himself. In all of his abundance he considers nothing outside of his own desires and needs. “I” is used six times, and “my” is used five times.

Why not? Isn’t the goal of life to get as rich as you can, retire early, and take it easy for the rest of your life? Isn’t that what Jesus wants?

Here’s a story: An American businessman was at a pier in a small coastal Mexican village when a small boat with just one fisherman docked. Inside the small boat were several large, beautiful yellow-fin tuna

The businessman complimented the fisherman on the quality of his fish and asked how long it took to catch them. The man replied that it took only a little while. The businessman then asked why didn't he stay out longer and catch more fish? The fisherman said he had enough to support his family's immediate needs.

The businessman then asked him how he spent the rest of his time. The Mexican fisherman said, "I sleep late, fish a little, play with my children, spend time with my wife, take siesta, stroll into the village each evening where I sip wine and play guitar with my amigos. I have a full and busy life, senor."

The businessman just shook his head and said, "Listen dude, I am a Harvard MBA and could help you. You should spend more time fishing and, with the proceeds, buy a bigger boat. With the proceeds from the bigger boat, you could buy several boats, eventually you would have a fleet of fishing boats. Instead of selling your catch to a middleman you would sell directly to the processor, eventually opening your own cannery. You would control the product, processing and distribution.

"You would need to leave this small coastal fishing village and move to Mexico City, then LA and eventually New York where you will run your expanding enterprise."

The fisherman asked, "But senor, how long will this all take?" The businessman said, "10-15 years."

"But what then, senor?" asked the fisherman.

The businessman laughed, and said, "That's the best part! When the time is right, you would announce an IPO and sell your company stock to the public. You'll become very rich, you would make millions!"

"Millions, senor?" replied the fisherman. "Then what?"

The businessman said, "Then you would retire. Move to a small coastal fishing village where you would sleep late, fish a little, play with your kids, take siesta with your wife, stroll to the village in the evenings where you could sip wine and play your guitar with your amigos."

That is not unlike the message in financial and retirement advertisements.

Anyone ever say to their financial planning advisor when she asks what your financial goals are for the future, and say, “I want to be able to tithe to my church and help support that orphanage until the day I drop dead”? “I want to fund scholarships at that Christian school.” “I want to be able to travel to do some Christian ministry and service.”

Retirement is a relatively new concept. It is only relevant in cultures of abundance and where people have long enough life spans to retire, like ours. We have to think about retirement since most of us may be forced to retire or need something to live on when we get beyond working years.

But how we spend the rest of our lives is a faith matter in our relationship with God. Have you ever thought of your career and retirement goals as a matter of your faith? I suspect that a retirement that honors the Lord isn’t one that is only spent on traveling, leisure, and high living for ourselves. Jesus said beware of all kinds of greed.

Back to Jesus’ parable: The rich man has more than he can handle, expands his enterprise, and relaxes in luxury. It brings up the question, “What do we do when we do well?” Remember, Jesus is responding to a man who wants more of the family inheritance.

Into this situation God speaks to the man. And this is what God says: He calls the man a fool! He is a fool because that very night his life is demanded of him and all he invested for himself, and all he accumulated will go to someone else. And that man stands before the Lord with none of his possessions and is a fool because he never realized his dependence on God. His life was from God but he didn’t understand it was also to be for God.

He wasn’t a fool in terms of foresight and planning. He wasn’t wicked or unjust. Where he went wrong was in being oblivious to God. One manifestation of pride in our lives is to think we have no need of God. The man in Jesus’ parable does not acknowledge the source of his blessings. Instead, he keeps it all for himself and serves himself. Practically speaking he is an atheist. There is no great reality than himself.[6]

Jesus says this man’s life was demanded of him, and the word Jesus used for “demanded” was a word commonly used for collecting a loan. The rich man did not realize that all his abundance was merely on loan from God, and not really for his gratification at all.[7]

It was not the abundance of his wealth that was a problem. He worked hard for it. It was gained honestly. Jesus doesn’t condemn doing well. If the land produces well and the business is lucrative and the paycheck goes higher, the question becomes “what will we do with it?”. You know when we face trouble or adversity we often ask, “What is God trying to teach me? What does he want me to learn in this?” Do we ask those same questions when we do well? “What’s God trying to teach me in this?”

The man’s error was that his only desire was to provide for himself. Jesus says the fatal mistake of this man was that he stored up treasures for himself and had things but was not rich toward God. And when he had to stand before God, he had nothing. The Message puts Jesus’ words like this: “That’s what happens when you fill your barn with Self and not with God.”

What if we kind of inverted the parable so that the man was rich toward God. (My point here is not to improve or add to Jesus’ words. Jesus’ words cannot be improved upon. Nor do I want to be irreverent) What if the parable went like this…

The land of a rich man produced abundantly and he recognized it was from God. And he asked God, “What do you want me to do, for I have more than I need.”

Then the man said, “It seems that God wants me to do this: He wants me to give to my place of worship. He wants me to give to that missionary who has been helping the orphans in Africa. He wants me to help build that well for clean water in that village in India.”

“And I will use what I’ve learned and mentor this and that person so that they can succeed and flourish in their life.” Then the rich man said, “God, may what has been given out of this abundance help others past my lifetime.”

And God said to him, “Well done good and faithful servant. This very night your life is demanded of you. And the things you have prepared, whose will they be? They will be for your church, for children who need food and a home, and others who belong to the kingdom.”

Remember Jesus is not speaking against wealth in his parable. He is not bashing rich people (and I’m not saying that just because I am a multi-millionaire). Wealth can be good. It can be a blessing. Hospitals, schools, churches, ministries are standing and doing the work of God because people whose land (or business) produced abundantly have given and shared generously.

For the next three weeks the sermons will be on giving as we focus on stewardship. Stewardship is how we use our resources.

Here’s why I chose this parable of Jesus to preach today:

We have a church here. It is the Lord’s church. He has given us the responsibility of caring for it. There are many wonderful ways we can use the abundance God gives to us. One of the things we can do is give so that this place can thrive and glorify God.

Some of us might be just managing right now and may not have a lot to give. That’s OK. But for some of us God has given us enough to be comfortable, and maybe then some. And with much comes greater responsibility.

We are a blessed people. And if we are honest, we are debtors to other men and women who have provided our abundance.

The rich man saw himself and himself, alone. He was an individualist gone-wild.[8]

Praise God for those people who use their abundance for God’s purpose, whose first question is not “what I should do” but “God, what do you want me to do?”

Jesus said where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. Where is your heart?

On the night my life is demanded, I don’t want to be rich toward this world or myself. I want to be rich toward God. And the biggest way to be rich toward God is, first of all, to surrender my life to Christ, recognize his claim on my life – all of it! - and accept his grace. And when I do that it effects every part of my life, not just my heart. Think about what it is to be rich toward God.

Life isn’t defined by what we have, even if we have a lot. Life is defined by our being disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ, by having the imprint of his cross and resurrection on our lives, and having our lives transformed by him.

Because our life is given by God, and the best thing to do with it is to give it back.

Prayer: Lord, when we do well for ourselves in anyway, may we see you in the equation. Make us rich toward you, now and in the life to come. Help us to know how blessed we are, and to share our lives to your glory. We pray through Christ, who for our sakes became poor, so that we could live. Amen.

[1] James Dobson, Coming Home, Timeless Wisdom For Families, (Tyndale House Publishers, Inc. Wheaton, 1998), pp. 56-57 [2] Col. 3:5. See also Rom. 1:29, 2 Cor. 9:5, Eph. 4:19, 5:3, 2 Pet. 2:3, 14 [3] Darrell Bock, NIV Application Commentary on Luke, pp.344,345 [4] From “God & Your Stuff: The Vital Link Between Your Possessions and Your Soul” by Wesley Willmer, as quoted by Marshall Shelley, Leadership, Fall 2002 [5] Shelley [6] James Edwards, The Gospel According to Luke, p.371 [7] John R. Donahue, S.J., The Gospel In Parable, p.178 [8] Martin Luther King, Jr., from a book of his sermons called “Strength to Love”. This sermon is called “The man who was a fool.”

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