Giving – Beyond the Math

Series: Preacher: Date: June 19, 2011 Scripture Reference: Matthew 6:19-21

19 – “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal.

20 – But store up for yourselves treasures in Heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal.

21 – For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”

Two old friends met one day after not seeing each other for many years. One had attended college and had been very successful. The other had not attended college and never had much ambition, but he still seemed to be doing very, VERY well indeed. The college graduate was curious as to why so he asked his friend, “How has everything been going with you?” The less-educated, less-ambitious man replied, “Well, one day, I opened my Bible at random, and dropped my finger on a page. The word under my finger was ‘oil.’ So, I invested in oil, and boy, did the oil wells gush. A few years later I tried the same method again, and my finger stopped on the word ‘gold.’ So, I invested in gold, and those mines really produced. Today, I’m as rich as Rockefeller.” The college-educated friend was so impressed that he rushed to his hotel, grabbed a Gideon Bible, flipped it open, and dropped his finger on a page. When he opened his eyes, he saw that his finger rested on the words, “Chapter Eleven.”

Now—this story illustrates two things. First, it shows that, as we learned last Sunday, taking verses randomly out of context is not a good way to study this Book of books. But this story underscores a second truth, namely: all people long for advice on financial matters—everyone yearns for wisdom when it comes to how to handle their money. And—interestingly enough, the best book to go to for guidance in that area is the Bible. You may be surprised to know that a systematic study of this Book shows that it has a GREAT DEAL to say about money. For example, whereas God’s Word includes about 500 verses on prayer and 500 on faith…it has more than 2,000 verses that deal with wealth. Of Jesus’ PARABLES, almost half tell us how to handle our money and possessions. So the Bible is indeed a great resource for wisdom when it comes to financial management.

Now why is this true? Why would God put so much information about money in His Book? I think one reason is because, as Randy Alcorn says, “[The way we handle our] money is a litmus test of our true character. It’s an index of our spiritual life.” As someone else put it, “If you want to see how Godly someone is, just ask to look at their checkbook.” The fact is, the way we deal with our money indicates what our true priorities are—so, more than anything else it shows who or what is truly first in our lives. Another thing—our financial stewardship tends to closely parallel our spiritual growth. In fact, it is usually propelled by it! You see, we learn more about faith, trust, grace, commitment, and God’s gracious provision in the way we deal with money—than anything else. In 2nd Corinthians 9:7 Paul says, “God loves a cheerful giver” —  but I would say that the opposite is also true, “A cheerful giver is someone who loves God.” I mean, the more we love our Lord—the closer we grow to Him—the more our financial management will show it. I’m trying to make the point that the way we handle our money—and our growth toward BECOMING more like Jesus—are tied in together. Giving is indeed a spiritual discipline.

Now—many people think that money management is just BASIC MATH. They say finances are just a matter of numbers….stone cold numbers. And, no matter how fancy they make it appear, most financial planners’ strategy is based on this belief that the way you handle your money is all about the math. They all teach that the secret to sound money management is getting the math right. In fact, today’s money experts base their plans on FIVE BASIC LAWS of sound money management. First, there is the law of EARNING.This law is very basic indeed because it says you have to EARN money in order to have any money to manage. Second, there is the law of SPENDING…and it’s not rocket science either.  Planners use fancy graphs and bar charts to help you see that if you keep your spending below your income you’re going to have a MARGIN.

And MARGIN—MARGIN is the key to the rest of their laws. You see, if you have some margin, you can have SAVINGS, which leads to the third basic law of financial management…The law of SAVINGS, which says you have to put some money aside for emergencies. You need a contingency fund. You need a little CUSHION in case you lose your job or something unexpected happens. And then, after you’ve got THAT achieved, the financial planners—who as I said are all about the math—they will tell you about INVESTMENT opportunities. That leads to the fourth law, the law of INVESTMENT. Investments are cool because instead of you working for money, money starts to work for you.  And this really pumps up these numbers guys, because they’ll start talking to you about the magic of COMPOUNDING INTEREST, and it can be quite impressive. The fifth and final basic law of money management has to do with GIVING.  Now here’s where the “numbers only people” get a little reserved with their advice, because they realize that when you give money away, it’s counterproductive to your goal. And so, financial planners might not come right out and say it, but they think those of us who give money away are kind of stupid. Unfortunately there are a lot of “smart people” these days who buy into this way of thinking because the average American only gives away 2.5% of his annual income. Now—if you’re wondering about the “above-average Americans” — the Christians —well these people who have received amazing grace and walk in relationship with almighty God Himself—on average, they give away a whopping 3.8%. Sad! I’m saying there are a lot of people in our nation—Christians and non-Christians alike—who think, “If it’s by the numbers it’s dumb to give. So we’re going to be smart and not give much.” Okay—that’s the MATH ONLY perspective on money management.

This morning as we look at this FOURTH spiritual discipline in our series, I want to borrow from Bill Hybels…and try help us all to discover how we can manage our money in a way that will encourage us to mature as Christ-followers. Hybels calls his philosophy, “Personal money management: BEYOND the math.” Now, please understand…this is not a way of thinking that says we should throw our calculators away, or delete our Quickbook files. It’s just a suggestion that we learn to apply a foundational Biblical teaching to the way we use our funds. The principle I’m referring to is found in texts like 2nd  Corinthians 5:7 where it says, “We walk by faith and not just by sight.”  These words are a challenge to learn to trust God even when we can’t clearly SEE how that would work out—even when it doesn’t seem to add up. We walk, we plan, we decide—based on our faith in God. I think if we apply the principle of this verse to our personal money management it would sound like this:  “Those of us who have come into a relationship with God through Christ his Son, we have a loyalty higher than mere allegiance to mathematical charts and bar graphs.”  We have a full and final allegiance to the supernatural One—the Being Who architected and oversees the entire economic universe. In fact, we follow the CFO of the universe—the God beyond the math. So, when He gives financial guidance, when He issues financial warnings, when He lays out His plan for His followers, when He makes His financial promises, we of all people on planet earth should say: “Yes, God. Whatever you say, I’ll do. I will go your way. I’ll trust You even when I can’t see how…even when it doesn’t add up mathematically.”

Now—let’s be honest. Some of us have a hard time with this. I mean, we’ve trusted God’s Son with the forgiveness and the redemption of our sin.  We are planning on going to Heaven when we die on the basis of our faith in what Jesus Christ did for us on the cross, but, unfortunately sometimes we don’t trust Him with our money. “Math will do just nicely,” we say and we leave God out of the equation all together. Well, in the hopes of helping all of us mature in this area, I want us to spend our time this morning cycling through these five basic laws of money management…so we can see the difference between a “math only mind set” and a “faith-in-God-beyond-the-math mind set.”

(1) Let’s begin with LAW #1 – The Law of EARNING.

According to the “math only mind set” the highest value is COMPENSATION.  This way of thinking says we should find out which job pays the most money and get yourself hired for that job. It doesn’t matter if this job requires you to travel, relocate, work late into the night, stress your family out, ruin your health—it doesn’t matter. “Math only” says it’s all about the numbers—it’s all about COMPENSATION. But God’s Word says something different. The Bible teaches that the highest value related to earning is not all about COMPENSATION. The higher value is finding our CALLING. Of course, you have to earn money, but you do so by fulfilling your CALLING. That comes first. And if your calling does not compensate as high as some other job would, you don’t quit. You don’t give up on your calling—because you know that the Bible says calling is always worth more in the long run than compensation.

Well, let me ask, do you believe that? Do you live that way? Do you spend more time trying to figure out how to get a job that will pay you more—or do you find yourself saying, “God, am I working according to Your calling on my life? Am I where You want me to be, by gift, by talent, by passion, by Your guidance?” I’m saying that this Book on financial management—God’s Word—teaches that in the area of EARNINGS the greatest wisdom is BEYOND THE MATH.  The Bible says if you will trust God and focus not on accumulating wealth but on carrying out your calling, you might not get rich, but God will supernaturally bless your life. And He often provides gifts and surprises and supplies and protection in ways you’d never get from Him if you were just out on your own going for the bucks, no matter what the cost. So to review…“Math only” says it’s all about COMPENSATION. “Beyond the math,” says it’s all about CALLING. You do the job God calls you to and trust Him to take care of you.

When WWII ended and my dad was discharged from the navy, he used his GI Bill to go to Old Miss where he earned a degree in business. Like many GI’s back then Dad’s main desire—his goal—was to make money—to earn as much as he could.  So, he left the farm, got a great degree and landed a great job with the Standard Oil Company and moved to California. But dad told me that just did not “ring his bell.”  Sure—he was EARNING a lot of money. His COMPENSATION was great—but he wasn’t happy because it wasn’t in line with his CALLING. God had another plan for His life. There was another work God had prepared in advance for him to do. Dad prayed and realized that God had called him to pastor a church so he quit his job, moved to Louisville and entered Southern Seminary…where he met my mom…and began nearly 50 years of ministry pastoring local churches in Kentucky, Maryland and Delaware.

Today, my dad is enjoying his Heavenly reward and from that perspective I know he would tell us that whereas he didn’t enjoy much FINANCIAL COMPENSATION as a pastor…he DID enjoy something worth so much more—something that is literally still paying Heavenly dividends. Dad followed God’s call and spent His life serving God’s people and God took care of him and his family.

Now—don’t jump to the conclusion that God’s call always revolves around serving in a church or on the mission field because it doesn’t. The fact is the VAST MAJORITY of Christians are not CALLED in that way….but they are still called by God to full-time ministry—FRONT-LINES ministry. That ministry could be at Lockheed Martin or in a plumbing business or a law office or in a home in Flower Hill or whatever. But that CALL is what is most important—FAR more important than compensation. Listen! It doesn’t matter how much money you make—if you’re not doing the good work that God prepared in advance for you to do, you will feel worthless. As Virginia Ely puts it, “Every [person] who is born into this world represents a fresh thought of God and has a work that is born within them.”  The truth is all believers are set apart for special full-time ministry. Some serve God behind the pulpit and MOST on the other side of it, but all serve God. All follow His call to a mission field. 2nd Corinthians 5:18 says that God, “…was reconciling the world to Himself in Christ, not counting men’s sins against them…and He has committed to [all of] us the message of reconciliation. We are [all] therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making His appeal through us.” You see, in the home, in the marketplace, in the schools, in government—everywhere—God needs and calls people who will share His love and, in so doing, work to change the world.

Anything short of God’s call is devoid of meaning. But doing that thing God leads us to do career-wise is always the best thing you can do with your life. It may be beyond the math—but it still adds up. When we fulfill our calling….work will be a joy! So find your calling for, as Calvin Miller says, “The man who is ‘job-centered’ has more anxieties about his work than the man who is ‘God-centered.’” This week I read through essays written by college students from our church who were applying for the scholarship fund that was set up here several years ago…thanks to the generosity of one of our families. That fund been added to since by other generous believers and it makes it possible for us to give a $500 scholarship per year to students from our church who apply and meet the requirements. Part of those requirements is that they write an essay in which they tell us about their plans for life and then each year a written report on how things are going at school. This year we had 17 applicants—which I think is a record.

And I loved reading through their essays because each of these young people talked about their belief that God had called them. Here’s a few quotes:

  • One young lady who feels called to be a physical therapist said, “This year, I loved my classes, truly. It was a year of diving into some subjects that really brought out my passions and gave me a glimpse—a potential vision—for what God is calling me to specifically.”
  • Another young lady preparing to become a doctor wrote, “God is calling me to the medical field because I believe He wants me to serve others.”
  • A young man studying to be an engineer entitled his essay, “God’s Calling” and writes, “My career in engineering will enable me to bring God to the secular environment of the scientific community.”
  • A young lady beginning her studies expresses this “calling before compensation” mind set by saying,  “Throughout my college career, I will constantly be asking God if I am on the right track, and will constantly be seeking His guidance in terms of which classes I take and ultimately what I major in.”

Does that encourage you as much as it does me? These kids are all from our church and I’m so proud of each and every one of them!

Listen friend—the people who will turn this world upside down aren’t those God calls to serve Him behind pulpits like this one…but rather it is those who serve Him out there in front of pulpits…people who follow God’s call to what we wrongly refer to as “secular” fields…because anything God calls His child to do is “SACRED” not secular. Well, what about you?  How have you applied this first law in your own life?  Are you focusing on COMPENSATION—or CALL?

(2) Okay, let’s move on to Law # 2 – The Law of SPENDING.

Now—most financial planners don’t care much what their clients spend their money on. I mean, if a client is addicted to jewelry or is a shop-a-holic or is someone who drinks too much, spends too much, whatever, that’s not the FUNDAMENTAL concern of a typical financial planner. All they want is for us to spend LESS than we earn so that there’s some margin they can work with for savings and investing. But our “beyond the math God” DOES care how we spend our money. You see, as our Creator,  God knows that spending can feed what many refer to as “the monster of more.” We’ve talked about this monster before because we all fight with him all the time. Remember? This is the monster who speaks in your ear when you see an ad in a magazine and tempts you to think, “I wish I had that thing in this ad. I really need it.” He’s the “monster” who talks to you when you pass a new car dealership and leads you to think, “Oh, man, what would I feel like if I could get behind the wheel of that thing?”  Then when you drive through an upscale neighborhood the “monster of more” prompts this thought, “I need to live there. My house looks like garbage compared to theirs. We have to sell our ‘shack’ and move up to something better.”  The monster of more tells us a 2D 48 inch TV isn’t good enough. We need a 3D 78 inch flat screen. He says we can’t be happy with a dumb phone…we need a smart one.

Do I need to go further? I mean—haven’t you all had your spending influenced by the “monster of more?” Sure we have.  We all know what it’s like to be tormented by greed, envy, covetousness, and consumerism. Because of this, unlike most financial planners, God DOES care how we spend our money. He doesn’t want us to give in to the temptings of the monster of more.

No—God wants our spending to be reigned in by CONTENTMENT. He sends His Spirit to show us that life can be full and satisfying without having more and more and more temporary things.He wants us to trust Him and be content with His provision. He wants us to see that what we have is enough…that the car we’re driving is enough for now…the house we are living in is enough…the clothes in our closet are enough.

And—when we LEARN this lesson—when we embrace Godly CONTENTMENT—well, we see magazines and car lots and nice neighborhoods but we think, “You know what? I don’t need that; I don’t have to have that;  I don’t have to put that on my charge card and swallow more debt; I don’t have to get to the point where I can’t give to my church because I’ve overspent on something that the shine wears off of three months from now.” And once that “enough thing” happens in your life—once you learn to be content—it drives down this need to overspend, which is wrecking so many lives. Here’s some stats that show how much damage overspending is doing:

  • Today over 80 percent of all Americans owe more than they own.
  • The average credit card debt per household is $14,743.
  • 56% of marriages that end in divorce are largely because of debt.

If you struggle in this area then you know the kind of damage the monster of more can inflict. You know that debt causes constant FEAR.  You know it can keep us from BUYING A HOME or from sending our kids to COLLEGE. People who have overspent their way into debt know that as Proverbs 22:7 says, “The borrower is a servant to the lender.” And those plastic lenders we all carry around can be cruel masters indeed because if we are not very careful, they can eat up our paychecks…like the bumper sticker that says, “I owe, I owe, it’s off to work I go.

J. Rubin Clark puts it this way,“Once you’re in debt, interest will be your companion every minute of the day or night, and it’s working against you. It has no love, no sympathy. It is as hard and soul-less as a granite cliff, and you cannot dismiss it. Whenever you get in its way or you cross its course or fail to meet its demand, it crushes you.And he’s right. So, follow God’s financial advice when it comes to this second law.  Go beyond the math. Ask God to help you reign in your spending. As Hebrew 13:5 “Keep your lives free from the love of money and be CONTENT with what you have.”

(3) Let’s move on to Law #3 – The Law of SAVING.

Now—with regard to our savings, most financial planners will put the fear in you that some terrible thing is likely to befall you someday.  In their minds you need savings because you’re not going to make it through this life without a catastrophe of some sort. They say when your catastrophe strikes, no one’s going to bale you out. You’re in it alone so you need this financial safety net. It’s all up to you.

Contrast that with the “beyond the math mind set.” It’s found in Proverbs 6:6–8, the classic verse on savings where it says, “Go to the ant, you sluggard; consider its ways and be WISE.” Now, does it say: “Be filled with anxiety, be so worried, so you will store some up?”  No it doesn’t. It just says be wise. The verse goes on to say,  “The ant doesn’t have a commander, no overseer or ruler, yet it stores its provisions in summer and gathers its food at harvest” (Proverbs 6:8).

So, the ant’s motivation for savings is not worry and paranoia; it’s WISDOM. As Proverbs 21 puts it, “The WISE man saves for the future but the foolish man spends whatever he gets.”

Don’t get me wrong. You may have a time of calamity. We all probably will. But the Bible says over and over again that you will not be alone in it. God will walk through that thing with you. And if you don’t have the right number in your savings when calamity hits God is capable of doing something beyond the math to bale you out. You are not in it alone. So, yes, put some savings aside, but don’t do it with this neurotic, frenzied spirit.  Do it with a spirit of WISDOM—a wisdom based in the sure knowledge that God loves us—tthat as Jesus said in Matthew 6:8, “God knows what you need before you ask Him.” Remember His teaching in Matthew 7:11: “If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children,

how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask Him!”

(4) Let’s move on to Law #4 – The Law of INVESTING.

A math only person will say, “When it comes to investing, here’s what you need to do. You need to invest X amount of money. Get it growing at X rate…so that you can cross that finish line someday and have enough to retire and live on a beach in Florida.”  Unfortunately I’ve heard about people who embraced this mind set. They hit the finish line and retired—but it wasn’t too long before their brains went to seed and they started talking about where they’re going out to dinner at ten o’clock in the morning. The Scripture has a much better mind set about this. Jesus talked about it in our text. He said, “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on Earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and thieves do not break in and steal.”  Now—I want you to pay attention here. Don’t let the familiarity with these words cause you to miss the message. Jesus is saying that there are two investment portfolios we better be paying attention to. First, we better be laying up some treasures. I mean, this passage does not categorically prohibit the building of an investment fund for your later years. It simply says you better not have all of your affection wrapped up in it because there’s a second investment fund that’s far more important from the eternal perspective, and that’s the investment fund you’re laying up in Heaven. Jesus is saying we should invest our money and time in things that LAST—things of ETERNAL significance. You see, the things of this world don’t last any longer than that decaying body you’re walking around in. I’ve been blessed enough to know and be challenged by several people who live by this philosophy. These wise Christians INVEST their money in things of eternal significance. For example, I know a couple who have used their money to help provide a college education for a young girl.  They remain anonymous but every year they give $5,000 toward her tuition. They do this because they know that kind of investment can impact not just her life—but the lives she touches with God’s love and the lives those lives touch. I know of an individual who met a little orphan boy named James in Kenya nine years ago. Since then this person has been paying for his education. I can only imagine the lives that James will touch with the love of Jesus. I know another couple who sent money to build an entire wing on an orphanage in Africa—one custom-designed for infants. They felt this was a better investment than some condo in Boca Raton. I know people in this church who have given hundreds of thousands of dollars to make it possible for us to do God’s work here at Redland. I know a family who saw that another family in our church was having serious financial problems. This first family gave me an envelope full of cash to pass on to the needy family. And they told me to keep their gift anonymous. They didn’t want recognition. They just wanted to help. I know an attorney who has taken time from his very busy practice to lead—and help finance—mission trips all over the world. Listen—these people I know—these people know that the RIGHT investment is beyond the math. It’s putting money into God’s kingdom. They know the market down here can fluctuate daily but Heavenly investments are a sure thing. They know that some day all this will end and eternity will begin NEVER to end. They know that when we cross those pearly gates the only investment that will still be paying off are kingdom ones and they live every day based on that principle. I’m reminded of something Matthew Henry once said, “It ought to be the business of every day to prepare for the last day.” Is that the business of your days?

Where are you INVESTING your time, your talents, your money?

(5) One last law and we’re done—Law #5 – The Law of GIVING.

As I said earlier, mere math people—normal financial planner types—they say it’s not smart to give. In their minds, giving is hurting your case.  But the Bible says something different.  It literally goes beyond the math because it teaches that if we obey God’s commands…and give to His purposes He will bless us right back. This kind of thing never makes sense to the “math only” folks. But to the “beyond the math” folks, this is cool because you start seeing the blessing of God, the re-supply, the surprises, the provisions, the protections, and you start saying, “This is amazing! It is so far beyond the math.” And it becomes one of the greatest adventures in your Christian life. Listen friends, I can tell you by experience that it is just as Jesus says: If you give sparingly you will receive sparingly and if you give generously you will receive generously. Our faith-filled giving of our tithes and offerings is the key to our receiving God’s blessings. You know, in the “olden days” people had pumps that had to be primed in order to get water. There was an abundance of water in the well below and there was a pump. But after the pump sat for awhile, the leather gasket on the plunger would get dry and hard. It wouldn’t form a suction to draw the water. So you had to pour some water down in the pump to get that leather washer wet.

Then it would sell and form a suction and draw the water up. You had to prime it if you wanted water. That’s the way it is with giving. In a sense it primes the pump for God to take care of us—and I know it’s BEYOND THE MATH—but God does a MUCH better job of taking care of us than we do. I mean, math only people think that giving—especially to the church—only reduces your financial margin but the “beyond math” people know better. They know that giving to further God’s kingdom is actually a margin-building principle. It’s a plus instead of a minus.

In Malachi 3:10 God says, “If you tithe I will open up the windows of Heaven for you and pour out a blessing so great you won’t have room enough for it all. Try it. Let Me prove it to you.”

God is says if you give to Him He will become supernaturally involved in your finances. Think about that! The Being Who holds the cosmos together with a mere thought will get involved in your checkbook. Listen…the best advice I could ever give you when it comes to finances is this. Think BEYOND THE MATH…BEYOND THE STATE OF THE ECONOMY…and obey God by tithing.  Trust me—God pays a higher return than any mutual fund out there. I know this flies in the face of conventional wisdom but it’s true. In fact, I challenge you to take God up on His challenge. Try tithing. And if you have to start gradually do. Start by writing God a check that equals 2 or 3 percent of your paycheck with a firm commitment to increase that over time. There’s an old saying, “By the yard it’s hard. By the inch it’s a cinch.” So, start small—but as you see God take care of you—increase that percentage until you get to a tenth or more. I promise, if you do this, you’ll see that God is faithful. He has been with Sue and me. We have tithed for 30 years now and God has MORE than provided for us. We own a home—that’s something only 3% of the people on this planet can say. We have three amazing children—all of whom have always been well-fed and well-clothed and will all be college educated. We have always had more clothes than we can wear and more food than we can eat. We have always been warm in the winter and cool in the summer. We’s always had excellent medical care. And these are just the PHYSICAL rewards. If I were to tell you about the SPIRITUAL BLESSINGS…we’d be here all day! I’m saying my Heavenly Father has been true to His Word. We give—and He has given back. Over and over and over and over again He has opened the windows of Heaven and poured His blessings on us.


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