How to Leave a Legacy (Matthew 25:14-30)

There is nothing new about the desire of people to leave a legacy. For many, it is primarily about how they will be remembered by others.

Consider so many of the archeological and historical structures of antiquity. From the tombs of the Pharaohs to the ruins of Rome such as the Arch of Titus – remembering his military exploits – these are all efforts to enshrine a legacy of greatness and accomplishment. And a few of them remain, though surely the majority of such efforts over the years are lost to ravages of time.

A better encouragement about what defines “legacy” comes from the venerable mind of Billy Graham, who said, “The greatest legacy one can pass on to one’s children and grandchildren is not money or other material things accumulated in one’s life, but rather a legacy of character and faith.

There is great truth to that, as you can indeed impact three, four, or perhaps five generations after you by your faith, evidenced by a life of trust and commitment to God.

But today, let’s take apart the parable of the talents for some help in defining how we can be a people of legacy leaving.

Matthew 25:14-30…

14 “Again, it will be like a man going on a journey, who called his servants and entrusted his wealth to them. 15 To one he gave five bags of gold, to another two bags, and to another one bag, each according to his ability. Then he went on his journey.

I am reading from the NIV – which I typically use, though Chris often uses a different version – the ESV. It would be better for the NIV translators to have remained with the word “talents.”  Probably they were trying to get away from the confusion of “talent” as an ability or skill that one possesses, when actually the term in the text speaks of a measurement of money – a LARGE measurement. It could be gold, or more often actually silver – ranging from about 40-60 pounds. A talent was thought to perhaps represent the equivalent of 15-20 years of wages for a working man. In any event, it was a lot of money.

In the ancient world, slaves (who served as a sort of indentured servants) were often entrusted with great responsibility of stewardship in a household.

16 The man who had received five bags of gold went at once and put his money to work and gained five bags more. 17 So also, the one with two bags of gold gained two more. 18 But the man who had received one bag went off, dug a hole in the ground and hid his master’s money.

We don’t know how long the master was gone, but it sure sounds like the banks in these days paid a lot better interest than we can get in our generation!! But the point of the story is that there were means available to the servants to, while putting assets to some risk, have them yield a positive return through wise investment.

19 “After a long time the master of those servants returned and settled accounts with them. 20 The man who had received five bags of gold brought the other five. ‘Master,’ he said, ‘you entrusted me with five bags of gold. See, I have gained five more.’

21 “His master replied, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!’ 

That last phrase probably is a reference to an invitation to a banquet, or feast, at the master’s table … and though it is getting ahead of ourselves in interpretation and application to say this:  You can see how this has a ring of spiritual and eternal application of the great feast that the Scriptures speak of as in heaven – the eating at the table of the Lord forever, etc.

22 “The man with two bags of gold also came. ‘Master,’ he said, ‘you entrusted me with two bags of gold; see, I have gained two more.’

23 “His master replied, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!’

24 “Then the man who had received one bag of gold came. ‘Master,’ he said, ‘I knew that you are a hard man, harvesting where you have not sown and gathering where you have not scattered seed. 25 So I was afraid and went out and hid your gold in the ground. See, here is what belongs to you.’

26 “His master replied, ‘You wicked, lazy servant! So you knew that I harvest where I have not sown and gather where I have not scattered seed? 27 Well then, you should have put my money on deposit with the bankers, so that when I returned I would have received it back with interest.

Actually, the statement uttered by the third servant condemns himself, not the master; and it reveals his true intent. If the master was as the servant claimed, it should have motivated him even more greatly to invest and make the most of what he had been given.

It would appear that this servant, along with being lazy, simply hid the money away in hopes that it would be forgotten – in the event that, if the master did not return, it would be his own. There would be no official record of it with others. So he was to be seen as both lazy AND self-motivated.

28 “‘So take the bag of gold from him and give it to the one who has ten bags. 29 For whoever has will be given more, and they will have an abundance. Whoever does not have, even what they have will be taken from them. 30 And throw that worthless servant outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’

Let’s take this passage and make five statements of application from it:

  1. We are servants of Jesus Christ – our master – living in a period of time where we await his promised return.
  2. We have been given gifts and resources to be used – spiritual gifts and material assets – with a presumption that they will benefit the household (the kingdom) of our master.
  3. Our master – Jesus – will return (or call us to join him where he is) and there will be an accounting as to our use of HIS resources given to us.
  4. There is abundant opportunity to invest HIS resources in causes that will benefit the master’s kingdom.
  5. Seeing the master as harsh, and thereby hoarding HIS resources with a view toward keeping them for our security and use, positions us away from being any sort of blessing.

I am afraid that too many Christian people who are part of the kingdom see God in the way the third person today in the story viewed the master. They see God as hard and scary, not really someone they can trust. They’d rather play it close to the chest and hold onto resources carefully – because one can’t quite be sure what God will do if they are generous.

Summary Statements and Thoughts …

I’ve heard more than one person, late in life say, “The only thing I’ve ever really kept is what I’ve given away. It’s a universal law: You have to give before you get. You must plant your seeds before you reap the harvest. The more you sow, the more you’ll reap.

I have never seen a year before this one to quite match the maple tree seeds that cover the ground. In my frequent cycling on the canal towpath, the pathway is so covered as to make a soft and cushioned, tan surface. Imagine a maple tree holding onto the seeds, afraid to lose them out of fear. That would never happen. What they produce is for the purpose of watching the wind scatter and wing those seeds even far from the tree. Even a dumb tree knows what to do with its resources! Share them!

In the end, this all comes down to a heart issue – the view that one has of God, along with a person’s values system about the passing reality of this world and the eternal reality of the world to come. Jesus rightly commented that a person’s heart and their treasure are not far separated. And when we value those things that God values – the stuff of the eternal kingdom of light – the use of our treasure to prosper that becomes a legacy we can never lose. It may well bless our family for several generations, but even if it is forgotten by them and we are forgotten by everyone in the world of the living, we are not forgotten by God, nor is our work lost.

Are you going to count on others – friends, family, business associates, etc. – to remember what you’ve done in the physical world, or do you suppose it would be better to think in terms of letting God be the custodian of your legacy because of your investments in things eternal?

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Should We Care About Leaving a Legacy? (Matthew 25:14-30)

This weekend is the third and final message within our series on stewardship. We have looked at two principles so far – of IDENTITY, as seen in Ecclesiastes 2; of RESPONSIBILITY, as seen in 2 Corinthians 8.  Finally, we will examine the LEGACY principle – turning on Sunday to Matthew 25:14-30.

I believe that in my lifetime I have heard critics of every President of the USA say something like this: “He only cares about his legacy,” or “The only reason he is doing that is because of the legacy of his presidency.”

So, is that a good thing, or a bad thing?

Actually, it could be either, depending upon the attitude, I suppose. If a President is interested in his legacy in terms of how he will be remembered personally, then doing things for self-aggrandizement and personal reward is rather arrogant and self-focused. But if the POTUS does something because he wants the legacy surrounding his presidential leadership and administration to be known for accomplishing great good for the benefit of the country, then that is a worthy interest for the record that will remain.

When I was a child growing up, I clearly remember a wooden plaque on the wall of my parents’ house that simply said, “One life ‘twill soon be past; only what’s done for Christ will last.”

My parents really lived by that, as did my father’s parents and generations before him. I recently had reason to rehearse for someone about my family’s involvement in a variety of ministries in New Jersey and Pennsylvania, and even one in Maryland. My grandparents were rather successful in varied agricultural pursuits, and they took from their income what was needed to live a comfortable, yet simple life. The rest of it – the vast majority of it – they simply gave away to Christian causes near and far. They lived just across the street from me, and I remember as a boy having my grandmother show me all of the colorful stamps she had collected from all over the world – having done so from supporting and corresponding with missionaries on every continent. Their generosity is a legacy of trust and faithfulness I have received from them.

We have talked and illustrated at church on several occasions about how, even in one’s own family system, unless you do something truly extraordinary, you will be forgotten in four or five generations. And surely any generosity will be lost as well, again, unless it was more extraordinary than any of us are likely to be able to provide. And that is kind of depressing, isn’t it?

But God is so much better than this. He does not forget. What we give to Him for the purposes of eternal values and the building of the eternal kingdom is not forgotten. As we studied just weeks ago in the book of Hebrews, those readers in the first century were questioning the value of anything beyond the creature comforts of their own lives in their own generation. But the writer said to them to endure, because “God is not unjust; he will not forget your work and the love you have shown him as you have helped his people and continue to help them.”  (Hebrews 6:10)

We can be really glad that God is the best bookkeeper ever!

But it all comes down to a heart issue and a values system. Jesus rightly commented that a person’s heart and their treasure are not separated. And when we value those things that God values – the stuff of the eternal kingdom of light – the use of our treasure to prosper that becomes a legacy we can never lose. It may well bless our family for several generations, but even if it is forgotten by them and we are forgotten by everyone in the world of the living, we are not forgotten by God, nor is our work lost.

In preparation for Sunday, here is the text from Matthew 25:14-30 that we will be talking about …

14 “Again, it will be like a man going on a journey, who called his servants and entrusted his wealth to them. 15 To one he gave five bags of gold, to another two bags, and to another one bag, each according to his ability. Then he went on his journey. 16 The man who had received five bags of gold went at once and put his money to work and gained five bags more. 17 So also, the one with two bags of gold gained two more. 18 But the man who had received one bag went off, dug a hole in the ground and hid his master’s money.

19 “After a long time the master of those servants returned and settled accounts with them. 20 The man who had received five bags of gold brought the other five. ‘Master,’ he said, ‘you entrusted me with five bags of gold. See, I have gained five more.’

21 “His master replied, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!’

22 “The man with two bags of gold also came. ‘Master,’ he said, ‘you entrusted me with two bags of gold; see, I have gained two more.’

23 “His master replied, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!’

24 “Then the man who had received one bag of gold came. ‘Master,’ he said, ‘I knew that you are a hard man, harvesting where you have not sown and gathering where you have not scattered seed. 25 So I was afraid and went out and hid your gold in the ground. See, here is what belongs to you.’

26 “His master replied, ‘You wicked, lazy servant! So you knew that I harvest where I have not sown and gather where I have not scattered seed? 27 Well then, you should have put my money on deposit with the bankers, so that when I returned I would have received it back with interest.

28 “‘So take the bag of gold from him and give it to the one who has ten bags. 29 For whoever has will be given more, and they will have an abundance. Whoever does not have, even what they have will be taken from them. 30 And throw that worthless servant outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’

The RESPONSIBILITY Principle–Sunday Recap (2 Corinthians 9)

We’ve talked about this before, right?  They’re called “virtual goods”—things you can purchase that don’t actually exist.  This means that if you’re playing a video game and your character needs, I don’t know, extra “lives” or a new piece of equipment, you can purchase these “items” for a small fee of only $0.99 or so.  Seems innocent, but it’s really just marketing genius.  Even though it’s just barely under a dollar, those purchases can really add up.  You’re probably familiar with Candy Crush—the popular game everyone plays on their phones during church.  The game’s free—but if you run out of “lives” (that is, you lose a turn, for those who haven’t played it) you have to either (1) wait or (2) purchase some new ones.  Well, according to ThinkGaming.com, the app on your phone (and everyone else’s) generated over $850,000 per day during the fiscal year of 2013.  Financial experts from Forbes magazine expect that by the close of this decade, “virtual goods” such as these will be an expanding industry—one that currently generates billions of dollars annually.

Personally, I always thought greed was bad when we bought, you know, stuff.  But now that “access” has replaced “ownership,” our spending priorities have changed remarkably.  Don’t misunderstand me; it’s not wrong to like stuff, and occasional entertainment is good for the soul.  But surely much of our lives are spent in excess.  The film Fight Club took an R-rated look at this—and how it’s destroying masculinity.  “The things you own,” says one of the film’s characters, “end up owning you.”

So as we continue in Paul’s letter to the Corinthians, we see that generosity and the cheerful giver seem a welcome antidote to a culture of consumerism:

Now lit is superfluous for me to write to you about the ministry for the saints, 2 for I know your readiness, of which I boast about you to the people of Macedonia, saying that Achaia has been ready since last year. And your zeal has stirred up most of them. 3 But I am sending the brothers so that our boasting about you may not prove empty in this matter, so that you may be ready, as I said you would be.4 Otherwise, if some Macedonians come with me and find that you are not ready, we would be humiliated—to say nothing of you—for being so confident. 5 So I thought it necessary to urge the brothers to go on ahead to you and arrange in advance for the gift you have promised, so that it may be ready as a willing gift, not as an exaction.

6 The point is this:  whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. 7 Each one must give as he has decided in his heart,  not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. 8 And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that having all sufficiency in all things at all times, you may abound in every good work. 9 As it is written,

“He has distributed freely, he has given to the poor;

his righteousness endures forever.”

10 He who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will supply and multiply your seed for sowing and increase the harvest of your righteousness. 11 You will be enriched in every way to be generous in every way, which through us will produce thanksgiving to God. 12 For the ministry of this service is not only supplying the needs of the saints but is also overflowing in many thanksgivings to God. 13 By their approval of this service, they will glorify God because of your submission that comes from your confession of the gospel of Christ, and the generosity of your contribution for them and for all others,14 while they long for you and pray for you, because of the surpassing grace of God upon you. 15 Thanks be to God for his inexpressible gift! (2 Corinthians 9:1-15)

If you were here on Sunday, you got to here Tim Lester’s excellent message on this passage—as well as understanding our own financial responsibilities toward God.  Using the imagery from this passage, Tim highlighted that the “seed” is the resources that we invest toward God and his kingdom—in our context we might immediately identify that as the money you place in the weekly church offering.  The “bread” represents the resources you consume for you and your family.

Now, while “tithing” (giving 10% of one’s income) had its roots in the Old Testament (Leviticus 27:30-33, to be exact), we’d be hard pressed to find New Testament passages that said that this law applies to us today.  But that doesn’t change our approach to giving—in fact it deepens our needs to invest our “seed” in God’s kingdom.

If all of our resources are God’s, then our task—our responsibility—is to surrender it back to him.  We enjoy the blessings of his “bread,” and we faithfully commit ourselves to give our “seed” back to God.  So yes, tithing isn’t a bad standard, but for some it represents a starting point rather than an unchanging standard.

Tim specifically stated on Sunday, that “it is every person’s responsibility to search out with God how much to give.”  If the gospel liberates me from finding identity through earthly treasure, then I am now free to pursue God’s kingdom responsibilities.

 

The RESPONSIBILITY principle (2 Corinthians 8:1-8)

It must seem strange to mix faith and finance.  I always recall listening to a live performance from U2, where Bono pauses during a song to level a criticism at TV evangelists: “Well the God I believe in isn’t short of cash, mister!”  And he’s right; God certainly has the power to accomplish his vision without the need of our resources.  But to do so would be to exclude the radically relational nature of God’s kingdom, a kingdom in which we participate through our time, energy, and yes: money.

This Sunday we move from seeing our identity in Christ to seeing our responsibility as stewards and caretakers of his resources.  We turn now to a letter Paul wrote to the church in Corinth.  In 1 Corinthians, Paul had been focusing on how to navigate the cultural weirdness of Corinth—sin city of the ancient world.  In 2 Corinthians, his focus is on how we specifically do ministry in such an environment.  Among the interweaving themes, we find Paul addressing the issue of collection for the poor (“the relief of saints”—v. 4).  This collection would not only serve to benefit the poor, but also solidify support for the growing mission to reach non-Jews with the gospel of Jesus:

We want you to know, brothers, about the grace of God that has been given among the churches of Macedonia, for in a severe test of affliction, their abundance of joy and their extreme poverty have overflowed in a wealth of generosity on their part. For they gave according to their means, as I can testify, and beyond their means, of their own accord, begging us earnestly for the favor of taking part in the relief of the saints— and this, not as we expected, but they gave themselves first to the Lord and then by the will of God to us. Accordingly, we urged Titus that as he had started, so he should complete among you this act of grace. But as you excel in everything—in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in all earnestness, and in our love for you[c]—see that you excel in this act of grace also.

 

I say this not as a command, but to prove by the earnestness of others that your love also is genuine. For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ,  that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich. 10 And in this matter I give my judgment: this benefits you, who a year ago started not only to do this work but also to desire to do it. 11 So now finish doing it as well, so that your readiness in desiring it may be matched by your completing it out of what you have. 12 For if the readiness is there, it is acceptable according to what a person has, not according to what he does not have. 13 For I do not mean that others should be eased and you burdened, but that as a matter of fairness 14 your abundance at the present time should supply their need, so that their abundance may supply your need, that there may be fairness. 15 As it is written, “Whoever gathered much had nothing left over, and whoever gathered little had no lack.” (2 Corinthians 8:1-8)

In his commentary on the Corinthians letters, Ben Witherington of Asbury seminary observes the way such commands toward generosity go against the flow of ancient culture (and our own, for that matter).  How so?  Because in the ancient world, they believed strongly in the idea of “patronage”—where a person pays tribute to a higher official, and in exchange would receive blessing or an elevated social status.  In other words, it was transactional.  You give; you get.  But here we find none of that—we find instead a new interweaving of social relationships.

The gospel is like that.  No longer are we bound to laws of karma and reciprocity.  We show and share love because our lives are patterned after Jesus.  This grace-based economy is less concerned with the result and more focused on process.  Rather than a purely vertical approach, the grace based system is an approach that reaches upward toward God and outward toward others.  Rather than be preoccupied with advancement, it is saturated with humility.

Social analysts Christian Smith and Michael Emerson recently published a book called Passing the Plate, in which they analyzed the broad trends that contribute to a lack of giving.  They highlighted six areas:

1) America’s culture of mass consumption

2) Pastors’ fear of discussing money

3) Ignorance of Christian teaching about financial giving

4) Mistrust for leadership or organizations

5) Lack of conversations about money among Christians

6) Failure to adopt routine methods for giving.

How does the gospel counter such trends?  We can answer that by looking at some specific types of givers:

  • The non-giver

Motivation: “It’s my money.  Who are you to tell me what I should do with it?”

Gospel response: Everything we have belongs to God.  The gospel redeems us from our allegiance to things and provokes us to use our resources to the furthering of His kingdom.

  • The grudging giver

Motivation: “I give—when asked.  I don’t really trust the church.  I just do it because I know I’m obligated.”

Gospel response:  The gospel transforms duty into delight and obligations into habits.  If I see God as judge, I am condemned to a life of obligation and servitude—including my finances.  But if I see God as my adoptive Father—motivated by love—then I am motivated by this same love and use my resources generously for the benefit of his kingdom.

  • Services-rendered giver

Motivation: “I give because I take part in the life of the church.  My kids are in the nursery, I take part in a Bible study—it seems I should give my fair share.”

Gospel response: Jesus never gave a fair share but gave far more—out of love.  The gospel provokes us to generosity that transcends the normal boundaries of reciprocity and market value.  The gospel prompts me to give unfairly, because my life is not motivated not by karma but by grace.

  • The cheerful giver

Motivation: Nothing I have is mine.  Every blessing I receive comes from God’s great treasure chest of grace. I give out of a genuine love for Christ and His church.  Every dollar is a chance to see God’s Kingdom furthered.

All of us could do better at moving away from self and toward a radical new way of looking at our financial responsibilities.  But this starts by looking at our inward motivations, and whether our responsibilities are shaped by the gospel, or shaped by our own ideas of supply and demand.

 

The Myth of Excess (Ecclesiastes 2)

Let’s start basic: we were made for this world.  Originally, I mean.  In the story of Genesis, God creates man “and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it” (Genesis 2:15).  This happened before sin, before everything went horribly wrong.  So yes, we were made to take care of the environment that God placed us in.  Even paradise was no place for the lazy.

Now, we might take a moment to reflect on this, specifically in light of what we might call our “vocation.”  Where has God placed us?  One of the most recurring temptations throughout human history has been to drive a wedge between the “sacred” and the “secular”—that is, to value the “spiritual” life to the neglect of the earthly one.  But that’s hardly necessary—nor is it helpful.  No, from literal gardeners to teachers to accountants, each of us serves to tend to the created world around us through creativity and through relationships.

So the problem has never been the work itself.  The problem has always been an issue of worship.  Remember Augustine?  We’ve referenced him before.  He thought of the human heart as something of a pyramid.  You will never flourish, Augustine would say, unless God rests at the top of this pyramid, and your lesser loves—such as career and family—occupy the other spaces below.  Sin is therefore a form of misdirected worship—of placing something else at the top of the pyramid, something through which we find our comfort, joy, and satisfaction apart from God.   That’s why in Eden we discover that our ancestors “saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise” (Genesis 3:6).  The tree—the only one that God commanded not to eat from—suddenly went from mere object to god.

And have you ever read a better marketing slogan?  Take out “fruit” for a second, and insert—I dunno, an SUV, or a famous brand of jeans.  Aren’t those things “a delight to the eyes?”  Don’t we fool ourselves into thinking that they are “good for gaining wisdom?”  There’s a reason that advertisers are often former religious folks—they know how to hook you.   In his famous work Amusing Ourselves to Death, social analyst Neil Postman observes that rarely do TV commercials advertise their actual products.  Instead, they usually focus on the character of the consumer.   Eat this.  Wear that.  Use this product, and you’ll be happier than you were before.

Jean Kilbourne of NPR  goes further, citing research that argues “that the label of our shirt, the make of our car, and our favorite laundry detergent are filling the vacuum once occupied by religion, education, and our family name.”  Advertising, she says, has a spiritual component:

“Advertising is not only our physical environment, it is increasingly our spiritual environment as well. By definition, however, it is only interested in materialistic values….Advertising and religion share a belief in transformation and transcendence, but most religions believe that this requires work and sacrifice. In the world of advertising, enlightenment is achieved instantly by purchasing material goods. The focus of the transformation has shifted from the soul to the body. Of course, this trivializes and cheapens authentic spirituality and transcendence. But, more important, this junk food for the soul leaves us hungry, empty, malnourished.” (Jean Kilbourne, Can’t Buy My Love)

In the Bible, we meet a man who’s had this exact experience.  In the book of Ecclesiastes, the mysterious “Teacher” (who writes as if he were Solomon, though he mysteriously never identifies himself…) writes of his own quest for identity through material wealth:

“I said in my heart, “Come now, I will test you with pleasure; enjoy yourself.” But behold, this also was vanity. 2 I said of laughter, “It is mad,” and of pleasure, “What use is it?” 3 I searched with my heart how to cheer my body with wine—my heart still guiding me with wisdom—and how to lay hold on folly, till I might see what was good for the children of man to do under heaven during the few days of their life. 4 I made great works. I built houses and planted vineyards for myself. 5 I made myself gardens and parks, and planted in them all kinds of fruit trees. 6 I made myself pools from which to water the forest of growing trees. 7 I bought male and female slaves, and had slaves who were born in my house. I had also great possessions of herds and flocks, more than any who had been before me in Jerusalem. 8 I also gathered for myself silver and gold and the treasure of kings and provinces. I got singers, both men and women, and many concubines, the delight of the sons of man.

9 So I became great and surpassed all who were before me in Jerusalem. Also my wisdom remained with me. 10 And whatever my eyes desired I did not keep from them. I kept my heart from no pleasure, for my heart found pleasure in all my toil, and this was my reward for all my toil. 11 Then I considered all that my hands had done and the toil I had expended in doing it, and behold, all was vanity and a striving after wind, and there was nothing to be gained under the sun.” (Ecclesiastes 2:1-11)

Now, you might be thinking that there are things on this list you find morally objectionable.  But that’s half the point: he’s sought identity and purpose through things, through stuff.  But the more he’s searched, the more he was left empty.

The Teacher goes on to discuss other sources of identity—education, career—but even these fail to slake his spiritual thirst.  Finally he draws a strange conclusion—a conclusion he actually repeats five times throughout this strange book:

24 There is nothing better for a person than that he should eat and drink and find enjoyment in his toil. This also, I saw, is from the hand of God, 25 for apart from him who can eat or who can have enjoyment? 26 For to the one who pleases him God has given wisdom and knowledge and joy, but to the sinner he has given the business of gathering and collecting, only to give to one who pleases God. This also is vanity and a striving after wind. (Ecclesiastes 2:24-26)

So The Teacher isn’t telling us to abandon all hope.  No; he’s saying we should find joy in the material world (!).  This is a far cry from the anti-materialistic views of other religions, such as Buddhism.  Why would The Teacher reach this verdict?  Because he recognizes that these good and perfect gifts come “from the hand of God.”  The problem of self-indulgence can’t be solved through self-denial.  That just replaces one idol (wealth) with another (self-righteousness).  Instead, we must turn our focus away from the blessings and toward the Blesser; away from the gifts and toward the Giver.

I love John Mayer’s music.  In a recent interview he confesses to being “a recovered ego addict.”  It’s a statement that instantly made me recall a speech he’d made during a live performance on his album “Where the Light Is.”  What he tells the crowd was almost straight out of Ecclesiastes:

“I’ve tried every approach to living. I’ve tried it all. I haven’t tried everything, but I’ve tried every approach. Sometimes you have to try everything to get the approach the same, but whatever. I’ve tried it all. I’ve bought a buncha stuff. ….I thought I would shut myself off. I thought maybe that’s cool. Maybe that’s what you have to do to become a genius is you have to be mad. So if you can get mad before the word genius, then maybe you can make genius appear. Right? That doesn’t work either.

And I’m in a good place. I’ve paced myself pretty well. I’m 30, I’ve seen some cool stuff. I made a lot of stuff happen for myself. I made a lot of stuff happen for myself. That’s a really cool sentence when you’re in your 20s, right? “I made it happen for myself.” But all that means is that I’ve just somehow or another found a way to synthesize love. Or synthesize soothing. You can’t get that, and what I’m saying is I’ve messed with all the approaches except for one, and it’s gonna sound really corny, but that’s just love. That’s just love.

I don’t know where this musician is spiritually, but he’s onto something altogether basic.  Source your identity in things and achievements and it will lead to greed.  Source your identity in love and it will lead to gratitude.  Jesus’ self-sacrificial love was—and is—the greatest example of love of all.  Because we are united with him in death and resurrection, we can put to death the desires that once ruled us, and stand amazed at what he’s accomplished on our behalf.  Is it any wonder that the New Testament would so frequently use “riches” language to describe the gift of forgiveness and transformation?

“the riches of His kindness, restraint, and patience” (Romans 2:4)
“oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and the knowledge of God” (Romans 11:33)
“the riches of his grace” (Ephesians 1:7)
“the glorious riches of his inheritance” (Ephesians 1:18)
“the incalculable riches of the Messiah” (Ephesians 3:8)
“the riches of his glory” (Ephesians 3:16)

What more do we need?

 

 

“OH NO – A Sermon Series on Giving!” (Ecclesiastes 2)

A lot of pastors hate preaching about the topic of our newest sermon series for this Sunday and the following two weeks, feeling that preaching about giving and the issue of generosity with life resources is the odious part of the job – shaking the tree for money.

Let me say two things very quickly, and as Hans and Franz say, “Believe me now and hear me later!”

  1. This is not so much about giving as it is about stewardship, and that is quite a difference. God is the giving agent, and we are the stewarding agent to use what he first gives us that it may be in accord with kingdom values and the lasting work of eternity.
  2. I love preaching on giving and stewardship. I got over that fear a long, long time ago. There are eternal principles involved with this topic, and I did not write them. And beyond that, if you do them, you will be blessed and it is the best thing you can do for your own good. So, why should I feel bad about telling you what God says will be the best thing you can do for yourself? Really, I should feel embarrassed about that?

The Scriptures are pretty clear on this issue of using resources – speaking of time, talent, and especially treasure, which is the measurement of heart value systems.

So in this series we will look at where wealth and blessing comes from, how we are to use it, and the great opportunity we have to build a legacy that has eternal value and benefit.

The passage for this coming Sunday is from Ecclesiastes 2, where Solomon reflects on all the riches and pleasures he had experienced in life and he says this in summary in verses 10 and 11:

I denied myself nothing my eyes desired; I refused my heart no pleasure. My heart took delight in all my labor, and this was the reward for all my toil.

Yet when I surveyed all that my hands had done, and what I had toiled to achieve, everything was meaningless, a chasing after the wind; nothing was gained under the sun.

It is a true statement that no human has ever had more of everything that the human heart by nature naturally craves than King Solomon; and in the end it did not satisfy.

The stories of the dissatisfaction of the big three things of the world – money, sex, power – are legion. There are regular accounts of the rich and famous who take their own lives, doing so at a rate far beyond the general population. Stuff does not satisfy, and in fact it becomes a great weight and burden.

The event of my life where this stood out to me was from 35 years ago when I lived in Dallas and worked as a pool-cleaning and maintenance technician while going to seminary.

A lifetime pattern for me has been to drive some of the oldest and most awful-looking cars. I don’t care about cars, other than I just want them to work. So I was driving a 1969 VW Hatchback, and it was old and very… well… rusty and old-looking.69 vw hatchback

I was cleaning a couple of pools in a wealthy neighborhood where I had contracts before going golfing later that afternoon. A ministry friend of mine (and fellow student at the seminary) had a wife who worked in the pro shop of the very, very, very, very elite Dallas Country Club. Diana had bought me a golf bag Christmas present through her that had a DCC tag and logo on it.  It was thrown across the back seat of my car (since the trunk was full of pool supplies).

I was at the house for about 10 minutes, was vacuuming the pool, when up the driveway with lights and sirens comes a police car. The officer screeched to a halt behind my vehicle, looked in the window of the car while walking toward me, saw the golf bag and said, “So, YOU are a member at the Dallas Country Club, eh?”

Standing there in my official Quality Pool Service uniform (gym shorts and flip-flops), I said, “No, not yet.”

“So what’s with the DCC set of clubs in your car? Did you use the five-finger discount out of the garage?” he asked.

So I told him the story, understood why he would think what he did, and finally convinced him I was a legit serviceman by saying, “Hey, if I was stealing from people in this neighborhood, would I take time to clean their swimming pools for them?”

“You’ve got a point there,” he granted; and then said, “Well, a neighbor saw your car and called us about a probable breaking and entering.”

Here it is 35 years later, and if I saw a 69 VW in my neighborhood, I still wouldn’t call the cops.

The point is that those who have a lot have to worry about somebody else taking what they have.

Maybe it is better to just use what one has for eternal values. Let’s talk about it – about being a blessing.