Is money good or bad?

money_bnzHave you seen the ads on TV and on billboards around town, ‘Is money good? Is money bad?’, and, ‘Why don’t we ask the hard questions about money?’ Some of our biggest banks, BNZ and Westpac, want us to put the money question on the table.

But when it comes to money, we find it pretty hard to get to the nitty-gritty. Do you proclaim your bank balance (or lack there-of) for the world to know? Would you discuss a financial decision with the guy on the train next to you?I find talking about financial matters grueling. I have sweated, cried, yelled, and stressed about money. And it is an integral part of our daily lives. From hoping your eftpos card isn’t declined at the McDonald’s drive-thru (with the massive queue of Big-Mac-addicted truckies waiting impatiently behind) to thinking about property, investments, funding education and travel, money dictates many decisions we make.

As we become more mature and independent, we must take on more responsibility for how we manage our money. No more pocket money for mowing the lawns or paper runs that earn barely enough for a pie from the tuck shop. As we get more money entrusted to us we need to think more about it (apparently, because the banks think that’s a good idea) but also because Jesus taught a heap about money and how we can use it wisely.

Jesus spoke about money more frequently than anything apart from the Kingdom of God. He sat at the temple and observed people giving their offerings (Luke 21). Can you imagine your pastor following the offering bag as it was passed around to see what you put in?

Jesus warned people that money is powerful. He stated that it can have mastery over you (Matt 6:24). He said that it was only temporary (Matt 6:19), and that to be his disciple would cost everything that we own (Luke 14:33). The tragedy of the rich young ruler who couldn’t let go of his possessions to follow Jesus is a test case for the command of wealth can have over us (Mark 10:17-24). Martin Luther (father of the Protestant movement) once said, ‘we must be converted in our mind, in our heart, and in our wallet’.

Why was Jesus apparently so opposed to money for God’s sake?

Back in the Old Testament God made it very clear that He really cared for the people on the edges: the orphans, widows, foreigners, exiles, slaves, outcasts. He laid out special instructions for looking out for these people in the community (for example Exodus 22:22-27). The prophets charged the Israelites with getting rich by exploiting the poor and vulnerable and God was penalizing them by allowing them to be enslaved in exile themselves (for example Amos 8). In the New Testament James warned about double standards for behaving around the rich and poor (James 2:1-9).

Money offers us power at the expense of the people God is most concerned with.

Another example Jesus used was of the rich man and Lazarus (Luke 16:19-31)

The saddest part of this story for me was that poor Lazarus was literally at the gate of the rich man’s house. He wasn’t a face on a TV screen being beamed from thousands of kilometres away. He wasn’t a statistic from a natural disaster or an economic regime that had gone belly-up.

I moved to a wealthy part of Auckland a while ago and often parked my car on the roadside. In the first two weeks I lived there I was called by the police twice to notify me that my car had been stolen and dumped. Funnily enough my car was just where I had parked it. My concerned neighbours just couldn’t fathom the idea that someone who lived in their neighbourhood would drive a rust bucket like my car and so obviously it had to be stolen. This emphasised to me the separation between the realities of the rich and the poor, right on my doorstep.

There are ways that we can use money that honour God, provide for one another, take care of His creation. But we need to be intentional about it. Because our banks, our malls, our consumer-driven economy are all literally screaming at us (just think of the Big-Save Furniture ads!) to spend, to consume, to make ourselves feel better with newer, bigger, brighter. Jesus even had a warning parable for this kind of lifestyle: Luke 12:16-21

So how can we go about it? John Wesley, founder of the Methodist church gave some simple but wise financial instructions to his followers and I think they are still useful today. He said: Gain it, Save it, Give it away.

So, go out and get a job, don’t be a bludger or lazy. Do your work and collect your reward. That’s fair. There are people who have an incredible knack (or gift) for making money. If that’s you, go and do it. Entrepreneurship is seriously needed in the church.

Make sure that you are making wise financial decisions. Talk with people you respect about your spending habits. Do not gamble! If you get into strife over debts, check out CAP (Christians Against Poverty). They are an awesome advocacy group who can help you with budgeting, talking to creditors and organizing bill repayments.

Finally, be generous! We recently had the opportunity to give some money to a plumbing apprentice who had had all of his tools stolen. Good tools are not cheap and we had to dig deep. But I knew that we had been blessed in many ways by God and so it became a blessing rather than a sacrifice to bless this guy with some financial assistance. We gave knowing that God would provide for us again, trusting Him, not the (tiny) buffer in our bank balance.

I would love to hear your money stories. How are you with sharing with the poor? How do you practice saving? What do you think of what Jesus said about money and wealth? Katy

Katy Berkley, Church of the Saviour, Blockhouse Bay. Image via BNZ on Facebook

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