Investing Wisely (According to Jesus)

With the markets being so volatile, there are those who are having trouble knowing what to invest in. I have no idea how my pension plan is doing day to day, I am just happy to have one! Many don’t. When we think of investments, we need not just think of wealth and money. We can also think of how we invest our time. The well-to-do and not-so-well-to-do alike have the same amount of time to invest. We can also think of how we invest our abilities and “gifts.” The well-to-do and not-so-well-to-do alike have much to offer, abilities to invest. So is there good advice for how we should invest? Should we invest in Apple, or in gold? Well, Jesus has something to tell us about investments:

Don’t store up treasures here on earth, where moths eat them and rust destroys them, and where thieves break in and steal. Store your treasures in heaven, where moths and rust cannot destroy, and thieves do not break in and steal. Wherever your treasure is, there the desires of your heart will also be. Matthew 6:19-21 (NLT) 

Jesus would have us choose investments in heaven. What does that mean? What it does not mean, is giving away all your money so that you will receive a bigger reward when you get to heaven. That is not the point. The point is, whatever wealth you accumulate on earth will not last. It can be destroyed by moths when it is precious fabric, a valuable investment in ancient times, it can be destroyed by rust when it is precious metal, another valuable investment in ancient times, and of course it can be destroyed by a market crash. And if our investments do not lose value in those ways, they will certainly be of no value to us when we are dead:

Those who are wise must finally die,
just like the foolish and senseless,
leaving all their wealth behind . . . .
People who boast of their wealth don’t understand;
they will die, just like animals. Psalms 49:10,20 (NLT)

“Treasures in heaven” are investments that last. They are not affected by moth, or rust, or market crashes. “Treasures in heaven” are investments of real heavenly value. We store up treasures in heaven when we invest in justice and peace, things that result in a lasting impact on people. We store up treasures in heaven when we invest in someone’s walk with Jesus, which will have a lasting impact on them plus the people in their sphere of influence. We store up treasures in heaven when we invest in someone’s opportunity to experience peace with God. That is a treasure that can never be taken away!

Jesus has more to say on the matter:

Your eye is like a lamp that provides light for your body. When your eye is healthy, your whole body is filled with light. But when your eye is unhealthy, your whole body is filled with darkness. And if the light you think you have is actually darkness, how deep that darkness is! Matthew 6:22-23 (NLT)

This is one of those sayings that would make perfect sense to the people of Jesus’ day, but is harder for us to understand. Basically, a bright eye, or rather a “simple,” or “generous” eye, is an eye that can really see what is going on. I remember when the headlight burned out on my motorcycle. Since I only had one, it was dark, and how deep that darkness was! People with good eyes can see far down the road. They can see what their investments will accomplish. They can see the difference generosity will make.

Let us give an example. Suppose you invent something really useful, the best thing since sliced bread. From your invention you earn one million dollars every year for the next 100 years. You decide to invest all of it in a super-high interest account. Now just imagine how much that would be worth in 100 years! Now think how much it will actually be worth to you in 100 years. If you have a healthy eye, you will see that it will ultimately be of no worth to you, for you will be gone! And by the way, your grandchildren will fight tooth and nail over it. Now, what if it was invested in God’s great kingdom purposes? What good would it do? How many lives might it touch? How many families might be positively impacted when people learn to walk wth Jesus in faith, hope, and love? How many people might spend eternity with God as a result of investing in God’s purposes? Can we see the future returns on our investments? Let us keep in mind that our investments are more than just money, but also time and abilities. Do we see the future impact our investments can have?

Jesus has yet more to say on the matter:

No one can serve two masters; for a slave will either hate the one and love the other, or be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth. Matthew 6:24 (NRSV)

Let us note what Jesus did not say. He did not say “You cannot pursue both God and wealth.” Jesus is not commending here a vow of poverty. We can pursue both. But we can only serve one. Consider again the example given above about earning a million dollars a year. We can do that. It is not wrong to earn money. But where will we invest it? Will we serve God with our wealth? Or will we serve the wealth itself?

We can worship God every Sunday, be vocal about our trust in God for salvation, and follow all the rules. But we could be missing the mark in our priorities regarding wealth. We can be a people who worship wealth, trust it more than God, and fail to love people through it. Jesus is leading us to choose generosity toward God’s great kingdom purposes. Jesus is leading us to be the kind of people who worship God with our wealth, trust God more than our wealth, and love people with our wealth. Do we love the wealth we have? Or do we love people using the wealth we have?

Jesus had a great investment strategy. Jesus himself chose to store up treasures in heaven:

You know the generous grace of our Lord Jesus Christ. Though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that by his poverty he could make you rich. 2 Corinthians 8:9 (NLT)

Jesus is the ultimate example of one who chose to store up treasures in heaven, who had a healthy eye seeing the impact of his investment, who served the Father, not wealth. He invested in us at the cross. That treasure can never be eaten by moths, destroyed by rust, or affected by stock market crashes. That was an investment with returns that last for eternity! Whatever we have that we can invest, whether financial wealth, time, or abilities and talents, let us invest like Jesus.

(For a limited time, the full sermon can be heard at https://podpoint.com/calvary-baptist-church-cobourg-podcast)

Did You Bring the Right Offering to Church?

Did you bring the right offering to your church? Perhaps pastors such as myself will be tempted to say “no.” That may be based on organizational number crunching for 2019 and a realization that red is not just a Christmas colour. As Christmas fades into the past, an event following that first Christmas will help us reflect on our offering.

Let us consider the Magi. We usually think of the Magi as being at the manger along with the shepherds on the first Christmas Day. However, based on Herod’s killing of Bethlehem’s 2-years-old-and-under infants (see Matt 2:16), they likely arrived later.

On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. Matthew 2:11 (NIV)

Being non-Jewish, the Magi do not bring an offering according to any religious rule, but rather from of a spirit of generosity. It is an interesting exercise to read through the entire New Testament, taking note of how often religious rules for giving are promoted in contrast to how often generosity is taught and modelled, especially by Jesus.

It is an interesting exercise to also consider the difference between giving out of religious duty and a spirit of generosity. For example, it is possible to earn millions of dollars, tithe a tenth of all that is earned to a church, and yet be completely lacking in a generous spirit. We would be left with incredible wealth, yet could still be stingy to everyone and every need that crosses our paths. Even though we have given much to our church community, we can be Scrooge-like in sharing our gifts of time and talents. Are our offerings of time, talents, and treasures an expression of a growing and generous spirit, or merely an expression of how religious we are? Our offering is not just a matter of accounting and number crunching, but a matter of the heart.

Further, let us consider that the Magi bring their offering, not to the temple, but to a person. Are our offerings focused on Jesus? Are they focused on Jesus when they are given to an organization we call a church? It is more important that churches help people connect and walk with Jesus, than simply keep churchy and religious things happening. Since our offerings are part of personal devotion and worship, we would bring them as an act of worship, even if we were asked by God to be burn them on an altar.  But God has not asked for that. He has directed us to help people connect with Him.

Therefore, go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. 20 Teach these new disciples to obey all the commands I have given you. And be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” Matthew 28:19-20 (NLT)

Do our offerings help people connect with God and walk with Jesus?

There is another offering for us to consider as we bid farewell to the Christmas season. Let us go back to the temple, to the moment Simeon held the infant Jesus in his arms and said to Mary:

“This child is destined to cause many in Israel to fall, and many others to rise. He has been sent as a sign from God, but many will oppose him. 35 As a result, the deepest thoughts of many hearts will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your very soul.” Luke 2:34-35 (NLT)

sword would indeed pierce Mary’s soul when Jesus was opposed by his own people, who should have known better, and hung on a cross by the Romans, who should have done better. We are barely beyond Christmas and already we are hearing about Good Friday. While we think of the offerings of the Magi, the offering brought by God for outsiders like the Magi is the real news here. God’s generous spirit is on full display! Have you brought the right offering to church? Come to Jesus, see the gift he has for you. Then see where generosity leads you.

Learning Generosity: Hearts and Heads All In!

Learning to make do with a  smaller bike!

Learning to make do with a smaller bike!

Twice now my heart’s desire has led me to larger bikes, a ’94 Triumph Sprint 900 and a ’02 Sprint 955. But also twice my head’s straight thinking has sent me back to a smaller bikes, and now I ride a Honda 125, which happens to have a smaller engine than a typical lawn mower! Often our decisions depend on what is going on in both our hearts and our heads, and decisions around generosity are no different.

Generosity is to be a character trait of every Christian, expressed in many more ways than just financial, and it is something the Spirit of God develops within us. However, we can tend to stifle, or “quench the Spirit” in many ways including through ungodly desires. These can take three forms:

  1. Coveting: we want what someone else has.
  2. Greed: we want more than what other people have.
  3. Indulgence, or plain desire for a lot: we want more than what we currently have, or we want to keep at least what we currently have.

It does not take a rocket scientist to figure out that each of these will make it difficult for us to be generous people. When we want, want, want, we will not be inclined to give, give, give. So what should we do if generosity is to develop within us as a character trait?

In Our Hearts

Shall we just shut off the desire of our hearts? Have you ever met someone with no desire at all? They end up acting like zombies. Like the zombies from the movie World War Z who just sit around when there are no victims, people with no desire just sit around. God did not create us to just sit around! The solution, rather,  is found in 1st Timothy 6:6: “there is great gain in godliness combined with contentment” (NRSV). Shutting desire down altogether is not the way forward, but rather trading in our ungodly desire for godly desire. Move away from our own desires which often revolve around stuff, appearance, or status, and instead let our hearts burn for that which the heart of God burns: a just society where people are at peace with themselves, one another, and with God. A society where everyone is taken care of. If “the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil” (1 Timothy 6:10 NRSV), then the love of God is the root of all kinds of good. Walking with God and letting the passion of His heart give passion to ours will certainly lead us to develop generous hearts.

In Our Heads

But while our hearts may be enflamed with the desire to do good our heads may yet rule with a nagging voice “don’t be silly, you cannot be generous, you do not have enough for yourself yet.” Let us remember 1st Timothy 6:6, “there is great gain in godliness combined with contentment.” Here is where the contentment part comes in. Where godly desire has to do with the work going on in our hearts, contentment has to do with what is going on in our heads. We think through: “do I really need all this, do I really need more?”

When looking to make motorcycling more affordable I came across so many opinions that I would never be satisfied with a small motorcycle, especially a 125cc. But my head got to thinking – that the vast majority of people in the world, and throughout history have never had the thrill or opportunity of riding any motorcycle, who am I to complain about a wee bike? So down went my engine size, down went my insurance, down went my maintenance costs, up went my gas mileage, and I must say, up went the fun factor. I made the decision to be content which then gave me permission to use my resources elsewhere. When we give contentment some serious thought in our heads, we give our hearts permission to give, and give away.

I love the last scene of Schindler’s List. Oskar Shindler is being thanked by a crowd of Jews for all those whom he had saved through his work program, about eleven hundred people. But instead of accepting their gratitude he is filled with remorse. He looks at his car: “ten more”- if he had sold his car he could have saved ten more. He looks at his pin “two more”- If he had sold his pin he could have saved two more. The movie ends with the hero recognizing his failure: “I wasted so much money.” The movie begins with Schindler looking to make lots of money. His heart strings are pulled by the injustice he sees and so his heart yearns to do good. But by his own admission, he learned contentment late. May we not stand before God at the end of time saying “I could have done so much more good if I had learned to be content with so much less!” Lord may it not be so. Fill our hearts now with godly desire, fill our minds now with wisdom in being content. Amen.