Let’s do a little word association this morning. I’m going to say a word and you whisper the first thing that pops in your mind. The word is money. Question: was the word challenge on anybody’s lips?
This morning we’re beginning a January series called The Money Challenge. It is, isn’t it? For most of us. How are we supposed to maintain a decent standard of living, save a little every paycheck, be generous with God and with others, and have any margin at the end of the month? It’s a challenge.
During January, we want to help you with this challenge. In your Connect Groups you’ll be studying the book, The Money Challenge—a book loaded with biblical teaching and practical ideas that can help you turn the challenge into a blessing. And in our worship times we’ll be wrestling with some of the overarching theological matters related to money, and we’ll tease out some of the practical matters as well. This is no throwaway topic. We inhabit a world of money and things. How we handle these things may say more about our spiritual condition than anything else.
So here’s the plan: today we’re thinking about God’s ownership; next Sunday, we’re going to give Money the pulpit and hear his testimony; on the third Sunday, we’ll think about giving; and on the last Sunday, we’ll talk about God’s provision for his people. It’s going to be helpful, and it’s going to be fun. Let’s embrace the challenge and get going. I invite you to open your Bible this morning to Psalm 24:1-2.
On October 8, 1977, Dayna and I said, “I do,” in front of God and a church full of family and friends. After an exotic, the stuff dreams are made of weekend honeymoon in romantic Tulsa, Oklahoma, we moved into our mansion in Fayetteville, so I could finish my senior year. We owned almost nothing. I drove a 1964 Ford Fairlane Ranchwagon my dad had sold me for one dollar. It was a piece of rolling junk—usually rolling, that is. My college friends affectionately referred to it as “the rat-wagon.” The heater didn’t work. It had a hole in the passenger-side floorboard, and it broke down a lot. Our mansion was a little bitty one-bedroom duplex we rented for 125 bucks a month in a neighborhood on the other side of Razorback Road. Thank God it was furnished because we owned no furniture at the time. All we had in addition to my Flintstone-mobile were wedding shower goods that included some silverware, dinnerware, some kitchen stuff, some sheets, and towels. I also owned a 13-inch black and white TV I bought when I graduated high school.
My little brother also attended the University, and he had a 19-inch color TV. He was living off campus that year. His roommate also had a color TV, so you know what my generous brother did? He said we could use his color TV till he needed it. What a brother! And what a color TV! It was great. It was on that TV that I watched Arkansas crush Oklahoma in the 1978 Orange Bowl—in color. It was on that TV that I watched the Razorback basketball team go to the Final Four, lose to Kentucky, and then beat Notre Dame for third place on Ron Brewer’s last second shot from the top of the key—in color. I’m sure we watched other stuff too, but that’s what I remember. A color TV!
Several months later, when school was out, my brother’s plans changed, and guess what. He wanted our—I mean his—TV back. The nerve of the guy! It seemed like our TV by then. Isn’t possession nine-tenths of the law? But it was his TV. He picked it out. He paid for it. He kindly loaned it to us for a good long while, but it belonged to him. Or did it? Hear the word of the Lord … (read the text).
Hmm … that TV wasn’t mine, and it wasn’t really my brother’s either—that TV belonged to the Lord. “The earth and everything in it … belong to the Lord.” Everything? Even things like TVs and appliances, houses and automobiles, family heirlooms, family land, and family pets? Does the Lord own everything?
The psalmist most likely has creation in mind here. Take a good look at the hills that surround us—they belong to the Lord. The towering pine and the mighty oak belong to him too. So do the fragile flower and the thick old hedge, the rose garden and the briar patch. And what about the sun that warms the earth and the rain that refreshes it? The lakes that provide our water and the oceans that cover two-thirds of the earth? It all belongs to the Lord—water, plant, animal, vegetable, mineral. God planned it. God made it. And God sustains it. “The earth and everything in it … belong to the Lord.”
Even our stuff? The roof over our head and the food in our cupboards, the car in the garage and the TV in the den? “The earth and everything in it … belong to the Lord”—even down to our trinkets and bobbles and beads. Everything.
It’s not easy to remember that sometimes …
- Tell that to the couple that both work so they can maintain the standard of living they desire.
- Tell that to the guy who works two jobs so he can have enough money to take his family on a nice vacation once a year.
- Tell that to the shrewd investor whose wise investments turn thousands of dollars into millions.
- Tell that to the man who started a company on a shoestring and turned it into an empire through the sweat of his brow and a bunch of good decisions.
Most of us—even those who have the least—tend to forget that everything we have belongs to the Lord. When we survey our stuff, we like to think we earned it or we deserve it, or we made it happen through our own choices and efforts. But there’s more to it than that. As the people of Israel camped on the edge of the Promised Land, looking forward to the prosperity they would enjoy once they conquered it, Moses warned them not to forget by whose hand their good fortune had come and would come. Says Moses:
You may say to yourself, ‘My power and my own ability have gained this wealth for me,’ but remember that the Lord your God gives you the power to gain wealth … (Deut. 8:17-18).
It’s easy, maybe even natural, to think that all our stuff is the work of our own hands; that all our stuff is ours and ours alone. It’s a challenge to see it any other way. But the Bible tells us the truth: from the laziest bum to the hardest worker, from the richest to the poorest, everything we have belongs to the Lord—everything. “The earth and everything in it … belong to the Lord.”
But it’s not just our stuff that belongs to God; we belong to him too. “The earth and everything in it, the world and its inhabitants, belong to the Lord.” That means you and I belong to the Lord. Paul put it even more bluntly than the psalmist did. Hear 1 Corinthians 6:19-20:
Don’t you know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought at a price. So glorify God with your body.
Did you hear a key phrase in those verses: “you are not your own.” We don’t even own ourselves. We belong to God. None of us asked to be created. None of us asked to be born. And none of us did one thing to make it happen. You are on this earth because God determined that there should be a you. Our very existence is a gift of God.
Tom Troeger helps us get this in perspective. A human heart is about the size of a human fist. Lift one of your hands and make a fist. Release it. Clinch it. Release it. Clinch it. Keep doing this for a moment as I speak.
Did you know that the heart beats about sixty or seventy times a minute? That means roughly a minimum of 4000 beats an hour. So when you’re sleeping your eight hours at night, your heart might beat 32,000 times.
By now, your hand and forearm are probably tired from opening and closing your fist. And yet, last night while you were sleeping, your heart—without any conscious effort from you—kept beating without a pause: the same action that tired your hand in a minute.
And those 32,000 beats sustained you only for a single night. By the end of one week—if we figure in a little exercise—you might be up to one million beats. Add up the weeks and the months to the total number of your years, and then add that sum to the sums of everyone in this room. That’s a lot of beats, a lot of life.
When was the last time you got a bill for this? The folks who run the electric company and the gas company don’t give free service; no power company does. Have you checked your mail or your inbox? Surely, someone will be sending us a notice: “Dear Customer, our records show that you are in arrears for the beat of your heart from the day it first started. Pay by Wednesday or we are shutting off service.”
Don’t you see that every breathing, pulse-beating second of your life is a gift from God? God’s extravagance to us exceeds all bounds of human generosity. It is a God-thing, a God-gift. And it is the gift of life.
And as if the gift of physical existence was not extravagant enough, what about the gift of salvation and eternal life that God offers us through the death and resurrection of his own Son, Jesus Christ? Did you pay anything for this gift either? Of course not. Remember Paul’s words we read a moment ago: “You are not your own, for you were bought at a price”—a price you didn’t pay and couldn’t pay. Jesus paid it all through his death and resurrection. Jesus spent his life to pay for yours. Good thing he did, because you and I could never afford such a lavish gift as this.
So life on earth, life in heaven, and all our good stuff while we’re here are gifts from God—loaned to us but owned by God. That’s a strong biblical and theological principle. When you look at your stuff, before you think about spending it or giving it, remember who gave it to you. Remember God the owner. But how can we drive that truth into our everyday consciousness? How can we keep this in front of us so that it becomes less a principle we know and more a life we lead?
In one church, a sixth-grade Sunday School teacher gave each child in his class a bunch of stickers that read, “This belongs to Jesus.” He told them to put these little stickers on everything at home they owned—phone, tablet, video games, toys, bikes, book, piggy bank, everything—to remind them that all of these things actually belonged to Jesus and to encourage them to use these things in ways that would please the owner.
I could use a bunch of those stickers, how about you? I need to put one on my house and my car. And I need one for my computer and my phone. I need one for my library. I need one on my Kindle and my TV and my golf clubs too. I better put one on all my fitness DVDs, not to mention my pushup stands and pull-up bar and medicine balls and dumbbells and kettle bell and all the other gym equipment Dayna regrets I ever brought into the house. I really like that stuff, but it doesn’t belong to me. And I couldn’t stop there. I need one of those stickers for my calendar and my bank account, reminding me that my time and my money are not my own—it all belongs to Jesus. Even though they’re now 35 and 37 years old, it probably wouldn’t hurt for me to put one of those stickers on my kids. And I better stick one on my own forehead, because I don’t even own myself—I belong to Jesus too.
How do you think an exercise like this might change your life?
- Do you think it would make you more grateful—through the constant reminder that everything you have belongs to Jesus and are gifts to you?
- Do you think it would make you more discerning in what you keep, what you get rid of, and in what you purchase in the future—knowing that Jesus’ name is on all your stuff?
- Do you think it would make you more content with what you have—dependent upon a loving Father who knows your every need and provides accordingly?
- And do you think it would make you less selfish and a better giver—realizing that what you have is not your own to begin with and that you are managing the Lord’s resources not yours?
Putting stickers on our stuff and on our lives that read “This belongs to Jesus” would surely impact our lives for good and make better Christians of us all. This is a truth that can change our lives. Ask Jesus to use this truth to change you.
She couldn’t believe it. She’d almost had two wrecks and a heart attack trying to get to the airport on time, and once there, she got the bad news that her flight was delayed. “Might as well kill a little time,” she thought. So she stepped into the coffee shop, bought a cup of coffee and a little package of cookies. The place was packed so she set her things down at a table across from a man she didn’t know.
The woman got lost in her phone. She checked her emails. She cruised Facebook. Played a couple of games. Bored with that, she reached for a newspaper someone left on the table. She was thumbing through the paper when she heard a package tear and what sounded like someone eating a cookie. She peered over her paper and was shocked to see that the man across from her was eating a cookie, one of her cookies. “Of all the nerve,” she thought. “Maybe he doesn’t realize those cookies are mine.” So she reached around her paper and took the next cookie. “That’ll do it,” she thought. “He’ll get the message and quit mooching my cookies.” But no sooner had she returned to her paper than she heard the man eating another cookie. Okay. She was starting to get her mad on. As she reached for the last cookie, she was too late. The man beat her to it and took it for himself. But noticing the woman wanted it too, he smiled, broke it in half and gave her half the cookie.
The lady was furious. She was chewing him out in her head: “Who does this man think he is to take my cookies. He didn’t even ask. He just took them like a common thief. Some nerve he has—and a perfect stranger too.” Just as she screwed up the courage to give him a piece of her mind, a voice on the airport intercom announced that her flight was boarding. “Oh, just forget it,” she thought. She gave the man a little glare and got in line at her gate. She boarded, took her seat, reached into her purse for her compact, and pulled out the bag of cookies she’d bought at the coffee shop. He wasn’t eating her cookies; she was eating his.
Look at your stuff and your bank account. Look at your time and your family. Look in the mirror too. Those aren’t your cookies you’re eating; they’re God’s. In his kindness and grace, he gladly and generously shares them with you. Enjoy them. Manage them wisely. Share them generously. He wants you to. But never ever forget who they really belong to.
Preached: January 7, 2018First Baptist Church, Hot Springs, AR
John Scott McCallum II