Friday, July 14, 2017

"Give and Take"

                If you’re like me, then periodically you take a look at your money, to figure out where your spending, saving, or investing is on target, where you might be underspending, and where you might be overspending.  According to a Mental Floss article by Lucas Reilly,[i] “Last year, Americans spent $10.7 trillion shopping. With that much dough, you could buy over 2000 aircraft carriers, 300 private islands, and still have money left over for a latte. Here’s a taste of the things we bought—and how much we spent on them.”

  • ·         Beer: $96 billion
  • ·         Over-the-Counter Teeth Whiteners: $1.4 billion
  • ·         Pet Halloween Costumes: $310 million 
  • ·         Romance Novels: $10 billion
  • ·         Chocolate: $16 billion
  • ·         Perfume: $4.2 billion
  • ·         Gambling: $34.6 billion
  • ·         Coffee: $11 billion 
  • ·         Tattoos: $2.3 billion
  • ·         Tattoo Removal: $66 million
  • ·         Golf Balls: $500 million
  • ·         Girl Scout Cookies: $800 million
  • ·         Taxidermy: $800 million
  • ·         Video Games: $17 billion dollars
  • ·         Soft Drinks: $65 billion
  • ·         Bottled Water: $11 billion
  • ·         Fast Food: $117 billion
  • ·         Professional Sports: $25.4 billion
  • ·         Ringtones: $5 billion worldwide

Certainly, there are areas of extravagance in your own life that you look at and consider justifiable.  Recently, I spent a considerable sum on travel, and it was totally worth it!  Then, other times, you evaluate your spending and determine where to cut back on your opulence.  How we determine our priorities involves a little give-and-take within our lives and budgets.  John 12:1-8 (NLT) gives an example of two opposite approaches and attitudes to our personal finances, and the way we give to God.
 Six days before the Passover celebration began, Jesus arrived in Bethany, the home of Lazarus—the man he had raised from the dead. A dinner was prepared in Jesus’ honor. Martha served, and Lazarus was among those who ate with him. Then Mary took a twelve-ounce jar of expensive perfume made from essence of nard, and she anointed Jesus’ feet with it, wiping his feet with her hair. The house was filled with the fragrance.
But Judas Iscariot, the disciple who would soon betray him, said, “That perfume was worth a year’s wages. It should have been sold and the money given to the poor.” Not that he cared for the poor—he was a thief, and since he was in charge of the disciples’ money, he often stole some for himself.Jesus replied, “Leave her alone. She did this in preparation for my burial. You will always have the poor among you, but you will not always have me.”

Mary’s attitude toward money came from a perspective of gratitude.  We know that the Master frequently visited their home in Bethany.  In Luke 10, Mary sat at Jesus’ feet to receive His teaching, and Jesus defended her right to do so.  In John 11, Jesus raised Mary’s brother Lazarus from the dead.  So her extravagant giving reflected her gratitude for what God had done for her.  Seeing that God had already provided her needs, she had faith that God would do so again.  This faith prompted her to spend and give from an attitude of abundance.

Judas, on the other hand, came from a perspective of scarcity and greed.  These two go hand in hand.  Because a person believes in a limited amount of good, greed says they have to hoard it all for themselves and not let others have it.  Judas’ objection had nothing to do with real charity, but was truly motivated out of greed because he stole from the common purse.  Rather than wanting the poor to be blessed, or even for Jesus to be honored with Mary’s lavish gift, Judas wanted to line his own pockets.

When faced with a choice as to how to spend, save, invest, and give, we need to check our attitudes and see whether we are really grateful for God’s provision and therefore generous, or whether we have a scarcity perspective and are therefore greedy.  Our attitude will either make us like extravagant Mary or thieving Judas.  Yes, it’s possible for us to cheat God and therefore cheat ourselves, if we have the wrong attitudes.  In Malachi 3:8-10 (NLT), God says:

 “Should people cheat God? Yet you have cheated me!
“But you ask, ‘What do you mean? When did we ever cheat you?’
“You have cheated me of the tithes and offerings due to me.You are under a curse, for your whole nation has been cheating me. Bring all the tithes into the storehouse so there will be enough food in my Temple. If you do,” says the Lord of Heaven’s Armies, “I will open the windows of heaven for you. I will pour out a blessing so great you won’t have enough room to take it in! Try it! Put me to the test!
These verses have been misused by Prosperity Gospel preachers who say you can get rich by giving to the church.  While they don’t promise that, they do indicate two things.  First, that a Mary-like perspective of abundance enables you to be generous with God and with other people.  2 Corinthians 9:6-7 says, “Remember this—a farmer who plants only a few seeds will get a small crop. But the one who plants generously will get a generous crop. You must each decide in your heart how much to give. And don’t give reluctantly or in response to pressure. “For God loves a person who gives cheerfully.”  Because you reap what you sow, when you give blessing into the world, you also reap blessing.  So through Malachi’s voice, God offers a challenge—to test God in this and try generosity as a way of life.

The second thing Malachi says is that it’s possible for us to be like Judas, who dipped his hand into the purse.  You might not be literally stealing from the offering plate, but you could be robbing God by withholding generosity from God or from people.  Your church has budgetary needs, and Jesus says, “You will always have the poor among you.”  God asks believers to support good work.  Greedy, grasping hands like Judas’ might deprive the church and its ministries (like benevolence) of sustenance.  If you have an attitude of scarcity, you might unwittingly be cheating God, others, and yourself of blessing.

When I look at the things Americans overspend on, I find my own spirit convicted by some aspects of that list.  Do you?  How can you add a little give-and-take to your budget, so that you increase your giving and decrease your taking?  Like Malachi, I challenge you to pray about it—and test God in it.  See how you can be less like Judas and more like Mary

[i] Reilly, Lucas.  “By the Numbers: How Americans Spend Their Money.”  Mental Floss.  

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