money

Why We Do What We Do: What's The Deal With Offerings?

Listen to the audio of the sermon here. Watch the Facebook Live stream of the sermon here. 

Why do we take an offering? The obvious answer is, “To keep the lights on.” We take an offering here at the church to pay the bills, invest in our church family (a portion is set aside for that reason) and promote missional living in the community and the world, but there is so much more to it than that. I’m going to talk this morning about a biblical call stewardship and generosity, particularly when it comes to money. First, some context of how the Bible handles this issue:

  • Sixteen of the thirty-eight parables were concerned with how to handle money and possessions.
  • 10% of the Gospels deal directly with the subject of money.
  • There are approximately 500 verses on prayer, less than 500 verses on faith, but more than 2,000 verses on money and possessions.
  • A LOT more addressing poverty/the poor

Why does the Bible make such a big deal about money? Because money is powerful. Matthew 6 records Jesus reminding us that we will find our hearts next to our treasure. In other words, what do you love? Then he gets specific: we cannot serve God and money. In fact, the Bible treats two areas of life as exceptionally important: money (by volume of mentions) and sex (by noting how it uniquely impacts us – see 1 Corinthians 6 - I suspect because it’s the only act meant to initiate and affirm a covenant between a man and a woman.)

Both of these things can be beautiful and life-giving and be used to build the kingdom of God, and both of them can mess us up and leave a trail of destruction behind us. Because they are so powerful, we must handle them with exceptional care.

We’ve got to get money right. We must put it in its place in such a way that we are not mastered by it. How do we do this? Let’s focus first on some biblical principles, then we will talk about what God accomplishes in us through our obedience.

Money Is From God

Ecclesiastes 5:19:  Every man  to whom God has given richesand wealth,and has given him power to use it, and to take his portion, and to rejoice in his labour; this is the gift of God.

We Are Meant To Be Stewards

For the kingdom of heaven is like a man traveling to a far country, who called his servants and delivered his goods to them. And to one he gave five talents, to another two, and to another one, to each according to his own ability; and immediately he went on a journey. Then the one with the five talents went and traded with them, and made another five talents. And the one with two gained two more also. But he who had received one went and dug in the ground, and hid his lord’s money....... To those who use well what they are given, even more will be given, and they will have an abundance. But from those who do nothing, even what little they have will be taken away. (Matthew 25)

Notice: the man had money; he gave his servants money. There is no suggestion money was the problem. The question is how we steward what we have been given. Do we “use it well?”

We Must Never Forget Money’s Destructive Nature

Mark 10:24 “Children, how hard is it for those who trust in richesto enter into the kingdom of God!”

Matthew 13:22The seed among the thorns is like those that hear the word; but the love of this world, and the deceitfulness of riches, choke the word of God, and he becomes unfruitful.

1 Timothy 6:10For the love of moneyis a root of all sorts of evil, and some by longing for it have wandered away from the faith...

Hebrews 13:5:  Let your character be free from the love of money, being content with what you have; for Jesus said, “I WILL NEVER LEAVE YOU, NOR WILL I EVER FORSAKE YOU…”

Proverbs 11:28He that trusts in his richeswill fall: but the righteous will flourish...

Psalms 62:10...If richesincrease, don’t set your heart upon them.

Proverbs 22:1  A good name is rather to be chosen than great riches, and loving favour rather than silver and gold.

I get nervous when I see polls where Christians rank the economy as one of their most important issues come election time. If by that we mean those 3,000 verses about the poor have sunk in and we are wanting a society where the poor can rise out of poverty, or so we have more money to give those in need, awesome. If it means we want bigger and better things, that makes me really nervous. Be wary of money. Some by longing for it have wandered away from the faith. The deceitfullness of riches will choke the Word out of our lives. Don’t set your heart on them.

[embed]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=x1zoX2J8s6w[/embed]

We Must Also Remember Its Potential For Good

Now, my brothers, we must tell you about the grace[1]that God had given to the Macedonian churches. Somehow, in most difficult circumstances, their joy and the fact of being down to their last penny themselves produced a magnificent concern for other people. I can guarantee that they were willing to give to the limit of their means, yes and beyond their means, without the slightest urging from me or anyone else.

In fact they simply begged us to accept their gift of supporting their brothers in Christ. Nor was their gift, as I must confess I had expected, a mere cash payment. Instead they made a complete dedication of themselves first to the Lord and then to us, as God’s appointed ministers...

 I don’t want you to read this as an order. It is only my suggestion, prompted by what I have seen in others of eagerness to help, and here is a way to prove the reality of your love. Do you remember the generous grace of Jesus Christ, the Lord of us all? He was rich beyond our telling, yet he generously became poor for your sakes so that his poverty might make you rich." (2 Corinthians 8:1-9)

Generosity is a gift of grace: a blessing from God to others through us by the power of the Holy Spirit, and a way to show the reality of our love for Christ and appreciation for his generous grace. 

In the Bible, power and resources are always meant to be used for the good of those who are weak and powerless. The Macedonians could have said, "Don't talk to us about the problems in Jerusalem. We’ve got our own problems."  Paul says that their lack of resources became a motivation for giving. They understood poverty. And because they understood, they had to do something. The sense is that they determined what they could comfortably contribute -  and then went beyond this figure.

Charles Spurgeon once received an invitation to preach at his rural church as a fundraiser to pay off some church debt. The man who contacted him told Spurgeon that he could use one of the man’s three homes (he had one in the country, the town, and by the sea). Spurgeon wrote back, "Sell one of the places and pay the debt yourself."

When we realize that others are in need, and we have the resources to alleviate that need, we should generously and joyfully do so. It is a sign that the Holy Spirit is at work in our lives. God does not prosper us so we can indulge ourselves; He prospers us so we can extend the gift of generous grace to others.

This is not where I guilt you into giving more to CLG or any other cause in the Kingdom of God. First, God wants us to give joyfully, and guilt does not lead to joy. Second, the tithe is not a New Testament teaching. The tithe in the Old Testament functioned much like a tax on the Jewish people (as much as 20% tithe some years, and perhaps higher). There is no tax in the New Testament.

This does not mean our money is ours.The opposite is true. God is no longer laying claim to 10% (which is what tithe literally means – a tenth); He is laying claim to all of it. We are stewards of what we have, not owners. 10% is too simple. It allows us to pay our tax to God and then do whatever we want with the rest. When we do that, we miss the point.

See, the Macedonians gave entirely on their own, by a free choice. They were not pressured into giving. They gave willingly – they begged for the privilege of being involved. Paul did not use guilt to motivate them.

Generosity is meant to be genuine expression of our financial commitment to God as an act of worship, not a legalistic transaction followed by angry, begrudging givers. The actual amount they gave not mentioned. That’s because it wasn’t about the amount; it was about the heart. God cares about motives more than amount (though the amount might speak to your motives).

God does not want you to be generous out of guilt or fear. You can’t buy favor with God, and you shouldn’t try to buy favor with others. These Macedonians gave because their hearts were moved by the generous grace of God.  If I don’t have a generous mindset or a generous heart, what do I have yet to learn about the grace of God?

The question isn’t, “How much do I get to keep after I give God his tax?”  The question is, “How much am I able to give back into the service of the Kingdom of God?[2]

A 10% tithe lets us off the hook.There is no need to analyze the thoughts and intents of our heart, to see if money is an idol, to be honest about if we have placed our trust in material things rather than God.

A 10% tithe lets us avoid how we think about money in our souls.  Jesus constantly moved The Law inside. It’s not just, “Do you kill people or cheat on your spouse?”  It’s, “What do you desire in your heart? What do you want to have happen? What are you really thinking?”

God cares about motives.

We are to give generously and voluntarily as we understand and are moved by the grace and generosity of God

So how can we get to that point? I think Paul tells us: the Macedonians gave themselvesfirst to the Lordand then gave their thingsto the cause of Paul (on behalf of the Kingdom of God).

Jesus was once asked whether people should pay taxes or not. He held up a coin and said:

"Whose image is on this coin?" They answered, "Caesar's." Jesus said, “Give to Caesar the things that have Caesar's picture on them, but give to God the things that have the image of God upon them..." (Matthew 22:20-21, Mark 12:16-17, Luke 20:24-25).

What has the image of God? We do. God wants us. When we truly give ourselves to Christ, everything else will follow, and that includes our money.  The trail of our things will lead us to our god. The testimony of our checkbook will do the same. [3]

I don’t just mean money. Paul said that the Macedonians did not give “a mere cash payment.”I mean time, resources, energy, friendship, free time, priorities… Many people are impoverished in many different ways. Who gets what you have to give?

So what happens in us when we do this? What is God’s plan for how giving an offering to him of what He has given to us is meant to do a work in us?

  1. In giving back to God, we are reminded that our trust is in God.When we give away our financial cushion, we are going to hit hard against life. Aren’t those places of lack and need where trust in God is built? An offering is an opportunity to build trust in God.
  2. In giving back to God, we are reminded that we are part of a community that needs our contribution.“All the believers were one in heart and mind. No one claimed that any of his possessions were all his own, but they shared everything they had...it was distributed to anyone as he had need.” (Acts 4:32-35) An offering gives the opportunity to participate in the community of brothers and sisters in Christ.
  3. In giving back to God, we reorient our hearts.When we give our treasure to God, our heart follows, right? Where our treasure is, there is our heart. This can happen in a lot of ways: Money; Time (pro bono work, volunteerism): Resources (lending): Presence (listening, investing relationally)

An offering, then, is the opportunity to worship God, to realign our heart, soul, mind and strength so that we think God’s thoughts first, not ours.

____________________________________________________________________________

[1]It’s worth noting that the word for "grace" or “gift” (charis) is also found in 1 Corinthians in the classic passage on spiritual gifts. Maybe the ability to use money generously should be added to our list of spiritual gifts?

[2]Some passages on generosity: Acts 2:43–47; 4:32–37; 11:27–30; Galatians 2:10; 1 Corinthians 16:1–4; 2 Corinthians 8:1–9:15

[3]This must be biblically balanced with the responsibilities God has given to us for the people and things entrusted to our care. Proverbs is full of advice about how to handle money wisely; that includes saving, taking care of your family, etc. Don’t neglect the necessities of life unless God has clearly called you to a radical lifestyle of poverty. I’m talking more about where our heart is. Do we desire to be generous and constantly look for opportunities within the framework of the other obligations God has given us? Do we hold our money loosely or tightly?

Money, Power, And Church Elders (1 Peter 5:1-5)

5-13-SERMON.jpg

  A guy named Lord Acton is credited with saying, “Power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.”  It’s part of a longer claim (and here’s the actual quote): “Power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Great men are almost always bad men, even when they exercise influence and not authority…”

Some recent brain research has given a window into why Acton may have been on to something.  From “Power Causes Brain Damage”:[1]

  • Subjects under the influence of power suffered noticeable changes in the areas of the brain that controlled impulsivity, risk-awareness, and, crucially, and the ability to see things from other people’s point of view.
  • They were worse at identifying what someone in a picture is feeling, or guessing how a colleague might interpret a remark.
  • They stopped mimicking or “mirroring” others, an action which builds empathy by triggering the same feelings those others are experiencing. There is an “empathy deficit.”
  • They increasingly view everything 1stperson (George Bush famously held a flag backwards to an audience because it looked right to him).

 I want to talk today about power. We all have it – we all have influence and impact – but some of us are in positions where the influence and impact expands. As Christians, it’s crucial we recognize the dangers of it, but also the solutions that allow us to use the power God has given us in a way that honors God and builds the Kingdom of His church.

When Peter writes to the church about leadership, he focuses on this issue. That will be our starting text for today. 

To the elders (church leaders) among you, I appeal as a fellow elder, a witness of Christ’s sufferings and one who also will share in the glory to be revealed: Be shepherdsof God’s flock that is under your care, serving as overseers—not because you must, but because you are willing, as God wants you to be; not greedy for money, but eager to serve; not lording it over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock. And when the Chief Shepherdappears, you will receive the crown of glory[2]that will never fade away. Those who are younger, in the same way be submissive to those who are elder (church leaders or simply ‘older’). All of you, clothe yourselves with humility toward one another, because, “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.” 1 Peter 5:1–5

 

In the New Testament there are three terms used to describe the same office:

  • Elder focuses on the character qualities; he must be a mature man of God (See 1 Timothy 3:1-7and Titus 1:5-9)
  • Overseer (or bishop) is used interchangeably with elder (Acts 20:17, 28; Titus 1:5, 7) and has to do more with church governance.
  • Pastor (shepherd) builds on the shepherd metaphor: care, ‘feeding’, and protection of the ‘flock’

The apostle Paul gives quite a list of qualifications for being an elder (see 1 Timothy 3), but Peter is more focused. Other than mentioning that nobody should be forced to lead (good advice in a time when leadership might mean death), his advice revolves around character: specifically, how leaders are to handle money and power.

Not Greedy For Money

An elder dare not have money and riches – “filthy lucre” as the KJV would say - as a purpose or goal of being in church leadership. If leaders ever turn the church into a personal money-making enterprise, we are in trouble.

Frankly, I think church elders are under a higher obligation to consider what is an appropriate wage from the church. I don’t mean they shouldn’t get a decent or good wage – Paul tells Timothy not to “muzzle the ox” because the laborer is worthy of his hire. But Paul told Timothy that elders were not to be covetous of riches – that is, in love with money, serving it rather than Christ.[3] I think Proverbs gives the reason:

Two things I ask, O God. Sometime before I die, grant these humble requests: Eliminate any hint of worthless and deceitful words from my lips. Do not make me poor or rich, but give me each day what I need; For if I have too much, I might forget You are the One who provides, saying, “Who is the Eternal One?” Or if I do not have enough, I might become hungry and turn to stealing and thus dishonor the good name of my God. (Proverbs 30:7-9)

[embed]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=coHKdhAZ9hU[/embed]

Not lording over others.[4]

 2,000 years ago, Jesus warned Peter that His Kingdom was not of this world. Both Peter and Paul, by the many ways in which they put structure around those who lead in the church, were warning us about the problems that can accompany power, even in the midst of God’s people.

Leaders in the church cannot become lords. 2,000 years of history has proven the practical wisdom in this.  Whenever the church has become intertwined with national power, the church has become either oppressive without and compromised within.[5]

Constantine legalized Christianity in the early 300s for selfish political reasons, and that combined with his reputation for violence hurt the reputation of the church even as Christianity spread.[6]The Anabaptists claimed the fall of the church began during Constantine’s reign. “By recognizing Christianity as a legal religion (including making Sunday a legal holiday), he slowly strangled what was once a vibrant, close-knit, committed fellowship of persecuted believers, and turned it into a religion that would become, by law, at the end of that century, the official state religion of the Holy Roman Empire (HRE).”[7]Within less than 80 years from Constantine’s legalization, the “Christian government for the first time executed Christians that deviated from the government-endorsed orthodoxy.” [8]

Thousands were killed by the Church’s Inquisitional courts[9]in the Middle Ages.

In early America, Christians who fled here to escape persecution by the powerful suddenly had power - and did the same things:

  • Puritans banished people for not being Puritan
  • Protestants denied Catholics property, voting rights and even holding public office – but then again, in the 1500s the Spanish Catholics had slaughtered hundreds of French Huguenots in the New World.
  • Then there was the coerced conversion of Native Americans; the Salem Witch Trials; the hanging of four Quakers in Boston in the mid-1600s for being Quaker. In the mid-1800s there were Bible Riots in Philadelphia, where two Catholic churches were destroyed, houses were burnt, and 20 people killed.[10]

Unfortunately, the problem of power we see in the big picture or national politics occurs in individual churches and church leaders as well. As a leader in a church, this concerns me deeply. I want to talk about what I’ve been reading from Christian leaders concerning ways to make sure power does not corrupt, and also talk about how this plays out in our church.

Surround yourself with “toeholders.” “Power Physically Damages the Brain, New Research Reveals”[11] gave some examples of "a toeholder" who tugs you back towards reality whenever you threaten to float away on your inflated ego.

  • Winston Churchill’s wife, Clementine, once wrote to him, “My Darling Winston. I must confess that I have noticed a deterioration in your manner; & you are not as kind as you used to be.” He had been acting “so contemptuous” toward subordinates in meetings that “no ideas, good or bad, will be forthcoming.” This was written on the day Hitler entered Paris.

If a church leader is surrounded by "yes men", it's a problem. There have to be people who have no problem confronting, challenging, grabbing them and pulling them back when they begin to stray in orthodoxy (right doctrine) or orthopraxy (right actions).

Be transparent and accountable.Some Christian leaders I intensely admire have been falling from the pedestals on which I (wrongly) put them. They have lied about qualifications, misused money, and contributed to the #metoo movement by harassing, using and even abusing women. Beth Moore wrote a heart-wrenching open letter a week or two ago about how men in power in church circles have treated her for decades. [12] How did they get there? I suspect it was in large part due to a lack of transparency and accountability.

Welcome feedback from everyone. Everyone. It does not mean everyone is right, but it’s possible for anyone to have valuable insight. It's up to leasers to take that feedback and present it to the rest of the leadership (see the next point), as well as and to those who are close to them. This group filter helps leadership to process feedback in a healthy way and respond appropriately.

Serve in plurality of leadership.[13] In both the Old and New Testament, there is always a plurality of elders. Plurality brings a variety of gifts: finances, organization, relational wisdom, hospitality, teaching, preaching. Itprevents burnout; it brings accountability (in life and doctrine); it increases the reach of the ‘shepherds’ and increases wise decision-making.

Practice empathy and 3rdperson thinking. LISTEN!! Spend time talking with people in order to genuinely understand and love them. Practice “walking a mile in another’s shoes.” Learn what it’s like to hold up a flag so it makes sense to other people. I personally have found fictional books, movies and TV shows to be very helpful in broadening my understanding. Not every story is a good story - obviously - but as authors, directors, and writers create stories that can't help but reveal their experience of the world, we can put on the lense of a biblical worldview filter and grow in our understanding and empathy as we pray for wisdom on how to effectively reach everyone with the good news of the gospel of Jesus Christ.

 Follow in some area of your life and leadership. Don’t lead everything. Look for ways to divest of power appropriately. Don't micromanage every aspect of the church. It's a good idea to answer to others in our organization about something - maybe even many things.

Get over yourself.It’s God’s gig, not yours. All good things are His. If the church genuinely flourishes, it's to God's glory, not the glory of leadership.

[embed]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kcVdq5Q-Paw[/embed]

But Peter speaks to the church here also.

“Those who are younger, in the same way be submissive to those who are elder(s).”

In other words, be respectful and considerate, and seek to serve the leadership even as the leadership seeks to serve you.

  • “Respect those who labor among you and are over you in the Lord and admonish you, and esteem them very highly in love because of their work.” (1 Thessalonians 5:12-13)
  • “Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you.” (Hebrews 13:17)

Respect does not mean you are timid in speaking truth. Respect is not avoidance of confrontation or criticism. I’ve heard some leaders use the phrase, “Don’t touch God’s anointed”[14]as a means of bullying people into silence. That’s silly. That was specifically, “Don’t kill my prophets because you don’t like what they say.” The Bible itself tells you how to confront someone in leadership who is in sin (Matthew 18; 1 Timothy 5). Respect has to so with approach and attitude.

Submission does not mean you follow and obey anyone blindly especially me. We are all to be Bereans[15]when it comes to examining Scriptures for ourselves. You are not lemmings; we are all priests and kings (Revelations 1:6).

“Being subject” is primarily an attitude of respect and cooperation with the elders as they do their best to follow what they believe is the Lord’s will for the church (Heb. 13:17).

Everyone: Be clothed with humility

To the Greeks, what you wore outwardly signaled what you were inwardly. If you were a slave, you wore slave garb. If you were noble, you wore the clothing of nobility. To be clothed with humility was not a false cover up. It was identifying who you were.

2 Cor. 3:5: “Not that we are adequate in ourselves to consider anything as coming from ourselves, but our adequacy is from God.”

 Don’t let selfishness and prideful agendas take over. Embrace true humility, and lift your heads to extend love to others. Get beyond yourselves and protecting your own interests; be sincere, and secure your neighbors’ interests first.”(Philippians 2:3-4)

“I hope in the Lord Jesus to send Timothy to you soon, that I also may be cheered when I receive news about you. I have no one else like him, who takes a genuine interest in your welfare. For everyone looks out for his own interests, not those of Jesus Christ.” (Philippians 2:19-21.

Humility is not feeling stupid; that’s shame. Humility is not underplaying our strengths; that's disrespectful to the God who gave us those gifts. Humility is not devaluing yourself; we are all bearers of the image of God, and if we have given our lives to following Jesus, we are now His spiritual children. Humility is a commitment to having an attitude that says, “I do not have more value or worth than you do. I offer whatever I am about to do or say because I think God has something for me to offer in this situation for your good and God’s glory.”

If we can all do this together, we will be flourishing in God’s model for the church.

__________________________________________________________________________________

[1]https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2017/07/power-causes-brain-damage/528711/

[2]An Olympic reference. Winners of the Greek games received a garland that would shrivel and die; this crown for “running the race” (to use another Pauline reference) would last through eternity.

[3]Paul says that “the elders who rule well [should] be considered worthy of double honor, especially those who work hard at preaching and teaching” (1 Tim. 5:17). “Honor” (in Greek) meant both “respect” and “price.” As 1 Timothy 5:18makes clear, elders who labor at preaching and teaching should not only be respected, they also should be paid.  http://biblehub.com/commentaries/1_timothy/5-17.htm

[4]  “Lording it over” the flock (5:3) recalls the silly debates the twelve had about who was the greatest, and the Lord’s teaching about the greatest being the servant of all. “Be clothed with humility” recalls Jesus taking a towel and girding Himself as He washed the disciples’ feet (John 13:1-17). The word about Satan (5:8) recalls Jesus’ warning that Satan would “sift” Peter like wheat (Luke 22:31). The verb, “to perfect” (5:10) is the same word translated “mending their nets” (Matt. 4:21) when the Lord called Peter to follow Him. http://biblehub.com/commentaries/1_timothy/5-17.htm

[5]“The historian Paul Johnson concludes, “Attempts to perfect Christian societies in this world, whether conducted by popes or revolutionaries, have tended to degenerate into red terrors.” ― Philip YanceyChristians and Politics Uneasy Partners

[6]To quote John Wesley from 1791: 'After the empire became Christian, a general corruption both of faith and morals infected the Christian Church; which by that revolution, as St. Jerome says, "lost as much of her virtue as it had gained of wealth and power.’"–

[7]https://simplychurch.com/2005/12/28/313-ad-the-death-of-christianity-and-the-birth-of-the-christian-religion-2/

[8]Read more at this sobering article: “How Christianity Became Aligned With Politics Under Constantine.” http://butnotlost.blogspot.com/2011/03/how-christianity-became-aligned-with.html

[9]http://www.themichigancatholic.org/2016/11/inquisition-50-68-million-killed-church/

[10]https://www.smithsonianmag.com/history/americas-true-history-of-religious-tolerance-61312684/

[11]https://www.inc.com/jessica-stillman/power-physically-damages-the-brain-new-research-reveals.html

[12]https://blog.lproof.org/2018/05/a-letter-to-my-brothers.html

[13]"In the New Testament, there is always a plurality of elders (overseers, pastors) over the church in a given location. Acts 14:23 reports how Paul and Barnabas appointed elders (plural) in every church (singular). Acts 20:17tells how Paul called to him “the elders of the church” in Ephesus. In Titus 1:5, Paul reminds Titus how he left him to appoint elders (plural) in every city. In the New Testament, the church in a city was viewed as a unit. Thus you have the church in Jerusalem, Ephesus, Antioch, etc. Each church may have been broken down into house churches that met all over the city on any given Lord’s Day. But over each church there was a plurality of elders or pastors." (I don't know where I got this, but it's not my original words).

[14]Psalm 105:15; 1 Chronicles 16:22

[15]Acts 17:11

The Dangers of Discontent

   I carry with me a device which enables me to:
access the internet
listen to music
fail at Angry Birds
calculate
tell time
take pictures
store information in a “cloud”
contact people immediately by sending words through the air
locate myself through GPS
monitor my heart rate
track the stock market
do root canals.
phone other people (weird, right? A phone does that too...)

It’s cracked; sometimes it gets all quirky.  And I just can’t stand it when it takes 10 seconds to obey my commands. Even worse, my smartphone is exposing a really shallow part of my nature. I am easily discontented.

I have a family income that puts me in the top 5% -10% of the world's population (as do most of you reading this, I might add), but I am discontent.  I wish the rooms of my house were larger, the siding was new, the deck was covered, and I had a pool.

I drive comfortable internal combustion machine further in a day than people used to travel in a decade, and I am discontent: it costs sooo much to fix, and the wipers leave a streak, and could sure use better gas mileage and racing stripes, even that would look odd on a minivan.

I am discontent with all these things. Meanwhile, this slow spiritual poison silently kills my attitude, my view of others, and my contentment with the life God has given me.

Discontent with people is even worse than discontent with things, because things don't bear God’s image. When my discontent begins to involve other people, it makes me a jerk.
I resent other people who don’t deserve my resentment.
I take my issues and project them on to someone else.
I resent good health in others when I feel sick.
I resent people who eat whatever they want because I can't.
I  resent those who are more popular or prominent, because if people only knew how smart, cool, and funny I really was!
I resent people whose babies sleep through the night, and whose dog does not jump their fence.

   And somehow in my mind, the idea that I don’t have what I deserve is somehow connected to the people around me who clearly have more than they deserve. They have more money, a nicer house, better friends, more influence and authority, longer vacations, a better vehicle, and a dog that does not want to play fetch at 3:00 in the morning. I deserve that! I might even deserve a better spouse (but none of us have thought that, right?) Or worse: I deserve Tom's house, and Bob's paycheck, and Bill's wife.  That's when life really starts to get ugly.

James has some things to say about resentment and discontent.  At the end of chapter 3 and moving into chapter 4 he notes, “Wherever there is envy and selfish ambition, there is disorder, instability and all kinds of evil practices... Do you want to know why you have so many fights and quarrels in your community?  They come from your desires that battle within you.  You want what you don't have, so you scheme and kill to get it. You are jealous of what others have, but you can't get it, so you fight and wage war to take it away from them.”

My paraphrase: Do you want to know why you have so many jerks in your community?  Because they are jealous, discontent, selfish, and self-centered. Here's how the thinking works:

Other people get more attention? – “It can’t be because they have something worth paying attention too.  If people only knew what I have to offer.  So, I’ll butt in, dominate the conversation and get the attention I deserve. ”
Other people have more money/things? – “ I’ll overcharge that person – they have way too much already.  Maybe I’ll occupy something….”
Other people are with the person you like?  - “They clearly do not know what they are missing here.  If I can get them to dislike their current flame, then I will be set.”

The discontented are not motivated to change something within themselves and grow in their own character, skill, or integrity. They just try to take it from others in unjust and selfish ways.

Discontent will destroy your friendship with others, your relationship with God, and your ability to appreciate that blessings God has given you.  On the other hand, those who find contentment in their lives discover the beauty of life steeped in gratitude.
   

Money and Worship

"It is not persecution of the church in China that I fear. The church has always been able to weather persecution. My fear is love of money in the church."  - anonymous Chinese pastor

   “Your checkbook is a theological statement.“ - Billy Graham

The Occupy movement is getting a lot of press right now.  Their stated purpose is to bring economic inequality  and big bank/government/ Wall Street corruption to light. The official website notes:
“We refuse to be the 1%’s captive citizenry. We stand together to show that the 99% are creating a better world.”
     There is some irony here. Anyone making over $40,000 a year in America is part of the world’s 1%. The average protestor in NYC  makes between $50,000 and $100,000 a year.  The protestors are the world’s economic elite.  In other words, the Occupy movement involves the rich of the world complaining about the even richer.
     There is more irony. The movement protesting greed has shown itself to be very greedy of other people’s resources – restaurants, parks, and stores have been damaged and exploited.  Los Angeles is spending millions of dollars to repair the damage of those who protested exploitation by exploiting things that weren’t theirs.   In New York, the occupy kitchens changed their menu because they were tired of feeding the homeless.  So a group of “the poor” that had no problem helping themselves to the property of “the rich” grows resentful when other people help themselves to their property…
     I say all this not to say that the protesters are all bad people or that their complaints about corruption are wrong.  I give this example to point out that money exposes us.  It shows what we worship.
     Jesus said in Matthew 6:24, 
"You can't follow two gods at once. When you love one god, you'll end up hating the other. Adoration of one feeds contempt for the other. That’s why you can't serve God and Money both."