Other messages in this series:
Scriptures: Exodus 16:1-18; Luke 22:1-23
Pastor Drew offered the following introduction to this stewardship series during the time of welcoming and announcements:
This morning we kick-off our fall stewardship campaign for the support of our ministries in 2022. The title of this year’s campaign is called “Our Money Story.” Thinking about life as a story is not a new concept. Our stories come with a past that can’t be undone, a present which is currently unfolding, and a future which is unknown. All three of these work together in some way to make up our individual life stories. Likewise, our life stories have a setting, various characters, and a plot. There’s also usually some amount of conflict woven in and out of our life stories, and maybe even an overall theme.
Well, one of the sub-stories within our larger life story is our money story. And we all have one whether we realize it or not. Our beliefs about money, our attitudes about how it should be used and what it should be used for, our concepts about giving it away, and so on, they comprise our money story. To a certain degree, our money story both reflects our relationship with God and influences our giving. Like I said, we all have one; it’s just a matter of making ourselves aware of what our own money story is.
Well, since our church is comprised of people each of whom has their own money story, our church, then has a money story as well. For example, our church’s money story includes a time when we had to let go of staff because of a significant drop in giving. It includes the paying off of the debt for the construction of the gathering area so quickly that we saved hundreds of thousands of dollars in interest payments.
When it comes to our personal and church’s money stories, the goal is to make sure our stories align with God’s story about money. That’s what I hope this stewardship campaign will begin to do. My hope is that as each of us considers our own money story—and we all have one—we’ll identify where we need to re-write it so that it aligns with the truth of God’s money story. In my message today, I’ll share with you one part of my own money story which I’m realizing needs a re-write.
The process of becoming conscious to our money stories and re-writing those parts that need it requires some intentionality. Each week we’ll focus on one of four steps of that process. They are remembering, releasing, restoring, and reimagining. Today, we begin by remembering. Remembering God’s story and our story.
Life shapes and molds us, does it not? The things that happen in life, both the good and the bad, become the foundation for our beliefs and perspectives about the world, God, and self.
One of the most influential moments in my life was when I saw my father correct a mistake on a restaurant bill in which we were accidentally undercharged. Even though I was probably only in elementary school at the time, I distinctly remember making a mental note to myself about the significance of having personal integrity. Since then, largely on account of that particular experience, I’ve tried my best to order my life by the saying, Integrity is what you do when nobody is looking.
Another life-shaping experience unfolded over the course of my final term of seminary in my last year. When it came to academics, I always considered myself an average student at best. The last and only time I earned all A’s for the semester was all the way back in 7th grade. Starting in 8th grade, I became familiar with B’s, C’s, and even a D or two in high school. In 7th grade, based on my grades I believed myself to be academically sharp, intelligent. But that view of myself quickly changed when my subsequent grades seemed to me to indicate otherwise. And I carried this perception of myself all the way through college and graduate school. Academically, there was nothing about me to write home about.
But in my final semester of my last year of seminary, something inexplicably shifted in me. To my great surprise, when my papers were graded and returned to me, I saw something unusual written at the top: A’s. In all four courses I was taking that term, I was getting A’s on my papers. I wasn’t sure what to make of it, because up until then, that simply hadn’t been my experience. And for the first time since 7th grade, I began to view myself as something other than academically beige. In fact, I started to believe that I was actually…smart!
Here’s one more life-shaping experience of mine, one I’m still working on, and it speaks to the theme of this stewardship campaign. It’s about my own money story.
I grew up in a solidly middle-to-upper-middle-class home. There were periods of time when our family finances were a little tighter than normal, but for the most part, we were very comfortable. I truly had lacked for nothing when it came to what really matters. I was aware that my parents financially supported our church, although I don’t recall ever specifically talking with them about it. But I knew it was something they did, so that in sense they modeled for us kids the important life-activity of giving to the church.
Fast-forward a few years. During our early years of marriage, I don’t recall what our giving looked like, especially while I was in seminary, but I’m pretty sure we gave as we were able. However, I do know that after I got my first appointment, at some point in time we began tithing. That is, we gave 10% of my income. In fact, it’s my recollection that in the ensuing years, our giving increased, so that we were giving beyond the tithe. During that period of time in my ministry, when we gave at that level, I was very comfortable talking about the tithe (10%) as the biblical benchmark for giving. I had no qualms encouraging my congregants to tithe, or at least to work towards it, because the fact was, we ourselves were tithing and doing it without any financial consequences that I was aware of. We were tithing and paying all our bills. During those years, I would often say, “You cannot outgive God,” and earnestly believed it, because that had been our experience. Give, and God will give back.
But in 2006, everything changed. When I stepped out of the appointive system and begin a leave of absence, our personal finances changed drastically for reasons that’re beyond the scope of this message. The truth was, even though we were living in a very responsible manner, for quite a while our expenses were greater than our income. This meant we were borrowing money each month just to get by. Because of that, we made the very difficult decision to stop our financial giving. It just seemed to us that going into further debt for the sake of giving to the church wasn’t good stewardship. And so, I looked for other ways to give to the church, mostly through the giving of my personal time and energy. Now, to be honest, even though I knew deep down that God knew our hearts, that we wanted to give; and even though I knew that faithful giving isn’t limited to the giving of money, and that the giving of my time to the work of the church was an acceptable gift to God and the church, it nevertheless broke my heart that we were unable to give financially in the same way we’d been giving up until then. The fact is, those were incredibly lean years for us financially, and it had a huge effect on our level of giving and, speaking for myself, my feelings about giving.
As I’ve reflected on my own money story in preparation for this stewardship campaign, I’m struck by something that, quite frankly, bothers me. And I share this with you all as a kind of confession, and I have to believe I’m not alone in what I’m feeling. I’m struck by how differently I relate to money now than I did before my leave of absence. For example, before 2006, if I had a $20 bill in my wallet, I thought nothing of dropping it in the plate as it went by. I felt no emotional attachment to that $20. There was no sense at all on my part that I needed it. And so, it never occurred to me to ask, “Do we have enough? Can we afford to give this money? What if I need this for something else?”
But what I’ve noticed is that these days, after experiencing eight years of very lean finances where we couldn’t afford to give without inviting further debt—and this is the confession part—if I find myself in that same situation today, those are the first questions I ask myself. Can we afford to give this $20? What if I need it for something else? And I find myself secretly, even shamefully, wanting to keep it for myself out of fear that it won’t be there when I need it.
You see, I’m struck by the fact that even though we’re no longer in the same place financially as we were back then, my brain is stuck in the past. It’s still in the same place it was when we were in the middle of that financial crunch. It’s as though my experience during my leave of absence had the effect of re-wiring my brain for survival, and at that time, our survival depended upon us not spending what money we made on anything other than what was absolutely necessary. Put another way, our survival depended upon us not giving it away. Now, it may not have been that drastic in reality, but that was my experience of it all.
My personal money story includes that time when we had more than enough. It also includes the period of perceived threat to our survival. And now it includes the fact that a part of me is still in survival mode. That’s what bothers me. I’m bothered by the fact these days I’m not nearly as non-anxious about giving away $20 as I was back then. Because for some reason, a part of me has been convinced that we don’t have enough.
So, the question is what am I to do with this particular chapter of my money story? Because the fact is, we do have enough. We have more than enough. But I’m aware of the fact that my false perception has been influencing my relationship to money. And therefore, most likely, my relationship with God. If I can be honest with you, there’s a part of me that doesn’t trust that God will provide if we were to begin tithing again. It’s painful to admit that. But it’s true. I wish it weren’t so. But on this day, it is. Is there a way for me to re-write this part of my money story so that it aligns with the truth of God’s money story?
My guess is that I’m not the only person here who’s carrying around some amount of shame over some aspect of our money story we wish were different than it is. I know there some here who’s relationship to money and giving has been affected by negative life experiences, and now, today, you practice that old, broken money story—even while deep down you know it should be otherwise. In your head, you know God is trustworthy. You know God is faithful. You know God is watching out for you. But at the same time, there’s something that keeps you from taking that step which demonstrates trust in that deep truth.
Friend, if this describes you, then I have a word of hope for you today. It’s a word of hope you and for me—and really, for all of us, because who doesn’t struggle with trusting God at some level? So, here it is: God’s love and faithfulness is far greater than our fear and shame-driven unfaithfulness. Let me say that again. God’s love and faithfulness towards us is far greater than our fear and shame-driven unfaithfulness. And the truth is, despite our unfaithfulness and distrust, God still loves us dearly and provides for us.
Consider God’s faithful response for the recently-freed Israelites. Not long after God miraculously brought them across the Red Sea, they complained about not having water. What did God do? He gave them water. If you recall, it came flowing out of a rock! A short while later, the entire community put Moses and Arron on trial, so to speak, and accused them of bringing them out into the dessert only to starve them to death. What’s worse, they said they wished they’d never left Egypt in the first place, because even though they were slaves, at least they had food. Despite all that God had done for them and all the ways he met them at their point of need; despite revealing himself in miraculous ways that were beyond imagination, they rejected him. So, what did God do? He fed them! He sent food their way every single day. Manna and quail. Bread and meat. In fact, every day he gave them more than they were able to physically consume. They had more than enough! Why did God do this? Because his faithfulness is far greater than our unfaithfulness.
Or consider the significance of Judas’ presence at the Last Supper. We’re all aware of Judas’ money story. The fearful religious leaders were plotting to kill Jesus. They were scared of the people. Rather than engaging in relationship, they worked with Satan, the impulse of evil that had entered Judas, and instructed him on how he could betray his teacher. The religious leaders were pleased; and in exchange for his role in crushing the source of their fear, they gave him money. Judas agreed to take the money for giving up his Lord.
When Jesus gathered with his disciples that evening, did he know about that part of Judas’ money story? He certainly did. And yet, despite knowing what Judas was about to do, he welcomed his betrayer to the table. He ate with him. He passed the bread and cup to Judas and proclaimed the forgiveness of sins. Why? Because Jesus’ faithfulness is far greater than our unfaithfulness.
So, what’s your money story? I suspect that your story has its own ups and downs, where you can point to periods of uncertainty and financial insecurity, but also periods of having more than enough. As you think about your own money story over the next few weeks, it’ll be helpful to keep a few things in mind.
First, remember that our money stories shape our relationship with God. For example, when the biggest plot of our money story is one of scarcity, it’s tempting to view God through that same lens of scarcity. When that’s the case, there are two options. You can either keep your money story and, therefore, your false view of God and live with the consequences of holding to that view. Or, you can consciously amend your money story so that it aligns with the truth of God’s story. So, remember that our money stories shape our relationship with God.
Second, remember that our relationship with money directly impacts our giving. Again, when the biggest plot of our money story is one of scarcity, then our giving will most likely reflect that view. In that case, it’s tempting to hold back “just in case.” Remember that our relationship with money directly impacts our giving.
And finally, remember God’s faithfulness to Israel, and remember that Judas was invited to the table. Why is it important to remember that? Because every one of us is Israel and Judas. Who here is one hudred percent faithful to God all the time? We all have parts of our money story which we’d like to keep hidden. But just as Jesus knew the dark part of Judas’ money story but nevertheless invited him to the Passover meal, God knows the dark parts of each our money stories but nevertheless invites us to the Table of grace. When we come to this table, broken as we are, Jesus offers us forgiveness and pours his love into us. And this, in turn, empowers us to change our money stories where they need to be changed so that they reflect God’s story of sufficiency and more-than-enough. Any shame or guilt you may feel in regard to those parts of your own money story which reflect doubt, fear, and uncertainty—Jesus invites you to bring those feelings to the Table so that he can begin the slow-but-sure process of transforming them. Generally speaking, our money stories reflect what we believe to be true and what we believe to be possible. In the weeks again, I’d like to invite you to join me in taking a hard, honest look at your own money story. And where it reflects anything other than God’s story of more-than-enough, my hope is that you and I will take the necessary steps to re-write that story. Let’s pray….