In the audio podcast of this Sunday service, the Scripture reading begins at 24:30sec and the Sermon begins at 25:55sec.
Scripture: Matthew 22:15-22
Sermon: “The Money Trap”
The Herodians and Pharisees had only one thing in common: they hated Jesus, so they set a trap. The Herodians who benefited from Rome’s support said, We want Jesus to tell his followers to pay their taxes. The Pharisees who opposed Rome’s occupation said, We want Jesus to tell the people to not pay Roman taxes but the temple tax to God. So the trap pitted Caesar vs. God. If Jesus chose Caesar the Pharisees could run negative cam-paign ads against him accusing idolatry because they thought only God was to rule the Jews; if Jesus chose God then Rome could arrest him. Master, is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar? The people perked up their ears because their furrowed brows worried how to pay up to 42% in taxes?!—21% temple tax and up to 21% Roman taxes! Seeing the trap Jesus asked, Show me a coin… Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s. Whoa?! Jesus avoided the trap by declaring us citizens of heaven and earth.
But as citizens of Caesar’s and God’s realms how do we avoid the trap of financial fears?! Jesus may have faced the denarius trap, but we have the dollar trap. There are:
some graying AARP folk here who have lost a bundle of your retirement income among US citizens who have seen $2.5 T drop in their investment portfolios in the last few weeks;
some wide-eyed college bound kids who got a REJECTION letter for college loans;
some hand-wringing parents here who worry about the $10 T debt weighing down kids!
As they say: a trillion here and a trillion there and pretty soon you’re talking real money!
It’s not that we don’t want to give more, even tithe 10%, to God and Christ’s church, it’s that we worry how to render to Caesar?? As financial expert Ashley Hale describes it there is sad money that pays taxes and bills and happy money that we can give away to bless others. It’s just that in this anxious climate shouldn’t we hold back on the happy money until the sad stuff is taken care of? That is a normal reaction to the fear trap.
As normal as that reaction is, it’s fear-based and keeps us trapped. Let me suggest a faith-based reaction to the financial trap with a Depression era family story. In 1926 Grandpa thanked God for the abundant provision of a job out of seminary where he made a whopping $2K. 10 years later, in the middle of the dustbowl Great Depression, he got a call to Westfield, ND. Grandma hoped he wouldn’t go. He told her, Honey, they have been turned down by 4 ministers, I believe this is God’s call. His salary immediately fell from $2K+ to $1.6K. But in time the Westfield church, made up of poor farmers, couldn’t even pay that! So Grandpa went to the Deacons and said, Look, we’re all having hard times. Just pay me what comes in. The appreciative farmers paid with the few dollar bills they had, not only, but with plucked chickens and skinny beef roasts left outside the door in the winter snow. Grandma said, the Lord provided, we never ate so well. Were they worried about their next meal—probably! Did God care for them—yes!
You have similar stories in your family. So how is God telling us to live by faith and thereby avoid the financial fear that traps us? I hear God saying two things:
First, the God on the universe’s throne cares more than you that you have enough.
That is the most powerful truth that I can give you. Hold on to it and it will hold on to you.
Secondly, in that confident trust, take control of your spending. If you’re a typical American with 0 savings rate and living on 103% of your income then the first step is to record everything you spend so that you can total what you spend on eating out, on taxes, on bills—the sad money—and what you give to church and others—happy money. And then the second step is to align your spending with your values. As I’ve said repeatedly the Buustras have a simple financial plan with which we align our spending: give the first 10% to God thru the church (deepest value), the second 10% for savings (our next highest value), and live on the remaining 80%. To render money onto both Caesar and God in this way takes time to achieve, not to mention, sacrifice, but it’s so, so worth it!
How so? you ask. First off, studies tell us that you’ll be happier. Once we have enough money to meet basic needs, there is no correlation between more money and happiness. None, nada, Nein. The only correlation that studies report is that those who give more away report greater happiness. So for us personally it is more blessed to give than…
Secondly, together we can be a better blessing to others. Here is a wish list of some added things that God could do through us at NBRC if each decided to exercise faith in these fearful times to grow in giving to God as well as Caesar…
So here’s the challenge this week as you prepare to fill out commitment cards: give to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s. You and we will be better for it.
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