Gifted –

Part II:  The Gift of Wealth


Faith in the Midst of Financial Crisis

When Dreams Become Nightmares. 

Wisdom and Finance

Defined by Generosity.

Too Much

As For You and Your House?

More "Gifted"

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Madam Regina reads your e-fortune: Deuteronomy 6:1-12 (9/20/2010)

The gift that is discussed the most – by far the most – in the scripture is the gift of wealth.  We are going to spend the next few weeks looking at God’s great gift to us of wealth. 

It is a little known fact (because I just made it up) that a webmaster can read the fortune of any person who is looking at their website.  So here you are, and I am going to tell your personal fortune. 

You, dear reader, live in one of the most beautiful countries on God’s green earth.  You live in a city you did not build; you drive on roads you did not pave.  Your drink from wells you did not drill or rivers you did not make to flow.  You were educated from books you did not write.  You have electricity and a computer in your home or library, and you did not design the power plant or the computer. Not only do you have wonderful devices to do your work, but you also have a vast array of servants all around the world who grow your food, sew your clothes, carry your messages, and guard your gates.  You are wealthy beyond Solomon’s wildest dreams of avarice … And your wealth is a gift to you from God.

Faith in the Midst of Financial Crisis

Isaiah 9:1-3 (9/21/2010)

Even though you and I and all of our fellow-readers are wealthy, we may feel just a little insecure right at the moment.  There’s a lot of dark financial news in the paper, on the radio, on the television, and around the water cooler.  We should remember three things:
Psalms 121 (9/22/2010)

Today’s reading is a popular psalm that many people find greatly comforting when they are going through difficult times.  To be honest, I find it troublesome.  I’m okay with it right up to verse 7, but at that point neither any English translation I’ve read nor the Hebrew seems to square up with what we loosely refer to as “reality.”  God’s going to keep me from all evil?  How can that be reconciled with all the bad things that happen in the world?   

I suspect that the problem stems from our poor understanding both of reality and of evil.  I’m not saying that financial crisis isn’t real, or cancer isn’t real, or whatever.  But I wonder if God views them as “evil.”  Maybe God’s view of evil is more related to our reaction to events than to the events.  Maybe if we lose money, or our lives, that’s just the breaks, but if we lose our relationship with God as a result, that’s evil.  Keep the faith, bro.

1 Timothy 6:6-19 (9/23/2010)

The relationship between money and happiness is a really complicated one.  If you want some interesting reading, Google “studies money happiness.”  Generally speaking, it’s difficult (but not impossible) to be happy if you or your kids don’t have enough to eat, something to wear, a place to get in out of the rain, and some basic medial care.  So staying out of poverty, modern studies have shown, is one of the keys to happiness.  Actually, a lot of Biblical writers made this point a long time ago, and Paul makes it in vs. 8. 

After you have enough money for food, clothing, and housing, things get trickier.  More money doesn’t necessarily mean more happiness.  People who make $1000/month are often the happiest ones on the block if everyone else is making $500/month.  People who make $5000/month are often the unhappiest ones on the block if everyone else is making $10,000/month.  So comparisons can make you happy or unhappy.  Oh, wait!  Paul makes that point, too, in vs. 9.  (My dad used to make this point also.  We lived in a trailer and moved a lot because of his work.  He used to say that he didn’t worry about keeping up with the Joneses; he just moved to a neighborhood where he was Jones.)

It turns out that one of the most important factors in happiness is having friends.  Using money to visit friends, to get together with friends, and to make new friends contributes to long-term happiness.  Buying stuff usually doesn’t.  By golly, Paul makes that point, too, in vss. 17-19.  Sociologists could save themselves a lot of time by reading their Bibles.

P.s.  Note vs. 10.  The scriptures have nothing against money, so apparently neither does God.  Love of money gets you into all sorts of trouble in this life.  But you knew that already.

Deuteronomy 28:1-14 (9/24/2010)

The children of Israel were still out in the desert.  Forty years after leaving Egypt, they still had not gotten to the Promised Land.  Moses had announced that they wouldn’t have him to complain to any longer.  They were not having a good day.  And in the midst of this crisis, they received this wonderful promise of wealth to come.  Financial crises come and go.  God’s loving care lasts forever.

When Dreams Become Nightmares. 

Deuteronomy 28:15-29 (9/27/2010)

God promises to make us wealthy, and, voila! we are wealthy!  Unfortunately the gift of wealth has its downside.  If you don’t believe that, then I suggest you read the paper for a couple of days, three at the outside.  You will see what a nightmare people’s lives can become when they try to get wealth unwisely or when they use their legitimate wealth unwisely.

This morning I mentioned to Pastor Craig that I’d had a couple of nightmares lately (not about money), and we talked for a moment about stress dreams.  Nightmares and stress dreams can be instructive, and this week were going to look at some.  Today’s nightmare is actually a daymare.  It is the flip side of the blessings we read on Friday.  Obey God’s commandments and be blessed; disobey God’s commandments and be cursed.  And God’s curses really are a nightmare.

Luke 12:13-21 (9/28/2010)

Today you get two money nightmares for the price of one.  First, there’s the nightmare of probate.  What’s the point in having money if you can’t leave it to your kids?  Unfortunately, nothing brings out the worst in people like an inheritance.  No matter how big or small it is, somebody is going to be unhappy that they didn’t get it.  Second, there’s the nightmare of not getting to spend it.  What’s the point of having money if you’re just going to leave it to your kids?  (I’m spending my retirement in the cemetery??  What is up with that?)  Plus, it’s bad for your kids to see any sort of disconnect between working and eating.

The alternative to both these nightmares is to invest God’s gift of wealth in the give-as-you-go plan.  Give it to yourself in the form of a slightly better vacation or whatever.  Give it to your kids at Christmas so that you can enjoy it along with them.  And most importantly, give it to the work of God’s kingdom.  You can’t take it with you, but you can send it on ahead.

Ecclesiastes 5:10-20 (9/29/2010)

The writer of Ecclesiastes, reputed to be King Solomon, had a somewhat jaundiced view of wealth.  Solomon was fabulously wealthy,* so his views are certainly worth considering.  He makes several points: That’s all very gloomy, which is why we’re reading it this week.  On the other hand, Solomon has an important word of encouragement.  Work, the wealth and possessions that work provides, and the power to enjoy them – all these are the gift of God.

* Not as wealthy as we are in real dollars, but very wealthy even so.

Matthew 16:21-26 (9/30/2010)

You’ve read this scripture about a hundred times, so let’s just think about the last verse.  One of the funniest business names I’ve ever heard is Dorian Gray Retirement Planning, Inc., headquartered in Crystal Lake, Illinois.  They must never have read The Picture of Dorian Gray, by Oscar Wilde.  In the book, Gray trades his soul for the chance to stay young while his portrait ages.  His life becomes a nightmare as he becomes more debauched and the portrait changes to show him his increasingly ugly soul.

We’re talking this week about the gift of wealth and how it can sometimes turn into a nightmare.  One way for that to happen is to trade your soul for wealth.  We normally figure that as long as we don’t make an actual deal with the Devil, we’re okay.  But the Devil is a sneak, so what about trading a little piece of personal integrity for a bonus?  What about trading a child’s birthday party for a business trip?  What about trading one worship service for a staff retreat?  Any one of these might be okay, but how many times is one of them okay?

I tend to read vs. 26 and think about the whole world and my whole soul, but the problem with nightmares is that they start out as ordinary dreams.

Luke 16:19-31 (10/1/2010)

A friend of mine recently commented that she and her husband had thought about retiring, “but so many people need the help.”  Wait a minute!  She’s not retiring because other people need help?  What kind of un-American attitude is that?  It’s actually a fairly Biblical attitude, which, having known her for a year, I don’t think is a coincidence.

The rich man in today’s story didn’t notice other people who needed help.  He certainly had the means and the opportunity to help Lazarus, who was sick, hungry, and close at hand.  When the rich man appeals to Abraham for relief, and failing that, for a warning to his brothers, Abraham is unsympathetic.  He refers the brothers to Moses and the prophets, who provide ample warning against neglect of the poor.  The gift of wealth also brings the gift of responsibility.

(By the way, this fellow is no relation to the Lazarus of Bethany who was raised from the dead.)

Wisdom and Finance

Matthew 6:16-24 (10/4/2010)

I announced this week to my husband and my son that I had been wrong.  They were surprised to hear this and asked, skeptically, in what way I thought I had been wrong.  I said, “I have decided that it is not possible to have too many Legos.”  Last fall I let it be known that  maybe – just maybe – I had too many Legos, and consequently I didn’t get any for Christmas.  What a letdown!  Then fellow-reader John E. accosted me at church a few weeks ago and gave me the latest catalog.  I realized that I haven’t been getting the catalog lately!  How did that happen?  I definitely treasure up Legos on earth, and I can only hope that there are Legos in heaven.* 

Unfortunately, Jesus says that we cannot serve both God and Legos.  What’s your Lego?

*  Although the Bible doesn’t say one way or another,
The Brick Testament, sent in by the alert son-in-law of fellow-readers Hunt and Ann L., suggests that there will be.  Note that – just like the Bible – not all of this site is suitable for children.

Proverbs 21:5-6; 21:20 (10/5/2010)

The Bible has a lot to say about God’s gift of wealth.  It boils down to this: 
It’s this last part – being sensible about money – that we are looking at this week.  What is it about money (or stuff, which is what my money usually turns into) that makes us so twitchy?  There’s a funny commentary on bequests at
Dinosaur Comics, and the reason it’s funny is that it’s so true.  We think we should control our money forever, because we aren’t smart enough to realize that there’s no point, because we are going to be dead.  The book of Proverbs says, be sensible!

Proverbs 3:9-10; 15:6, 15:15-16 (10/6/2010)

When I was putting together the scripture for today’s email, I accidentally added 3:15-16.  It turns out that they are also about wisdom and finance, so I left them in. 

The Bible makes it clear that God wants to give everyone the gift of wealth (although not greed), and we are always right on board with that.  This gift carries great responsibilities along with it, however, and one of them is to ease the struggles of the poor.  Sad to say, we aren’t always on board with that, so we stay rich but we get into trouble.

Proverbs 31:10-31 (10/7/2010)

The description of the chayil capable wife provides us all with a checklist of how to earn wealth and what to do with wealth: No wonder various translations call her truly good, excellent, capable, a woman of valor, virtuous, good, and perfect!  Chayil is a powerful word for a powerful lady.  If we follow her example, we will give God a powerful return on his investment of wealth in us.

Luke 15:11-32 (10/8/2010)

Sigh, it’s the inheritance again.  Let me say right up front that this parable isn’t about inheritances or money.  It’s about God’s attitude toward lost sinners.  We don’t think this, we know this, because it is one of three connected parables that tell stories about seekers for lost things, and about how happy the seekers are when they find the lost things. Between the first parable and the second, and between the second parable and the third (which is this one), Jesus says explicitly that “in the same way” there is great joy in heaven over one sinner who repents.  So that’s what it’s about.

Still, it’s interesting that the prodigal son fritters away his inheritance while he is lost from his father.  And he doesn’t get it back, either.  Note vs. 31.  “My son,” the father says to his older boy, “you are always here with me, and everything I have is yours.”  He meant this literally — the property had been divided (vs. 12), so everything that was left in the estate belonged to the older son.  In the same way, it is God’s good pleasure to make you and me wealthy; however, if we choose to throw it away on the vice of our choice, God is not going to replace it.  Be sensible.

Cultivating Contentment.

Ecclesiastes 2:1-11 (10/11/2010)

If you know the original author of Today’s Study Tip, please let me know.  The point of the story and the scripture is not that you shouldn’t work hard, but that you should know what your goals are and work hard to meet them, even when that means earning less money than you could.  In this area, the fisherman was wiser than Solomon.
Hebrews 13:5-6 (10/12/2010)

Fellow-reader Daryl L. has alerted us to the media binge, book deals, TV appearances, and monetary payoffs scheduled to begin Tuesday or Wednesday when the Chilean miners are rescued after two months underground.  Predictions for families, friendships, and financial futures are all dire.  The last sentence of the article we read (Google “chile mine rescue shaft ap mobile” to get articles) was a quote from Brandon Fisher, president of the company that is getting them out.  He said, “Once money gets involved, it gets ugly.”

While it is true that things usually do get ugly when money is involved, it’s not the money that’s the problem.  There’s nothing wrong with money.  God wants you to have enough money to feed, clothe, house, educate, and medicate yourself and your family, and maybe buy some Legos.  God wants you to know, however, that lots of people – some through no fault of their own – don’t have enough money for all of the above, and he has given you more than you need so that you can do something about that. 

What actually causes it to get ugly is love of money.  Love God instead, and be content. 

Philippians 4:8-20 (10/13/2010)

How do we learn to be content?  One of my grandmas said her mother-in-law was “the bitterest old woman I ever saw in my life. … and it was all about money.”  Well, she had grown up well off, married well, lost everything, and spent much of her life on the frontier.  In her place, maybe I’d be bitter; who knows?

What a contrast with Paul!  He’d grown up well off, gotten a good education, and then spent his career being mistrusted, chased out of town, beaten, shipwrecked, and jailed.  And yet he says he is content, because he knows “what it is to be in need and what it is to have more than enough.” 

Bertrand Russell said something very similar:  “To be without some of the things you want is an indispensable part of happiness.”  So although Paul didn’t feel neglected or discontented when he didn’t hear from his friends, he was especially happy when he did.

1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 (10/14/2010)

Possibly if we aren’t content with our wealth, instead of getting something more, the real solution would be to give something up.  Here’s an old rabbinical story about stuff and contentment.
Luke 3:7-14 (10/15/2010)

The great lyricist Weird Al Yankovic wrote a song called, “(This Song’s Just) Six Words Long.”  The extremely memorable chorus goes like this:  “This song is just six words long/ This song is just six words long/ This song is just six words long/ This song is just six words long.”  One of the verses says, Now, I am willing to stipulate that they are payin’ me plenty of money.  I have all the necessities of life, and my granddaughter and I just sent off an order for yet another batch of Legos, which are a luxury item even for me.  So why should I be discontented that they are paying you more?

When everybody in Judea was coming out to John for a baptism of repentance, they asked him what they should do.  This makes sense, because to “repent” doesn’t mean to say you are sorry; it means to change your behavior.  What an opportunity for John to tell the people to be more regular in synagogue attendance, or the tax collectors not to collaborate with the Romans, or the soldiers not to beat up on people!  Instead, his answers were all about money.  Be content with your pay.

Defined by Generosity.

Genesis 2:4b-23 (10/18/2010)

Now, you may think that we are spending an awful lot of time on the gift of wealth, but there are some good reasons for that.  One is that while I had a couple of choices each about athletic ability, musical ability, physical beauty, and so on, there are a zillion scriptures about God’s gift of wealth.  As near as I can tell after careful reading, this is the one gift that God wants to give to everyone.  Why is that?

Do you remember all that stuff in Genesis 1 about God making human beings in his own image?  Somehow I don’t think that refers to male pattern baldness.  I think it means that our intellects, our personalities, and our opportunities to create and use wealth are modeled after God’s.  God first created incredible wealth in the world, and then he created jobs and industry.  God used his own wealth to benefit us.  Fellow-reader Wayne S. once said in Sunday School that he was concerned that he’d get to Heaven and ask God, “Why didn’t you do anything about all those poor people?” And God would reply, “ME?  I put you there and gave you all that wealth.  Why didn’t YOU do something about them?”

1 Timothy 6:17-19 (10/19/2010)

Let’s see.  Does anyone here think we have good things that come from some other source than God? 

The constant teaching of the Bible, of Judaism, and of the Church, is that every good thing we have comes from God.  We sing, “Praise God from whom all blessings flow”; “Praise God the source of all our gifts”; “Blessed are You, O Lord, our God, King of the universe, who creates the fruit of the vine”; “Blessed are You, O Lord, our God, King of the universe, who brings forth bread from the earth.”  So Point 1 is that God, out of his own generosity, has given us every good thing we have. 

Point 2 is that, having been made in the image of God, we are supposed to use God’s gifts to us in a way that emulates God.

Proverbs 11:24-31, 22:9 (10/20/2010)

Generosity makes you feel rich, and even become rich, and parsimony makes you feel poor, and even become poor.  Is that weird, or what?

2 Corinthians 9:1-15 (10/21/2010)

I’ve never been taken with Prosperity Gospel.  Observation doesn’t support that idea that that God is like a savings bond:  you put in $X, and you get back $X plus some extra.  And I don’t think that’s what the Bible says, either.  What the Bible says is that God has given you everything, specifically including the gift of wealth.  Furthermore, it says that when you share your gift of wealth with others who are in need, that is an investment both in this world and the next.  One effect of your generosity is to make you feel rich.

Matthew 25:31-45 (10/22/2010)

I have always thought that the most interesting thing in the parable of the sheep and the goats is not that there are sheep and goats, which can easily be established by observation of society.  It is not even that the sheep were generous and the goats were ungenerous, which is logical. 

The most interesting thing to me is that the sheep have no idea why they are sheep, and the goats have no idea why they are goats.  The sheep, like God, give to the unattractive and even the undeserving, but that’s just what they do — they don’t seem to think they should get a reward for it.  The goats do not, but why should they? — they certainly don’t think they should be punished for it.  Am I a sheep or a goat?

Too much.

Psalm 23 (10/25/2010)

Remember last week, when we learned a song with the chorus “This song is just six words long”?  Imagine my surprise to notice today that the 23rd Psalm is just six verses long.  Just in case, I checked several different translations and the Hebrew, and they are all just 6 verses long.

Doesn’t it seem to you that a psalm that tells us so much about our relationship with God and so much about God’s gifts to us ought to be longer than that?  We always want more.  More income, more security, more stuff, more happiness, more verses.  God has given us everything we have, and in the case of you and me, dear reader, that includes substantial material wealth.  The LORD is our shepherd; we have everything we need.

Exodus 36:1-7 (10/26/2010)

This is one of the most amazing passages in the Bible.  I mean, miracles, right; signs and wonders, sure.  But people bringing so many offerings that they had to be turned away?  Get outta here!

When I worked at Sandia Labs as a person who thinks about things, I was always impressed by the people who could actually make things.  Back in September, we read about Bezalel and Oholiab because they are excellent examples of the gift of
crafts ability (in today’s terms, engineers, builders, potters, quilters, and all the other makers*).  The ability to make things is one of the gifts that gifted people can have.  Nevertheless, they have to have materials to make things out of, and they have to buy groceries.  Who provides the materials and the wages?  The people with the gift of wealth, which, as previously established, is most of us, no matter what other gifts we have been given.

* In The Mind of the Maker, Dorothy L. Sayers says that the ability to make things is one of the primary ways we have been created in the image of God.

1 Chronicles 29:1-19 (10/27/2010)

115 tons of gold — actually, 3000 talents — is roughly 3,300,000 troy ounces, and today’s (i.e., 10/26/2010’s) price is $1,334.60 per ounce.  265 tons of silver — 7000 talents — is roughly 7,700,000 troy ounces at $23.54 per ounce. There’s some fuzziness on these numbers; howsomever, I think we can agree that David had more walking-around money than we do — about $4.5 billion in gold and $150 million in silver at today’s prices.  After he made his enormous contribution to the building program and challenged his leading men to match it, he prayed, “My people and I cannot really give you anything, because everything is a gift from you, and we have only given back what is yours already.”  

David had a lot of cash, but he didn’t have electricity.  He didn’t own a VW microbus, much less a Lexus.  He never traveled more than 100 miles or so from home, because there were no airports.  Apparently the Jewish cities and towns of David’s time had decent water supplies and drainage systems, but I’ll bet he didn’t have a shower.  Our wealth is not always measured by our cash in hand.  God has given us cities we did not build. 

2 Chronicles 31:2-12a (10/28/2010)

King Hezekiah wasn’t as wealthy in worldly goods as King David, but he still managed to provide several hundred animals a year for the offerings in the Temple.  Finding out the price of live cattle was tougher than finding out the price of gold, but as near as I can tell, a steer weighs about 1000 pounds on the hoof and sells for about $1 a pound.  I couldn’t find the price of sheep.  Hezekiah provided two animals a day, but probably a lot of them were lambs, so we’ll just go with 365 bullocks/year, plus 52 for the Sabbaths, and 13 for the New Moons.  That’s $430,000/year in livestock.

Under Hezekiah’s leadership, the people started tithing again.  Soon there was enough not only for current needs, but also to save for a rainy day.  The high priest said, “We have all this because the LORD has blessed his people.”

Luke 6:38 (10/29/2010)

You know that when you yawn, the people around you yawn.  I read somewhere recently that dogs and people also cause each other to yawn.  Try it for yourself; it works.  I can calm my cat by blinking at her very slowly.  This isn’t a custom among people (at least not the people I know), but cats do it.  She blinks back at me, and pretty soon her ears come forward and she starts to purr.  Yawns and blinks are contagious.

Jesus says that generosity is contagious.  You know this is true on the human-to-human level.  If you want someone to be nice to you, just give them something — a smile, directions, diamonds, whatever.  Jesus says specifically that our generosity toward our fellow-man leads God to act generously toward us.  God always wants to be generous with us, because God loves giving us good gifts.  Sometimes our own sinful attitudes and behavior get in the way of God’s generosity toward us, but when our own nature is generous, God will give us more than we can hold onto.

As For You and Your House?

Joshua 24:13-28 (11/1/10)

We’ve been talking for weeks about the gift of wealth.  I was surprised at how easy it was to find scriptures on this topic, and in fact scripture passages about the gift of wealth greatly outnumber passages about all the other gifts combined.  The Bible, and therefore presumably God, is intensely interested in the gift of wealth:  God’s desire to give us this gift, good and bad ways of acquiring this gift, good and bad ways of using this gift, and rewards and dangers of this gift.

But a critical point is that each one of us has to choose — we choose how to acquire wealth, choose how to use wealth, and choose whether we will enjoy the rewards or succumb to the dangers of wealth.  Choose wisely.

Matthew 12:22-30 (11/2/10)

I have been looking for a particular kind of study Bible lately, and I happened across a website by
Ken Collins that compares several translations.   You know that I’m always on your case to get a modern translation of the Bible, with study notes and cross-references.  Especially at this time of year, people are wondering what to get you for Christmas, because you already have everything you need, most of what you want, and a lot of stuff that has just accumulated.  The best Bible for you is the one you are actually going to read (except don’t get the Living Bible), and Pastor Collins’s site might help you to choose.  Then when people ask what you want, you can say, “What I’d really like is the study edition of the X Bible.”

Today’s passage is an excellent example of why I want you to get a modern translation.  Those of us who grew up on the King James Version know that Beelzebul (“prince of demons”) is Beelzebub (“prince of flies”) in the Gospels of the King James Version.  The King James Version is an excellent translation (if you can read Jacobean English), but it is not based on the best manuscripts.  This is not the fault of the translators; it’s just that many, many fine manuscripts have been discovered in the past 399 years, and nearly all of them have Beezebul.

Whether you are choosing a translation of the Bible or choosing whom you are going to stand with, choose wisely.

Mark 9:33-42 (11/3/10)

When we get to heaven, we Christians are going to have a lot of explaining to do on the topic of schism.  Why is it that we think other Christians aren’t as Christian as we are?  Why do we want them to stop doing what they are doing, and instead do what we are doing? 

Jesus says, anyone who is working miracles in his name is for him, and we shouldn’t try to stop that person just because he doesn’t attend our church, belong to our denomination, dress like us, or part his hair on the right side.  What we have to do is choose who we are for, and not spend so much time worrying about the other guy.  Choose wisely.

John 6:59-71 (11/4/10)

Much of the book of John is about choices.  A repeated pattern is this:  a miracle, a teaching that the miracle illustrates, and a debate among the onlookers that leads some to believe and some to disbelieve.  John is representative of the entire Bible.  Moses, Joshua, the prophets, Jesus, and the apostles all offer a choice:   believe in God and try to do his will, or disbelieve and do your own will.  Choose wisely.

Deuteronomy 30:15-20 (11/5/10)

Let’s summarize.  God wants to give everyone the gift of wealth, and in the case of those of us in this Bible study, God has certainly succeeded.  There are good and bad ways to obtain wealth; there are good and bad ways to use wealth; and there are good and bad attitudes about wealth.

Moses says, love God and gain life and prosperity, or turn away from God and gain death and destruction.  Choose wisely.

More "Gifted"
Who Are the Gifted?
The Gift of Wealth
Mentoring the Gifted
Gift Giving

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