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Where Your Treasure Is

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Deuteronomy 14:22-15:23

Introduction

      In the book, Believers in Business, Laura L. Nash identifies some of the tensions which occur for Christians who are trying to compete in the secular world of business.

      She talks about the tension between "The love for God vs. the pursuit of profit." For example, when it comes to time spent, will there be time to serve God, or will all available time be used to pursue profit? What is the primary allegiance? She also mentions "Love vs. the competitive drive." How does love work when it is necessary to spray your field close to a neighbours field on a windy day? How do you handle water diversion over land that is your neighbours or what about hauling grain to the elevator when space available and quota don't quite match?  It is sometimes very difficult to demonstrate love and keep the competitive edge. Another tension she talks about is "People needs vs. profit obligations." If a business wants to satisfy its shareholders, it may have to downsize and lay off employees. How does concern for those employees relate to the need to make a good profit? These are difficult challenges!

      But people in business are not the only ones who struggle with this tension. I mentioned last week that 15 % of American adults feel guilty about having or spending too much money. Could it be that money has become a god to them and this is making them feel guilty?

      Many people use our credit cards to purchase things beyond their means.  Peter Selby in "Grace & Mortgage: The Language of Faith and the Debt of the World," talks about the fact that, "we have adopted a credit-based economic model which, through the charging of interest, involves a significant transfer of wealth to the richest groups of a country's population. This systematic transfer of money from those who need it most to those who need it least is one of the factors pushing the world towards catastrophe...by artificially increasing the pressure on the less well-off and the poor." Do you ever wonder what the use of credit does in regards to spiritual values?

      Do you ever fantacize about winning a large amount of money? What does that say about what is important to you? Someone told me recently about walking in Winnipeg and meeting a beggar and having a struggle knowing how or whether to give that person any money. The struggle even goes to such things as the way we tip in a restaurant.

      They alway say that you should never get between a mother bear and her cubs, but I think it might be just as true to say you should never get between a man and his wallet or a woman and her purse.

      Jesus said in Matthew 6:21 "where your treasure is there will your heart be also."

      If money is our treasure we will handle these challenges in a very different way than if God is our treasure. The question is, "How do we manage to make sure that money does not become our treasure in place of God?"

      We have been studying Deuteronomy and have noticed that it was God's intention to create a society in which the people of Israel were His people. Of necessity, this involved people's relationship to money, and so it is not surprising that in Deuteronomy we have things written about how to handle the issue of heart and treasure.

      Although the whole society was quite different from ours, some of the basic principles which God gave them are relevant to us as well. Let us study portions of Deuteronomy 14,15 in order to see how we can make sure that our monetary treasure remains submissive to God. There are two principles behind the laws which God gave Israel which help us deal with this issue.

I.                   A Way To Acknowledge God

      Most everyone in Israel was involved in farming and most of the farms were fairly small. Suppose a family had two cows and 3 sheep and 1 acre of land sown to grain. Suppose further that 1 of the sheep was a young ewe that had been kept from the previous year's lambs and was now having her first lambs. Suppose further that the acre of grain had produced 20 bushels of wheat. Deuteronomy 14:22, tells us that they were to take that first lamb and 10% of the wheat or 2 bushels and take it to the place where God's temple was and we read in 14:23, "Eat the tithe (10%) of your grain, new wine and oil, and the firstborn of your herds and flocks in the presence of the LORD your God at the place he will choose as a dwelling for his Name, so that you may learn to revere the LORD your God always."

      We read further that if they lived too far away from God's temple and if there was too much to carry, they could convert the tithe into cash and purchase an equivalent amount when they got to the place where God's presence was.

      What was this law all about? What was God trying to get them to do. The key thought here is "Eat...in the presence of the Lord your God...so that you may learn to revere the Lord your God always."

      The whole thing is repeated in 14:26, but we have some additional information there. We learn that they were to eat it in the presence of the Lord with their household and rejoice. Do you get the picture? Once a year (two years out of three) they were to have a big joyful celebration with their families in which they blew ten percent of their income and had a party. But, the party was not for the purpose of self indulgence, but for the purpose of rejoicing in the presence of the Lord.

      I believe that the intention of this was that something was supposed to happen in their hearts through this act.

      First of all, by taking 10 % of their supply for the whole year and using it up in one event involved the risk of giving up. Such an act would give them an opportunity to actually practice having a loose grip on what they possessed. It involved the act of letting go of the possessions.

      Secondly, eating it in the presence of the Lord, was a symbolic way of reminding them that everything they had came from him. It reinforced the connection between what had been produced and the one who produced it. By eating in the presence of the Lord, they had to consider that everything they had, came to them only by His gracious provision. It would help them to replace God as their treasure.

      The fact that it involved a family celebration would help them teach their children dependence on God and to love the Lord more than they loved their possessions.

      I can certainly see that if they did this, they would participate in an exercise that would help them to acknowledge God in their lives and give praise to Him and learn to put Him ahead of their possessions.

      Our context is quite different in many ways. We are not all agricultural and we don't have a central place of worship as they did. But the idea of finding a way of loosening one's grip on possessions and rejoicing in the presence of the Lord is a good one and would be an excellent way to follow Jesus' teaching about making sure our treasure is in God not in possessions. How can we practice that?

      One way is to set apart, something like a tithe each time we get paid and give it to God. Each week as we give our offerings, engage in the act of letting go and as we give it to God, we acknowledge Him as our source. By collecting the offering in church, we teach our children about this principle. Remember that God loves a cheerful giver and so rejoicing as we give our offering is a good way of expressing our joy because the Lord has provided and declaring our dependence on Him.

      Another way might be to declare an annual feast of dependence on God in which we take some of what God has given us in order to celebrate in the presence of God. Thanksgiving is a natural way to do this, but do we really do it in the presence of God? How could we make it more of a time of acknowledging that God is our souce?

      Sometimes our attitude to what we earn is, "this is mine." If we want to avoid the temptation of allowing our possessions to become our treasure, we need to have specific ways in our lives to celebrate what we have been given in the presence of God.

II.               Generosity To The Poor

      As we read on, we see that there was another aspect which I believe was to help them make sure that God and not money was their treasure.

      We read in vs.28,29 that this practice of going to the place where God was in order to have a feast in his presence was to happen only two out of every three years. On the third year, they were to gather all their tithes and store them in the towns and they were to be used by the Levites, aliens, fatherless and widows, in other words, those who were not able to produce their own crops.

      In 15:1-11, we read that every seven years, a debt amnesty was declared. Anyone who owed anything should have that debt forgiven. The passage goes on to council generosity. We read in 15:7,8, "If there is a poor man among your brothers in any of the towns of the land that the LORD your God is giving you, do not be hardhearted or tightfisted toward your poor brother. Rather be openhanded and freely lend him whatever he needs."

      In 15:12-18, there is a related law. The welfare system of the ancient Israelites was that if you became too poor to support yourself, you could sell yourself as a slave to another person. That person would provide your needs and you would work for them. But we see in this passage that it was not to be a perpetual slavery. After seven years, they were to release the slaves. The law also provided that they should give them some produce to help them get started again.

      In each of these laws, we see a concern for the poor and a generosity to the poor. Although it says in 15:4, "there should be no poor among you..." The truth is expressed in vs 11, "There will always be poor people in the land." If they had followed God's laws perfectly, there should never have been a poor person, but they did not and so the need was always there to care for the poor. The law was powerful. In 15:9, we find that if the poor complained against you to God, it would be considered your sin.

      One of the reasons for such generosity is found in 15:15, "Remember that you were slaves in Egypt and the LORD your God redeemed you. That is why I give you this command today."

      I believe that apart from the need to show compassion to the poor, these laws also had the effect of teaching them to have an open hand and to hold their money loosely so that it would be clear that God was their treasure.

      Once again we realize that much of what is written here is not relevant to us. We do not sell ourselves into slavery, we do not hold a Jubilee, although there is a poster on the bulletin board which describes a group which is trying to have a jubilee of canceling debts for poor countries. Even though the context was different, the basic principle of generosity towards the poor is still relevant today. It is a good way for us to demonstrate that our treasure is not in our pants pocket or our purse, but that God is our treasure. How can we make this a part of our lifestyle? Several things come to mind.

      The way in which MCC is supported demonstrates that we have done well at this in the past. Our ancestors and indeed some of you have experienced poverty and have also been recipients of relief. Because of your experience, you have been models of generous giving to help the poor. However, a new generation is now growing up and I am one of them, who have always had lots of everything. We are not as good at giving up and we are more inclined to self indulgence. We need to hear this word and be challenged by it to change our lifestyle. How can we be involved in generosity so that our treasure will not be in what we possess?

      Allan Sauder writes in Marketplace, "When I applied to business school back in the 1970's I made a commitment to God that if I was accepted into the MBA program I would work for the poor rather than only for myself." Since that time, he has worked for MCC in community development, for MEDA as VP of International Economic Development. This was his way of saying that his treasure was God, not his possession. When we make decisions about jobs, do we think about where our heart is?

      A few years ago, Terry and Gladys Terichow gave up good jobs in Morden in order to work for MCC in inner city Winnipeg as an expression of their commitment that their treasure was not their possessions, but that God was. Can we make changes in our life in order to reflect this value?

      I read a story about a Dr. Bill Dyck who was a dentist and a land developer in Fresno. One day as he was driving into Dallas, Texas, he followed a Suburban filled with people and pulling a beat up trailer. When they stopped at a gas station he followed them because he was curious about their story. Eleven people from two families poured out of the vehicle. He talked to them and found out that they had been out of work for some time and were going to Florida where a relative had given them hope that they would find work. They had eaten all their food and only had money left for gas and so they were driving all the way through. Bill put them up in a hotel, bought them a change of clothes so that they would be acceptable in the hotel, bought them supper and when they left the next morning, he gave them the cash he had with him. He also gave them his business card so that they could tell him how things had gone. Several weeks later they phoned twice because they did not believe that it was a real person who had helped them, they thought it was an angel. Sometimes opportunities to help the poor come in strange ways and in unusual circumstances. Is our heart prepared to help?

      I have to confess that I have a lot to learn about generosity to the poor. I also know that if we will learn to be generous to the poor, we will help ourselves realize that our treasure is not in our pockets, or our purses, but that God must be our treasure.

      The additional responsiblity we have that Israel did not have was proclaiming the gospel and so today generosity in giving towards mission work is one way of expressing the same truth. There are a lot of opportunities to do this.

     

Conclusion

      In 15:4-6 we read, "However, there should be no poor among you, for in the land the LORD your God is giving you to possess as your inheritance, he will richly bless you, if only you fully obey the LORD your God and are careful to follow all these commands I am giving you today..."

      From this we learn that the spiritual condition of the nation was closely tied to the material condition of the nation. If they obeyed God, they would prosper. If they failed to obey God in regards to the what was the treasure of their heart, God would judge them. Prosperity depended on obedience. Once again, we know that this direct connection is not always there. Wicked men prosper and righteous people suffer. But, the spiritual principle that where our treasure is there will our heart be also is once again expressed by this concept. We cannot seperate the two areas of our life.

God cares about how we deal with our money. How we deal with our money relates to how much we love God.

      So the question for today is, where is your treasure and what are you doing to make sure that your treasure is above, not on earth?

      This notice was seen in a church bulletin: "Welcome. We consider it a blessing and a privilege that you chose to be here today. But frankly, we are more concerned about what you do when you leave. You see, we don't believe the holiest moment of church is the hour or so you spend here Sunday morning. We believe it is when God's people go out of the church door to be the church in the world."

      I challenge you as you go out of the church door to live in such a way that it is clear that your treasure is God, not your money. Find ways through worship and generosity to deposit God as your treasure in your heart.

      As a response, we will hear a mission glimpse and then let us rejoice as we give our offering today and do it as an expression of where our heart is.

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