Last in series: Live yourself into new ways of thinking
YOUR MONEY CAN HELP YOU FEEL SPIRITUALLY ALIVE
I believe this kind of puts me in the category of awkward or weird, but I like talking about money
And it’s not even just that I don’t mind talking about our money
I like it… genuinely
I find myself wanting to tell people about how much we spend on groceries, or the health insurance option we’ve gone with, or our rent and utilities situation
What we can spend money on; what we can't spend money on...
And if any poor soul pretends to be interested for a minute, I’m eager to punish them for their feigned interest by explaining egregiously boring matters like:
How we have a plan in place so when that sneaky $100 Amazon Prime year-long membership cost comes up (of course you never remember because it’s been 12 months since you thought about it), it doesn’t actually screw up our budget at all
And, just like that, now I’ve bored half of you… you’re welcome!
But seriously... if you’re curious... talk to me after the service… we have a plan...
So, what in God’s name is wrong with me?
It is broadly understood that there is an unwritten rule of quote-unquote civilized society:
you do not talk about money in polite company
Money is a personal matter - leave it that way! No talking about it!
Now, in one sense, I actually really appreciate this unwritten societal rule
Without it, we’d probably have some ugly consequences
More public shaming
More discrimination based on economics
And those are no laughing matters at all
So I assure you I’m still trying to be a normal member of society… I haven’t made it a goal in my life to make lots of people needlessly uncomfortable by talking about money incessantly
But, in another sense, when it comes to this unwritten rule that we shouldn’t talk about money in polite company, it seems to me we can miss out on some major opportunity
A brilliant quote from Jesus captures what I mean here.
I’ve included it in your program today
He said: “Where your treasure is, there your heart will be as well"
Maybe you’ve heard us at BLV mention this quote from Jesus before… we refer to it most weeks here as part of the reasoning behind why we’re a donation-supported organization
I think it’s saying quite a lot… let’s break it down
“Where your treasure is…"
So, translating across 2000 years from Jesus’ world to our consumeristic world today, this basically means for us, “where our money goes”
“There... your heart will be as well"
Let’s work that image for a minute
Jesus seems to say: If you follow your treasure or money, you will discover your heart (the essence of who you are)
Your and my hearts, in Jesus’ view, are not stagnant things, tucked away, hidden inside us... our hearts are active, and they live out in the world
Our hearts are investors
Investing bits of us all over, hoping for good return
Sometimes getting that good return, and no doubt sometimes not
Either way, if you want to know the deepest truth about yourself, you have to track down the various places and things in which your heart is invested
And a surefire way to sniff out your hearts’ investment portfolio, Jesus says, is to start with your treasure… your money…
“There... your heart will be as well"
This self-discovery is the opportunity that I think we miss out on when we are overly beholden to that unwritten societal rule...
Because if we don’t talk about money, we don’t get to discover enough of our heart
The stakes of this are two-fold
First off, maybe we’re wasting some of our heart-investment on things that aren’t giving us a good return at all
Certainly, we are all driven mad in unique ways by the consumerism and materialism all around us, making purchases we’d be better not making
If any of us let someone else trustworthy take a look at our personal budget, I’m sure we would all come away with some sound suggestions and hopefully some conviction to change our spending for the better
That’s definitely an example of worthwhile discoveries to make about our hearts
BUT I think that’s a talk for another setting, and probably another speaker who is more money-wise than I am
What I want to spend most of our time today on is a second thing:
The stakes of us not making the self-discoveries that our money leads us to is:
We don’t let our hearts off the leash enough
We won’t discover anything big or exciting enough to us that we truly feel passion
Our money will go toward whatever mix of everyday expenditures we personally default to, and our heart will just spend its days invested in small, unexciting, business-as-usual matters
When Jesus made his assessment of the relationship between human treasure and the human heart, it was in the context of encouraging his hearers along these lines:
To NOT live small, unexciting, business-as-usual lives
And instead to consider of the utmost importance living with passion
His quotation in context was this:
“Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be as well."
He goes to the most ultimate of all images of higher passion, higher joy, higher living:
This is more than the popular culture concept of heaven - a place we will someday go when we die
When Jesus referred to Heaven, he meant a here & now possibility (as well as a future possibility) of fullness of life, connection with God, healing of the broken things in the world
Jesus wants us to put the relationship between human treasure and the human heart to work for our benefit:
It’s like he’s saying: since your heart is going to follow your money, point it in the direction of things that will inspire you, that will make you come alive with passion...
That will connect you with the most fundamental human longings — for fullness, connection, healing — on the Bible’s terms, for heaven
The logic behind Jesus’ encouragement here is well documented today in modern research on human behavior
Humans literally experience positive brain activity when they donate money to something they see as bigger than themselves
Not just throwing money at an organization,
But when giving money feels like active participation in an effort or cause that inspires you
The rush of meaning, passion, alive-ness that people report feeling (call it whatever you will) can actually be seen on brain scans
What if the reality underneath what is happening there, this thing science can actually quantify now, is something spiritual?
I think of my wife Keziah and I, a little while back, when we were at a financial transition point
She was beginning student teaching for grad school, meaning she would not be working for a paycheck for a whole year
And I was quitting my day job and taking a pay cut to work for the church here, which couldn’t pay us full-time, but at least it was something flexible where I made my own hours so I could also be stay-at-home dad to our one year old son at the same time
Well, I say it was a financial transition point because obviously our income was going way down
We were going from two 40hr a week jobs (neither of them anywhere close to lucrative, to be sure, but full time at least) to less than half a pastor’s salary
We knew we would be dipping into our savings to stay afloat that year (luckily for us, we knew it would only be a year - Kezi’s student teaching had an end date), and we knew that we would have to slash a fair amount of our spending
Now one part of our outflow at the time was donating regularly to this church
We had been practicing the wisdom that a number of people in this church practice, a tithe, which is donating to the church the first 10% of our income every month
And as the month of August approached, when the switch to this new situation would happen, I’m praying one day and I feel like God says, "when your income goes down, keep your recurring donation to BLV the same"
To my American sensibility that sounded backwards…
Initially my thought was: donations are one of the first things we should slash in our spending given the much smaller numbers we will have to be working with
Financial responsibility is: we take care of basic necessities first (staple groceries and shelter), and then with the money left-over we come up with a budget for auxiliary things —
Entertainment, groceries that Aldi doesn’t carry, new clothes, donations
Donations are nice, I thought, but they’re like a cherry on top of the sundae - an “if possible” thing
But what I was sensing from God as I prayed my “pushback” about financial responsibility back to him was super intriguing
I felt like God said: Totally hear you on the entertainment and new clothes, and stuff like that - that is really wise - well done!
But can I suggest you re-categorize donations to be with those necessities of food and shelter? Otherwise, I’m worried you’ll be living too small a life
That idea struck something in me:
God was perceiving a threat that I wasn’t:
The threat of a passionless year, blind to the relative privilege and opportunity available to us
Our hearts just sitting on the bench until we felt we had enough money to actually matter
That made some sense!
I didn’t want that year of our life to just be maintaining!
I didn’t want to be blind to our privilege!
I wanted to live passionately!… with some purpose and oomph and drive
So we went for this:
We recategorized donations as one of our necessities
We kept our donation to BLV at the same level, even though our income went down
And our experience of that year felt not at all like “just maintaining”
Because our hearts were following that money
We very much felt our heart was in the game that year… not at all sitting on the bench
And for all the sacrifices that meant in terms of our beyond-the-necessities spending, we ended that year-long experiment super thankful to have felt our hearts genuinely passionate throughout
Before this, I think I just didn’t believe that our money actually could mobilize our heart all that much
Probably because even in our most financially secure seasons as a couple, Keziah and I have in no way ever been philanthropists… we’re not signing big checks… and as our future looks to be pastor and pre-school teacher, I don’t think we ever will be
And those future financial prospects for us have never felt like a bummer to me… so that’s great
BUT there’s a difference between being “generally okay” with one's money-reality and believing in one’s money-reality as meaningful and significant
Small though it may be in comparison to someone else
In Jesus’ day, the custom was for Jewish people to bring donations to their local faith communities and drop it in an offering box publicly
As a side note, this was a discriminatory practice (because the rich would look devout and the poor couldn't)… they could have used a little cultural injection of that “it is impolite to talk about money” we know today… so, again, not all bad!
Anyway, in one episode of this recorded in the Bible (the whole story is in your program), Jesus takes pause to celebrate a poor woman who strikes up the courage to join all of the rich offering money, and donates next to nothing… the modern equivalent of dropping some coins in a jar
Poor though her financial circumstance was, Jesus saw her experiencing something the rich around her had never experienced:
Passion - a belief that her investment matters beyond its financial implications
Her heart was now invested in something bigger than her… and that would pay spiritual dividends in return
Her life was not going to feel like sitting on the bench… Her life was going to feel like a part of a grander story
She was going to experience that (now-scientifically-proven) rush of meaning and purpose
I’m glad for the tastes of this that Keziah and I have had
Well, to distill all this down to some practical takeaways, let me make a few levels of suggestions:
If you’re a little skeptical, but curious enough to explore the possibility that your heart follows your treasure, and maybe you can leverage that for some spiritual alive-ness, here’s what I suggest...
As generously as you can pull off, donate money to something (anything!) that inspires you this week
May I not at all shamelessly plug BLV as something that may potentially inspire you?
Honestly… I feel no shame right now =)… I’m personally sold that if you donated to BLV because you felt inspired by what we’re doing here, you would like the way that made you feel
If you’re not terribly inspired though, that’s fine!
Donate to something that does inspire you!
And then when that donation makes you feel spiritually alive, come back to us and say “everything else about this place is dull, but that talk Vince gave worked, so I guess I’m a little bit inspired… here’s a million dollars!"
Anyway, then assess how the experiment of donating goes by keeping track of your heart
Did you learn something about yourself, about what makes you feel alive?
Did you discover some passion?
Did any next step present itself as a result of your donation? Does that feel exciting?
Ok, another level of this... if you’re really taken by all this, you’re as sold as I am, here’s my suggestion:
Categorize donating money as a necessity in your life
This was the change God initiated in Keziah and me, and I can’t sing the praises of the way it’s reoriented us enough
Now, regardless of what kind of financial circumstance we are currently in, we feel our hearts are “in the game”… because we’ve just made it a given that we will donate money every month
I took a look at our budget, and currently we donate 14% of our income every month
And we feel our hearts follow that money… we feel connected to larger stories than just our own, which inspire us, and awaken passion in us
One last level, for any of you who feel sold on this...
May I pitch you an idea?
Sign up to be invited to BLV's fundraising leadership team dinner next month
Last week, we threw one of our bi-annual Stakeholders Celebration parties
These are our way of thanking and appreciating anyone who considers herself or himself a stakeholder in BLV for all the investments they make big and small
From just showing up regularly, participating in community
To volunteering on Sunday
To leading or hosting small groups…
And everything in between
And at this party last week we made a big announcement about how our church is dreaming big for what’s next
We released the announcement via our podcast and on our website, so it’s available to listen to now
(If you weren’t able to be there and you do consider yourself a Stakeholder in BLV, we would be so appreciative if you prioritized giving it a listen!)
The big dreaming we talked about presents BLV with a fundraising effort ahead
And we want anyone who would feel excited about making that fundraising a success to be in on the ground floor
So we’re developing a fundraising leadership team
Being on this team doesn’t have to mean you’re giving big bucks
On the terms of today’s talk, the amount of money you invest is secondary, the primary thing is: if your heart comes alive when you invest it in BLV, then you’re the type of person for this team
The first step for this fundraising leadership team is a dinner we will be hosting next month, and you have to sign up to get the invite to the dinner
It will be an interest meeting
If you come and realize “this isn’t for me”, no problem!
But if you think even a little bit this might be for you, we want you there!
A little later in our service today, we’ll give you the chance to sign up for the invite via our orange connect cards
So, these takeaways are the final practices we're offering as a part of the series of talks we’ve been in on Sundays here:
This series has been about how positive change actually happens for people, and how helpfully aware Jesus is of how positive change actually happens for people
Often, we assume that to change is to think ourselves into new ways of living
Learn the lesson, then take the test
Read the handbook, then meet the demands
That’s all “think yourself into new ways of living”
But really… change happens by living ourselves into new ways of thinking
Jesus invited people to experiment, to just try living new ways, and then see what happens
Like today’s takeaway: invest your money in something bigger, best you can pull off, and just see what happens when your heart follows that money
So little in modern American life (it seems to me) treats us with such intelligence and grace
Everyone I talk to seems worn down with demands, deadlines, pressing life questions, stresses
What a gift to experience a different tone...
This is why we come together on Sundays…
This is why we create space for prayer and quiet here at this church
If you’ll allow me to pray for you right now, I would love to do that.
Why don’t you all stand with me...