The Real Jesus: The Danger of Greed

Good morning and welcome to Journey Church.  My name is Phil Human and I am a pastor here at Journey and today I’m going to be talking about some very important teachings of Jesus as found in Luke chapter 12.

We are in the middle of a longer series we’re calling the Real Jesus – and this portion of the series is dealing with his teachings.  What sermons did Jesus preach.  What was his message?  And this morning we are going to take a look at the first of two pitfalls we have to avoid on our faith journey with the Lord.

As a way of introduction –  I want to invite you to go back in time with me to an age of video game excellence – We’re going to go back all the way to 1982!  And the revolutionary game that was released by Activision is a game called Pitfall!  Pitfall Harry was the character, dangerously jumping about through the jungle avoiding the pitfalls that we all know are common pitfalls in the jungle – and here’s a picture that someone put out recently in honor of their 39th birthday – and it captures the dangerous pitfalls out there that will destroy you if you aren’t careful.

Pitfall Harry runs through the jungle in pursuit of gold and treasure but must stay alive by avoiding pitfalls along the way.  Here Pitfall Harry is jumping over a tar pit while avoiding the barrels?  Logs?  Randomly careening through the jungle?  Okay.  Pitfalls to avoid in pursuit f the treasure.

I’m going to give you ten seconds to study this image in order to identify all the danger that lurks along pitfall Harry’s adventure.  Okay – let’s clear the screen and see how many you got.

Did you identify the vine as a danger?  I hope so – Pitfall Harry might be able to jump barrels that are randomly careening through the jungle at high rates of speed but he cannot jump that pond.  And what if the vine breaks?  What if he releases his grip too early?  What if the vine is actually a snake?  One point if you got the vine.

One point if you identified the alligators as danger lurking.  It’s well known that Alligators cannot be trusted especially ones that are displaying clear malice with their snapping jaws of death.  One point if you identified the alligators.  I will allow a bonus point if you made the water a separate danger.  Obviously you are old and played the game and know that for some reason if Harry never learned to swim, apparently and died if he fell into the water.

Did you identify the Scorpion as a pitfall to avoid?  Of course you did!

And I hope you saw the snake as a pitfall to avoid.  Did you get the deadly snake?  Of course you did.  How did you do?  Did you get all of them?  Oh but wait, there’s one more deadly pitfall up on that screen.  Did you identify it as a deadly pitfall?  And that of course, is the gold! 

Did you identify it as dangerous?  Or the reward?  You wouldn’t be the first to dismiss money as harmless.  But here’s the deal.  Jesus never talked about the dangers of alligators or scorpions or snakes -he never took the time to gather a group of people around him to say – listen gang, keep your head on a swivel – there’s snakes around here and we’re all wearing sandals!

But what he did say was this.  15 Then he said to them, “Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; life does not consist in an abundance of possessions.”

Why does Jesus tell us to beware – be on guard against greed? The reason, frankly, is because greed is sneaky.  One of the effects of greed is to blind us to the fact that we might be infected by it.

Greed blinds its victims to its presence.  It might have us in a chokehold right now – without us being aware of the fact that life is being sucked out of us by it.  Greed is sneaky, relentless and merciless.

I offer this as anecdotal evidence of the sneakiness of sin.  This year I will celebrate my 30th year as a pastor.  And in those 30 years of ministry I’ve had the privilege of praying with people who are overcoming every imaginable kind of struggle with sin possible.  People who have struggled with lust, with lying, with gossip, with stealing, infidelity, drug and alcohol dependency issues  – I mean – all of them.

However – in 30 years only once have I ever spoken with someone who said to me, I think I’m struggling with greed.  It was a friend who said something to the effect of – I’m struggling with the Bibles teaching that God loves a cheerful giver – I give but I don’t think I’m giving cheerfully very often.

And we laughed and it never even crossed my mind to suggest, “Have you ever considered that greed has you in a chokehold?  Ever considered that you are struggling with greed?”  And even if it had crossed my mind I don’t know if I would have said it, it sounds so rude!  So insulting!

Why would Jesus teach repeatedly to watch out for the pitfall of greed – if, apparently, only one person in 30 years needs to hear it?  Swing and a miss Jesus?

I will tell you why – it’s only because no one thinks they are struggling with it.  Greed blinds its victims to its presence.

How about we assume Jesus knows what he is talking about when he tells us – you and me – to be on guard – watch out for the pitfall of greed.

Let’s jump back into this passage and read where this verse comes from in Luke 12.  13 Someone in the crowd said to him, “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me.”

So here we have someone who elbows his way through the crowd to get to Jesus.  He sees his opportunity to speak with Jesus.  What issue is he going to bring up?  Jesus.  My brother is not dividing the inheritance with me fairly.

You know, some people asked Jesus to raise the dead.  Do you get the feeling this guy isn’t all that concerned with raising his father from the grave?  Can you imagine if Jesus said, I’ll tell you what, I’ll raise him from the grave.  No Jesus.  Please, he is resting in peace, I don’t want him, I want his money.  I want what I deserve!

That’s a cry that is heard in many a prayer today.  82% of Americans feel they deserve to be paid more.   They only want what they deserve!

There’s this super interesting story in the book of John – John the Baptist is out preaching and teaching and preparing people hearts for the arrival of Jesus – and a group of people – they happen to be soldiers – they come to John and say, what do we need to do to prepare our hearts for the coming kingdom.  And John the Baptist says…  Be content with your pay.

Isn’t that a weird answer?  He doesn’t say go to Synagogue every week!  Why would John say that, unless John knew that our money is a pitfall to our soul.  Our money in many ways steers our soul.  If you start giving money to orphans, your heart is going to start caring about orphans.  Your wallet has an invisible chain that is connected to your heart.

Jesus is able to quickly ascertain what is going on in this man’s heart.  And his response gets right to the point.

14 Jesus replied, “Man, who appointed me a judge or an arbiter between you?” 15 Then he said to them, “Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; life does not consist in an abundance of possessions.”

And now Jesus is going to teach them through a parable.  And verse 15 here tells us exactly what this parable is going to be about.  It’s going to be about greed.  Jesus was able to discern that this man was greedy.

16 And he told them this parable: “The ground of a certain rich man yielded an abundant harvest. 

Quick note.  The man was already rich.  And he is not condemned for being rich.  Money is just money.  It’s amoral.  It’s neither good nor bad.  But the problem is that money goes into our pocket and then it becomes powerful.

And anything that might come in between our relationship with God is amplified by our money.  Money empowers those things that want to steer us away from God.

This is why the bible often calls Greed idolatry.  We aren’t worshipping our money – we aren’t silly enough to worship the almighty dollar.  But whatever our heart is drawn to other than God, money makes worse.

17 He thought to himself, ‘What shall I do? I have no place to store my crops.’

18 “Then he said, ‘This is what I’ll do. I will tear down my barns and build bigger ones, and there I will store my surplus grain. 19 And I’ll say to myself, “You have plenty of grain laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry.”’

It’s hard not to notice how often the man refers to himself – my crops – my barns, my wheat, and I’ll sit back and say to myself – My friend…  eat drink and be Merry  Blechhhh….

20 “But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?’

21 “This is how it will be with whoever stores up things for themselves but is not rich toward God.”

Jesus wants us to keep our head on a swivel – to watch out for the pitfall of greed.

Now let’s get down to the nitty gritty here of some practical ideas about how we can be sure we aren’t afflicted with greed.  But fisrt – some overdue clarifications.

I am not after your money.  I am preaching the things Jesus preached.  This is not a cash grab.  In fact – this church is an incredibly generous church.  And so I simply present to you the bible teachings in a very straightforward way.  I will leave it to you and Holy Spirit to work it out amongst yourself wether this message is an encouragement or perhaps a challenge.  But it’s not being taught with ulterior motives.

Secondly – what I’m teaching I have had to learn.  Someone challenged my wife and I to think differently about our money.  His name was Bob Thune – my pastor at the church I formerly worked at in Omaha before we started Journey.

And one day we heard Bob say from the pulpit –  “I am doing you a favor when I tell you to give your money away.”

We about fell off our pew when we heard him say that and it forced us to ask whether or not he was telling the truth.  And after even the smallest effort of research into Jesus’ teaching we had to conclude Bob was right.  He taught what Jesus taught.  And It forced us to examine our own giving habits and so I pass along to you the same favor.

Furthermore – if you believe that this is being taught with anything other than sincere motives, you should find a charity or an organization you believe is trustworthy.

Now let me say a few words here of help when it comes to dealing with money and how we can guard against greed.

First – I highly suggest you take the Dave Ramsey class at some point in your life.  And so, why not now?  Jody and I took it together and it was tremendously helpful to us.

When we started to have children we made the decision for Jody to stay home – we home schooled our kids for a few years- and we tried to live off of my salary.  And frankly, it was untenable.  And so every time one of our cars broke down?  Zing – the credit card.  Vacation to see the grandparents?  Of course!  But Zing on the credit card.  Furnace goes bad – house repairs – zing

And one day we sat down to tally up all of our debt and frankly we were embarrassed.  And we started Dave Ramsey – with our excellent teachers – Jon and Katie Hatcher – and now we’re excited to be in baby step three of the plan.

So Jody and I heartily endorse the class and found it to be a game changer for us.

Now – let’s get down to some nitty gritty here.  Every once in a while someone will ask me – what does the bile say I should be giving?  What percentage is the amount?

Well, here’s the honest deal.  In the Old Testament we had something called a tithe.  A tithe is ten percent.  In the Old Testament we see God saying, you keep 90 percent.  Give away 10 percent.

However we do not find that command being repeated in the New Testament.   Instead, let me show you the guiding document of what you and I should be giving as followers of Jesus.

We find it in 2 Corinthians 9.

 7 Each of you should give what you have decided in your heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. 

This chapter, 2 Corinthians 9, is a chapter that explains the giving theology of a follower of Jesus.  It teaches, not a poverty gospel, – a poverty gospel wrongly teaches that God wants you to be poor.

It’s not a prosperity gospel, that falsely teaches that God wants you to be rich.

Instead –  It’s a generosity gospel – God wants us to be generous.

God doesn’t want us to wince when we give.   God wants us to be cheerful about it!  He wants to see smiles.  What a great word.  God says – you set the amount.  Find that percentage that is the right percentage.  He puts it on us.  He warns us – don’t be greedy.  Give to the needy.  But give cheerfully.

What a great word – cheerfully.  You know what- I’ve never paid a city of Gretna water bill cheerfully.  I have never smiled while paying my taxes.

There should be a feeling of joy though when we are able give money to help the needy.  Or support a cause we believe in.  God doesn’t want us to wince when we give.

Now, let me tell you how Jody and I handle our giving.  Jody and I shoot for ten percent of income to be given away.  We shoot to give away a little more every year.  Even though there is no compulsion to give ten percent away, we think it’s a healthy biblical benchmark.  And we also think it’s good practice for us to be able to rejoice at the end of the year when we do out taxes to say – praise the Lord, because of his kindness and generosity we were able to give away more this year than we gave away last year.

Now – ten percent might be out of the question for you.  Fine – find a percentage that works – and then – make it a personal goal to each year give more than the previous year.  Faith goal.

In years past we decided that we would give ten percent of my salary to Journey.  We set aside ten percent of Jody’s salary to other charitable organizations that we love and appreciate.

Now the past couple of years – we’ve increased our giving to Journey because of the building project.  And we will continue doing that for a couple of more years until we get into the building.

Now – there were plenty of years we didn’t make our goal of ten percent.  And if we didn’t we are not down in the mouth about it.  It doesn’t mean God is displeased.

Now, in a final note here, perhaps there is someone in here who thinks, What if the only percentage that I can think of that would make me cheerful is, zero percent.

If you are a zero percenter – and in most churches there’s about 20 percent of attenders who have given nothing – I want to encourage you to become a first time giver.

If you have never given anything to Journey I want to encourage you to start there.

A certain percentage of people are occasional givers – perhaps you give if you come – you throw some money in the bucket if you show up – I’d encourage you to consider becoming a regular giver.  Make the decision that every time you get paid some of that money will go towards a charity you believe in.

Give the day you get paid.  If you get paid twice a month – give twice a month.  If you get paid every week, give every week.  Set up your online banking deal to take the money and mail it out the day you get paid.  Make giving a regular part of your life.

Once we become regular givers, then the next step is asking the Lord to help us give away the right amount.  An amount that is sacrificial and generous giver, but also allows us to be cheerful about it.

Let’s pray and commit the whole matter over the God.

Lord help us to avoid the pitfall of greed that seeks to put a chokehold on our souls.  Help us to see that all we have comes from your generous heart and hand – and teach us to hold all things loosely.  Amen.