The Prosperity Gospel: How to be a Wise Investor

On Being a Generous Investor: Luke 12:13-21 from Stephen Sizer on Vimeo.

I think we would all agree that the £850 billion the government has pledged to bale out UK Banks is a lot of money. It’s the equivalent of £40,000 for every household.  A great deal of money. We might disagree, though on whether some of those billions should be paid out in bonuses this Christmas. On Thursday the RBS Board threatened to resign en masse if the government blocked its pledge to pay bonuses. Whether you agree or not might depend on whether you are a potential beneficiary.  Today is our Pledge Sunday.

Today we are asking you to make a pledge. To indicate in writing, up front, what the Lord has laid upon your heart to give back to him in 2010. Today we are asking you to be a wise and generous investor. We are asking you to indicate your pledge to the Lord’s work in and through Christ Church in 2010. As a sign of your thankfulness. As a sign of your trust.  As a sign of your obedience. None of us know what lies ahead. So your pledge is not binding. Your income may go up in 2010. It may very well go down. All God expects is that we tithe in proportion to our income. So please make your pledge today.
Knowing what income we may expect helps our Church Council to budget prudently. You may wish to base your pledge on your income this year. You may wish to base it on your anticipated income next year. It is your choice. But please pledge.

Pledge Joyfully. Pledge willingly, secretly, sacrificially and in proportion to your income. Becoming a generous investor is much more than simply putting money in the collection. Its even more than filling in a bankers standing order (although we do like you to give in this way).
As you consider your pledge, let us take a few moments to consider the meaning and application of this parable of Jesus.

We shall see that by our attitude to money, how we invest our assets, we are shaping our legacy, indeed, our eternal destiny. Through this simple story, Jesus shows that we have a choice. We are either becoming a success or a failure, and the way we handle money will make it obvious which.

Jesus is teaching the crowds when he is interrupted by a man who asks Jesus to solve a family dispute. ‘Teacher, tell my wretched brother to divide the inheritance with me.’”  By the way it doesn’t say the word ‘wretched’, I put that in, I think that’s what he means.  You know what they say, don’t you, where there’s a will there’s a family.  That’s what’s going on here, isn’t it? Two brothers falling out for good over money.

Like many today, their relationship is coming to an end over who’s going to get Granny’s sideboard and clock.  Rabbis were expected to help settle such legal matters, but Jesus refuses to get involved. Why? Because He is being asked to side with one brother against another. He knew that neither recognised their real problem. The real problem for both was covetousness. (The “you” in Luke 12:14 is plural.) As long as both were greedy, no settlement would be satisfactory to either.  Their greatest need was a change of heart. Like many today, they wanted Jesus to serve them but not to save them.  Jesus tells this story because he wants to save them and us. He tells this story to help us distinguish success from failure. To discern the difference between wisdom and foolishness.

By the world’s standards this individual was very successful. Very wealthy. He had it made. He could retire early and quit the rat race. And yet God says ‘you are a complete and utter failure’. Quite shocking really isn’t it? Why? Because we are about to see Jesus defines failure. Failure is being successful in things that really don’t matter. People who are satisfied only with the things that money can buy are in mortal danger of losing the things that money cannot buy.

1. The Fool’s Dilemma
“The ground of a certain rich man produced a good crop. He thought to himself, ‘What shall I do? I have no place to store my crops.’
(Luke 12:16-17)

Rico Tice speculates, “So this guy knows exactly how to work the EU subsidies.  And the stables have been converted into garages and there are four family cars.  And in city terms I guess you’d see him commuting in from Sunningdale every morning, …. his wife shops at Harrod’s and Harvey Nicks.
He’d have a house next to Ernie Ells on the Wentworth Estate, wouldn’t he?  He’d be playing golf there, loves to play the West course every Saturday morning.  And the kids, well the boys would be at Harrow or Eton, the girl would be at Downe House.  He drives an Aston Martin.  That’s his life, and if you saw him commuting in you’d nudge your friends as you walk past First Class.  You’d say, ‘look at him, he’s made a fortune you know.  Take his advice.  He’s no fool.  Amazing guy.’  … a partner at Goldman Sachs, and he is the guy that actually saved Goldman Sachs billions of pounds.  You know they ended up with 8 billion on the sub-prime mortgages, but….  He’s the one who got them out.  He’s a very bright guy… a bright guy, he knows how to do it, take his advice, he’s no fool.”

How would you respond to the wealthy man’s dilemma? Here was a man who had a problem with too much wealth!  You may be thinking – I wish I had that kind of problem.  If you inherited a fortune this week, you would no doubt ask the same question as he did, “What shall I do?” It was a good question to ask. What made him a fool was the way he answered it.  The Fool’s Dilemma.

2. The Fool’s Decision
‘This is what I’ll do. I will tear down my barns and build bigger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. And I’ll say to myself, “You have plenty of grain laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry.”’ (Luke 12:18-19)

Here’s Rico again, “So you see he gets a better harvest than expected but there’s no panic, there’s no waste, he’s not going to flood the market.  He gets out his calculator, he does his sums, he does his work, he sees it’s definitely worth paying for a massive grain storage mountain.  Bigger profit than normal this year, there’s no point in letting Gordon Brown get his hands on it, so he calls in his accountant and he works out how to invest it. … it’s amazing because he’s eventually able to arrive at, being able to say to himself, “You have plenty of good things laid up for many years.  Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry.”  So he retires early at 47.  It’s just absolutely fantastic, he’s done it.  Left school aged 18 and said, ‘I want to retire by my mid-forties,’ and he’s done it.  He’s retired early.

And doubtlessly the Sunday Times colour supplement would run an article on him entitled, “The Man Who Knew When To Stop.”  And those people slogging it out, commuting into the city, they’d read it and they’d say, ‘Very wise, very wise.’  And … he’s now trying to get his handicap down to single figures, he wants to get down to single figures on the West course at Wentworth, now that’s a battle.  So he’s going to try and shoot under eighty every time as he goes out.  And … down in Sandwich he’s built the most fantastic holiday home, wonderful, overlooking the bay.”

‘Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry’ Isn’t that the motivation behind many a pension plan or saving scheme?  Isn’t that the assumption behind the glossy holiday supplements that intentionally fall out of your Sunday paper so you have to pick them up? People say that money does not satisfy, but it does satisfy if you want a particular lifestyle. The Fool’s Dilemma, the Fool’s Decision.

3. The Fool’s Destiny
Rico once more, “The retirement party has come and gone, it’s a lovely Sunday afternoon in the summer at Sandwich.  The sun’s sort of bouncing off the water, it’s a beautiful day.  His wife is with the staff clearing up in the kitchen.  He’s got a long cool glass of orange … in his hand.  He’s standing on the veranda looking out over the bay.  The congratulations from his friends are ringing in his ears, they’re saying, ‘we saw the article; I don’t know how you did it.  We’re going to have to go on working for years, you’ve made it.’  And he looks down and there are holiday brochures on the little side table behind him.  There are safaris, there’s skiing, he doesn’t know, … Aspen, Verbier, Val d’Isere, but he’s going to buy a chalet because he doesn’t want to be mucking around with time shares, not with global warming.  You’ve got to go when the snow’s good.  So he says to himself as he looks down and he sees the safaris and the skiing, and he looks out and he sees his boat, and he looks behind him and he sees the wonderful house he’s built, and he looks across, he can see Sandwich and the golf course, and he says to himself, “You’ve done it!  You’ve made it!  You’ve retired early.  You’ve plenty laid up for years and years and years.  Take life easy: eat, drink and….” and suddenly, there is a searing pain in his chest and he is dead before they get him into intensive care.

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?’ “This is how it will be with anyone who stores up things for himself but is not rich toward God.” (Luke 12:20-21)

‘This is failure’ says Jesus. To be successful in the things in life that really don’t matter. I have yet to meet anyone who sets out to be a failure. I think we would all really like to succeed.

But Jesus says he was a failure. He was a failure because he was not rich toward God. Rico points out, “we don’t know much about this guy, we don’t know if he was a good husband or a philanderer, we don’t know if he was a good father or he beat his children.  All we know is that at the end of the passage…he was not rich towards God. it’s very striking how self-centred he is, …I, me or my come eleven times.  “He thought to himself, ‘What shall I do?  I have no place to store my crops.’  Then he said, ‘This is what I’ll do.  I will tear down my barns and build bigger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods.  And I’ll say to myself.’”  He thought he was self-sufficient actually he was thoroughly self-centred.”

The greatest tragedy is not what the man left behind but what lay before him: eternity without God. The man lived without God and died without God, and his wealth was of no good to him. God is not impressed with our money. We cannot buy our way into heaven. Wealth cannot keep us alive when our time comes to die, nor can it buy back the opportunities we missed. Jesus exposes the utter folly of investing in the wrong things, in things that ultimately don’t matter. What then is the right approach to wealth and possessions?

How to Become a Wise Investor

Jesus said, “This is how it will be with anyone who stores up things for himself but is not rich toward God.” (Luke 12:21) Here is the answer. God does want us to be rich. “Rich toward God.” Notice Jesus is not criticizing saving. He is not condemning storing up. Just the reverse. Saving is warmly commended in Scripture.

“The wise store up choice food and olive oil, but fools gulp theirs down.” (Proverbs 21:20)

“Four things on earth are small, yet they are extremely wise: Ants are creatures of little strength, yet they store up their food in the summer.” (Proverbs 30:24-25)

“One person gives freely, yet gains even more; another withholds unduly, but comes to poverty. A generous person will prosper; whoever refreshes others will be refreshed.” (Proverbs 11:24-25)

So Jesus is not criticizing saving or storing up for the future. The contrast Jesus makes here is between storing up for ‘myself’ and storing up for ‘God’. The question then is this:

In what am I investing? Whose money is it?

Who am I working for? Jesus does not want us to be a failure. That is why he explains that to be “rich toward God” means:

Rich in Thankfulness

“Do not worry about your life, what you will eat; or about your body, what you will wear. Life is more than food, and the body more than clothes… consider the ravens… yet God feeds them(Luke 12:22-24)

If we would have a proper attitude to possessions then we must first acknowledge, like the birds, that all things come from God. We will be grateful, thankful stewards of God’s good creation. Pledging is a way of saying “thank you”. Rich in thankfulness.

Rich in Simplicity

“Consider how the lilies grow. They do not labour or spin. Yet I tell you, not even Solomon in all his splendour was dressed like one of these. If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today, and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, how much more will he clothe you, O you of little faith..”  (Luke 12:27-28)

The fool’s motive was “more is better”. Jesus says “Less is more. Learn to live simply so that others can simply live”.
Even designer clothes cannot match the beauty of God’s creation and that includes you. Rich in thankfulness, rich in simplicity.

Rich in Generosity

“But seek his kingdom, and these things will be given to you as well… Sell your possessions and give to the poor.

Provide purses for yourselves that will not wear out, a treasure in heaven that will not be exhausted, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” (Luke 12:31-34)

Wealth can be enjoyed and employed at the same time if we are rich – if we are generous toward God.

A month ago we launched our 2020 Vision and Five Year Plan. We believe these reflect God’s priorities for us as a church.

That is why we are now asking you to pledge.

To pledge your financial contribution so that we may accomplish our mission. Is this not a legacy worth investing in? Please make your pledge today. It will help you shape your legacy and help us as a church fulfill our destiny.  Lets pray.

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