Did you know that Jesus spoke on the topic of money more than the topics of heaven and hell combined? Our relationship with money has a big impact on our spiritual life. Listen as John Cox starts a new series with what Scripture has to say about the connection between money and your heart.
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Money is a word that carries a lot of emotion with it. Your perspective on money is shaped by your past experience, your personality, and the people that surround you. We tend not to talk about money, and yet it impacts every aspect of our lives. Typically, there are five things people get wrong about money:
Good morning. I want to start this morning with a quick word association exercise. Here's what I want you to do. I'm going to say a word, and I want you to turn to the person next to you and tell them the first thing you think about after you hear this word. You got it? Okay. The word is motorcycle.
It's interesting when you do something like that because you get a lot of different words. I heard the word dangerous. Some people think fun, kind of the opposite of that. I heard people think about a motorcycle gang. Someone said, "Evel Knievel." Just a lot of great words. Whatever your word was, it was likely shaped by three things, and they all start with the letter P. So, these are three Ps.
The first one is your past experience. When you think about this exercise… I grew up with a dad who was a doctor, and early in his career he worked a lot in an emergency room. I can remember from a very young age him coming home and saying, "Whatever you do, stay away from motorcycles," because he had seen firsthand what could happen. So, your past experience.
The second thing is your personality. If you are a risk taker, you have a decidedly different perspective on motorcycles than if you're more conservative. Now, to give you a glimpse into my personality… A couple of weeks ago, one of our staff members got to spend time with my wife. Afterward, she came up to me and said, "You know what? I just love your wife. She's fun. She's funny. You two are so different." So, just look at me, Mister Not Fun and Not Funny. I'm a firstborn. I'm more conservative, so motorcycles, to me, are kind of scary.
Then the third thing is the people you hang around. That's the third P. So, your past experience, your personality, and the people you hang around with. Depending on whether you hang around with people who ride motorcycles, that might impact how you think about that word. For the first 45 years of my life, I was like, "I'm staying as far away from motorcycles as I can."
Then one time I took a short vacation and got to ride a moped. I thought, "Man, these things are kind of fun." So, about five years ago… My commute to work was only about three miles, and I could go down residential streets. I decided I was going to learn to drive a motorcycle, so I signed up… In the state of Texas, you have to take a two-day basic learning motorcycle class. So I signed up for one. That Saturday morning came. I showed up.
There were eight students, six young guys in their 20s wanting to learn to ride motorcycles, a college-age girl who wanted to ride a motor scooter, and me, the guy who was having a midlife crisis. I'm thinking, "Okay, I've never been on a motorcycle before, but I've got this." For the better part of the first day, I did get it. I was listening, and I was doing what I was told, and my confidence was growing…that is, until the very last exercise of the day.
In the very last exercise of the day, we're practicing making turns, and we're in this big parking lot with cones. I start to go around this cone, and the bike is moving too slowly. When it's moving too slowly, it begins to wobble like this. So I hit the gas a little bit just as I'm starting to make the turn. Now, for those of you who haven't been on a motorcycle, they recommend you do not hit the gas when you're taking turns. What happened to me is a perfect example. Over the handlebars I went. I landed on my shoulder and rolled onto my back. I was flat on my back.
Before I knew it, I had eight sets of eyes staring down at me, asking if I was okay. I was so embarrassed. The only thing I'm thinking is, "I've got to get up." My shoulder hurt, and I had sprained my ankle. The guys are saying, "Just stay put." Then it gets worse. Someone decides to call an ambulance for me. So, now I'm on my back. I'm lying there. They won't let me get up, and an ambulance shows up in this parking lot. I'm thinking, "Can I just go die somewhere?"
Because I'm very image conscious, I was trying to pretend I wasn't that hurt. I rejected the ambulance service. Fortunately, the guy who was the instructor said, "Okay. That's enough for today. We're just going to start again tomorrow." I was thinking to myself, "Man…" As I was walking off, I was kind of limping, and I was thinking, "I wonder if you can actually fail basic motorcycle school." And that's my experience with motorcycles.
By the way, here is a picture of me on a motorcycle. Now I ride it, and I only have two rules. First, it has to be warm, and second, it has to be dry. The thing about motorcycles is you can never forget that they're really dangerous, because if you do, you're in trouble. You could do everything right and it still not end well for you.
You might think, "What does that have to do with today's message?" Well, today we are talking about something that is very emotionally charged. People have very deep perspectives on their money, and it's influenced by the three Ps. It's influenced by your past experience. If you grew up in a home where there wasn't a lot of money, the odds are that has probably shaped you to this point today.
Or maybe you grew up in a home where a lot of the extra money went to travel, so you think that's what families do. Whatever your experience is, there's a good consideration that it has marked you to this day. Now, I told you my dad was a doctor. The other thing my dad was was a very savvy investor. When I was 6 years old, he got me involved investing in the stock market. The way this worked, basically, is he gave me an allowance, so really, it was his money.
We would sit down, and we would have these stockholder meetings. My dad was the greatest stockbroker ever, because I never lost money on a single stock I bought. He made sure I had a positive experience. He would sell me something he had bought at 20 and now was at 40. He might sell to me at 15 so I would be guaranteed to make money, because he wanted me to connect "That's what you do with your money." So, I grew up thinking, "Well, that's what you do. You live on some, but what is extra you invest, and that earns a return."
Then you think about the next thing that impacts how you think about money, and that's your personality. If you're very risk averse, you want to hang on to your money. If, on the other hand, you're a party in a box, you might be a little bit more free spending with what you have. Your personality definitely impacts how you think about it.
Then, finally, the third thing is the people you hang around. I grew up as not only a doctor's kid but a navy doctor's kid, so we lived in a lot of different places around the US. For a while, we lived in Washington, DC. Now, here's a question. In Washington, DC, how do they decide if someone is important? In Washington, DC, it's your job. Really, it's about the power. How close are you to the White House or to a congressman or to a senator? That's how they establish the pecking order. It's where you work.
Then for two years I lived in Boston. In Boston, the values are a little bit different. What's important in Boston? How are they deciding how important you are? Education. Boston has more colleges per capita than anywhere in the US. They decide the pecking order largely by, "Hey, where did you go to school?" Then I lived in Los Angeles. If it's power in Washington, DC, and education in Boston, what do you think it is in Los Angeles? In Los Angeles it's what you have and how you look. That's how they decide who's important.
I think, after having lived here in Dallas, Dallas is more like Los Angeles than any city I know. We live in a culture that's trying to value you based on what you have. That makes it especially difficult to deal as you think about your money. So, we're launching a three-week series today on how we can deal with our money well, because the Bible says there is a strong connection between what you have and how you use it and your spiritual health. There's a direct connection.
What's interesting is that in the society we live in, we don't want to talk about our money. That's personal. You can ask me anything, but don't ask me about my money. What's interesting is Jesus talked more about money than any other thing. If you look at the Bible, there are 500 verses on faith and 500 verses, approximately, on prayer. Guess how many there are on money…2,000.
And Jesus told stories. Do you know that two-thirds of the stories he told involve money or possessions? Two-thirds! He talked more about money than he did about heaven and hell combined. What you realize is that Jesus, who was always willing to buck conventional norms, understood the connection between your money and your heart, and he spent a lot of time talking about it because he wanted to make sure we had that relationship right.
So, for the next couple of weeks, we're focused on a series called Right on the Money. The whole point is to say we know your perspective on money is shaped by your past, your personality, and the people you hang out with, but it should also be informed by what the Bible says, because the God who created us had a lot to say.
Today, I want to look at five common things people do that are the opposite of being right on the money. These are things people do that get in the way of them managing money well. What I'd like to do is make this a bit of a quiz. So, on each of these five things, I just want you to ask, "How good am I at that one?" Five means you're great. Like, you should be up here teaching. I'll just bring you up here with me. One is "I'm a train wreck in that, but I don't want anybody to know. Just between you and me." Are you ready? Okay.
One of the questions we want to learn to ask as we're looking to grow in our faith on any topic is always to ask, "What does the Bible have to say about that?" That should be your very first question. When it comes to money and who owns it, what does the Bible have to say about that? If we look in Psalm 24, the Bible says, "Hey, you've got this backward. It's not that you own it; God owns it. He owns everything, and he's giving it to you to manage for him, but make no mistake about it…it's his."
Psalm 24:1 says, "The earth is the Lords, and everything in it. The world and all its people belong to him." You get this sense that, "Okay. We have this upside down. It's not our money that we get to do what we want with; it's God's money that he has given to us, and he expects us to be a good manager with it."
This lesson hit home for me several years ago. In fact, here at Watermark, there was a Sunday when we were talking about money, and when everybody came in the door, they got an envelope, and in the envelope everybody got some money. You're thinking, "Man! I wish we were giving money away today." Right?
In the envelope there was a dollar or maybe $5 or $10. The church was giving you money and said, "Hey, listen. We want you to go out and invest this well. We want you to do something to love somebody or do something with it. It's not yours, but we're giving it to you to go love other people." What was crazy was how different people thought about that money compared to the rest of their money. The dollar or the $2 or the $5…
I know people who thought about it all week, like, "What am I going to do with the $5? I want to make sure I invest it well." There was one story of someone who said, "I know what I'm going to do. I'm going to take the $5, I'm going to add some money to it, and I'm going to sponsor a kid who lives in poverty through Compassion International." That's what they did with the money.
Someone else took their money and said, "I know what I'm going to do. I'm going to take a friend to lunch who I've never shared about Jesus with, and I'm going to share about Jesus." The interesting thing about it was just how seriously everybody took the exercise, because when it's not your money, when it's somebody else's money and you're responsible for it, it completely changes the way you think about it.
By the way, if it's not my money… I'm happy to give your money away. I just don't want to give my money away. If you begin to think about it as it's not yours, sometimes that makes it easier to give away, because you don't have to worry about it. So, how are you doing on this first one? What's interesting is if you look into the Old Testament, there's a book in the Minor Prophets by Malachi. They're talking about this. The point in this whole thing is God saying to his people, "Listen. You have this whole perspective on who owns money completely upside down." This comes out of Malachi 3:7-12.
"'Ever since the time of your ancestors you have turned away from my decrees and have not kept them. Return to me, and I will return to you,' says the Lord Almighty. 'But you ask, "How are we to return?" Will a mere mortal rob God? Yet you rob me. But you ask, "How are we robbing you?" In tithes and offerings. You are under a curse—your whole nation—because you are robbing me. Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house.
Test me in this,' says the Lord Almighty, 'and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that there will not be room enough to store it. I will prevent pests from devouring your crops, and the vines in your fields will not drop their fruit before it is ripe,' says the Lord Almighty. 'Then all the nations will call you blessed, for yours will be a delightful land,' says the Lord Almighty."
What God is essentially saying is, "Hey, guys. You think the money you have belongs to you, so you're not using it to love other people and give money away where it's needed. You think it's for you." In many ways, this is almost like… I used to live with a guy before I was married who worked for UPS. His job every morning was to get packages from someone and then deliver them to where they needed to go.
Now, if he had decided he could just take the packages and bring them home to our house, would that be okay? No. His job wasn't as an owner; his job was to get them from one spot to another spot. When God talks about this, he says, "Listen. I'm giving you money, resources, and I want you to use those to bless, love, and serve other people. They're not for you."
Now, part of them… It was okay if my friend who worked for UPS got a salary, but the end goal wasn't just to bring the packages home and leave them at our house. That's what God is getting at here. Do we understand that the money we have isn't ours? He has given it to us, and he's expecting us to use it to bless, love, and serve other people. Now, how are you doing on that one? Scale of 1 to 5. Would you give yourself a 5 or maybe a 4 or a 1? Get your grade, and then we'll go to the second one. Are you ready?
What I would say is if you don't know where it's going, almost by definition it's very hard to manage it. I used to have a way I did this back when I was single, and it worked something like this. My plan was "Don't spend money." Some of you are nodding your heads. You like my plan. Don't spend money, and then when you need it, you have it. Let me just tell you, I learned the hard way that does not work well when you get married.
What happens is you see values surface, different values, the way people think about money and save money and spend money. All you need to do is get married, and it gets a lot more complex. By the way, once you have kids, it gets even harder. It's easy to say no to yourself. It gets much harder to say no to your kids. So, now I live in a world where I have college educations, and four of my five kids are girls, so I have weddings. It's complicated, people.
I'm trying to figure out, "What's the plan? How much do I save? How much do I give?" Things go much better if I sit down and develop a plan, and then I know where it's going to go. We're going to talk about this for the next two weeks here. How do you develop a plan and the parts of a plan? You want a plan that prioritizes giving. You want a plan where you live below your means.
One of the biggest mistakes people make is when they get a raise from work, they allow their standard of living to go up, so they always feel this pressure that there's just not enough money. One of the smartest things you can do is when you get a raise, don't raise your standard of living, because that creates margin. We'll talk about that in the next two weeks, so we're just going to gloss over it right here.
The other thing is at Watermark we have this thing called Moneywise. Moneywise is a five-week class that helps with a biblical perspective on how to manage your money. We have a class coming up. It starts on Thursday night, June 1. It's the five Thursday nights in June. So, if that's something that would be helpful to you, sign up. Parenthetically, there are usually two groups of people who sign up for that class, by the way.
One is people who are just starting off in their careers, and they want to get a good handle on the basics. The other is people who have already screwed up their financial lives, and now they're trying to fix it. It's a lot less painful to do it on the front end than on the back end. So, that's something you can do. But that's the second one. Let me just ask you: Do you have a plan for how to spend God's money and how he wants you to invest it? Scale of 1 to 5. Do you have a number? All right. Let's go on to the third one.
"Jesus sat down opposite the place where the offerings were put and watched the crowd putting their money into the temple treasury. Many rich people threw in large amounts. But a poor widow came and put in two very small copper coins, worth only a few cents. Calling his disciples to him, Jesus said, 'Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put more into the treasury than all the others. They all gave out of their wealth; but she, out of her poverty, put in everything—all she had to live on.'"
That's the story. Now, if we took conventional wisdom and were giving advice to this widow, what would we say? The natural thing to say would be, "Hey, listen. You should not give that money, because that's all you have. You need that money to eat. The people who should give are the ones with extra money, but this doesn't apply to you." That conventional wisdom runs directly counter with what Jesus said.
Jesus said, "Hey, listen. If you're going to understand the purpose of money, you're going to understand that we have it to invest in others." It doesn't matter if you have two coins or a gazillion dollars. Yet conventional wisdom seems to convince people that if you don't have much money, then you shouldn't make giving a priority. That's for the rich people. By the way, the rich people are always the ones who have more than you.
So, that's where we have to go, "Whoa!" No matter where we are, we need to think about how to plan giving into our financial plan. Now, the second story is kind of on the other end of the continuum. This is the story of the rich fool, and this comes out of Luke 12. This, again, involves Jesus.
"Someone in the crowd said to [Jesus] , 'Teacher, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me.' Jesus replied, 'Man, who appointed me a judge or an arbiter between you?' 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 he told them this parable: 'The ground of a certain rich man yielded an abundant harvest. 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 my surplus grain. And I'll say to myself, 'You have plenty of grain laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry.'" 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 whoever stores up things for themselves but is not rich toward God.'"
In this second story, we have a guy who is very successful in his business, and he's thinking toward the future. He's like, "Well, geez. I have this money. I can invest it and save it, and that's what I should do for my retirement so I can eat, drink, and be happy." This is the only spot in the entire Bible where Jesus calls somebody a fool.
He says, "Man, you have your priorities messed up. Somehow, you think I have given you these resources so you can just spend them all yourself. Listen. You need to think about how you're going to use this to serve, love, and bless the people around you, because that's why I've given you these resources."
So, you have these two very conventional stories, one about a woman who's very poor who gives and Jesus says, "You're on the right path," and another about a guy who's very wealthy who's storing up barns and Jesus calls him a fool. If we're going to manage money well, we have to understand God's perspective on it, and that doesn't always align with what the world tells us. Unless we get that straight, we're going off the path.
So, on this, the third question, how are you doing? As you think about managing your money, are you using conventional wisdom or biblical wisdom to figure that out? Scale of 1 to 5. Everybody with me so far? Okay. Now let's do the fourth area.
A couple of months ago, I was surfing YouTube, or something like that, and it was Mike Tyson talking about money. Now, here's a guy who has made hundreds of millions of dollars in his career, and here's what Mike Tyson says about money: "If you think a lot of money is going to make you happy, you never had a lot of money."
Now, I've spent 10 years of my career working in the investment management space. I was at a hedge fund where the minimum investment was about $5 million. I came across a lot of people with a lot of money, and let me just tell you: it doesn't make you happy. For most of us, we struggle to believe that. We're like, "Well, I'd really like to test out that idea myself. I mean, how about somebody gives me $5 million and we'll see how I do."
The point here is that, a lot of times, it's not the money; it's what we think it will bring us. Like, if you're a conservative stick-in-the-mud like me, you might think, "Hey, that's going to make you so you don't have to worry. Your car breaks down? No big deal. You have to pay for a college education? That's okay. It's going to take that worry out of your life."
Or someone else might say, "Hey, you know what? The thing about money is freedom. I can quit my job and do whatever I want to do." So money represents freedom to them. For others, it's happiness. I know people who, when they're in a bad mood, go out and spend money, and it makes them feel better…for a day.
So, step back and go, "Hey, what am I looking for money to do in my life? What does it represent to me?" If you can get your arms on that… In the Bible, Jesus says, "Hey, listen. You can't serve both God and money." The reason is money is promising you security, happiness, freedom, and peace, and in the end it's a liar. In the end, Jesus is the only thing that's going to give you security, happiness, peace, and joy.
There's a very poignant story in Matthew. It's Matthew, chapter 6. This is part of the Sermon on the Mount. Here's what it says: "Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also."
One thing we all know to be true is if you go look at your bank statement, that would be a good indication of what you value. Where is the money going? All of us tend to invest in things that mean a lot to us. Jesus is saying, "Hey, listen. If you don't want your money to get you, then gratitude and giving are good antidotes for that. You ought to be investing it in something that's going to last forever. The thing that lasts forever is people, so that's where you should think about investing your money."
So, scale of 1 to 5, how often do you buy into the lie that more money is going to make you happy? If you do, then you're going to spend a significant part of your life trying to figure out, "How do I get more? How do I spend less?" It just sucks your focus right there. So, on a scale of 1 to 5, write yourself down on that one. Now the next one. This is one of my favorites.
If you were to ask all two million people who were at our wedding, "Who is the better money manager?" I'll bet you I would win in a landslide. I have a dad who started me investing in the stock market when I was 6 years old. I have a business degree from Harvard Business School. I spent 10 years working for hedge funds and wealth management firms. My wife teaches preschool. Who do you want managing your money, the preschool teacher or the Harvard MBA?
At our wedding, the guy who was marrying us was the guy who had introduced me to Jesus. I'd known him for 19 years, and my wife had worked for him at a church for nine years, so he knew us really well. In the middle of the service, in front of all two million people, he said, "John, in this lifetime you're going to make a lot of money, and, Jeanie…" He looked at her. "…you're going to find a way to give it all away."
It has taken me years to understand the significance of that. Who would you rather have manage your money, the one who's focused on getting it or the one who's going to make eternal significant deposits by giving it away? Much to my chagrin, the preschool teacher is lapping me in terms of understanding kingdom perspective on money. God has entrusted us with money to invest in the lives of other people.
So, how are you doing on this last one? When you think about your life, are you focused on getting or are you focused on giving? If you want to be right on the money, then the giving part is the way you make an eternal impact with your money and store up treasure in heaven where moth and rust do not destroy. That's the fifth one.
So, now everybody should have a scale of 1 to 5 on the five questions. The most you have is 25, the least you can have is 5, and we're all somewhere in the middle. Look. I've lived with this for 25 years, and my score is not as high as I want it to be. I have to learn all over all the time that it's not about me; I have to invest it.
This lesson came home to me especially poignantly a couple of months ago. A couple of months ago, Watermark sent six of us, I think there were, to northern India. We were having a pastors' conference there. There were about 100 pastors from all over North India who were coming to this conference. It was a two-day conference.
What was interesting was these pastors… In northern India, it's 1 percent Christian. So, these pastors are outsiders. In India right now, there is a lot of persecution if you're not Hindu, so no one is lifting these people up. The second thing is they're poor. On average, they make about $100 a month. That's $3 a day.
Most of them don't have cars, so they're getting to this conference on buses. I'm not talking about nice buses that you see going down to Austin and back. We're talking about buses where there are people sitting on top of the bus. You know, you've seen these pictures. Two days just to get to this conference, and then they're going to have to go two days home.
So, we were putting on this conference, and at the very end of it, they came up and handed me this envelope. They said, "Mr. John, this is our gift to you, Watermark Church." I was like, "I can't take that. You should keep it." They said, "Oh, Mr. John, you don't understand. God has entrusted us with this money, and we're to give it to you."
So I brought this envelope home, and I couldn't even open it for a week. I just thought, "Oh my gosh! How wrong have I gotten it?" I mean, here is a group of people who are persecuted, who are poor, yet they understand what the purpose of money is. They understand it's not for keeping it but that God wants us to use it to invest in the lives of others.
I finally got it home, and I counted it. In here are 5,625 rupees. That equates to about $67, yet this might just be the 67 most precious dollars I've ever been given. I don't know what we're going to do with it as a church, but I know we have a responsibility, because there's a lot of sacrifice behind this.
For 25 years I've been in the church, I've been around money, and I have to learn all over again, every day, about money and what God wants us to do with it and about how we can use it to store up an eternal treasure. So, today I just want to close by asking: How are you doing with the money God has entrusted to you? He has given it to us for a reason, and he wants us to use it to love and invest in others. To my shame, I had to learn that lesson all over again halfway around the world with a group of Indian pastors who I hold in high regard. Let's pray.
Father, I thank you for everybody who's in this room. Lord, I know it's hard to talk about money, and I know it's very emotional for people. Father, I pray that you would make us a group of people who are great money managers, who handle the money well, who invest it well, who think of others before ourselves. Lord, help us to be a generous people and a people who understands we are building up treasure in heaven by the way we handle our finances. We pray this in your name, amen.