How God Affects Your Portfolio (Part 2): Giving Someone Else’s Money Away

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The Nuremberg Laws were announced on September 15, 1935. Hitler’s government issued this hair-raising, grotesquely racist legislation which denied, among many other things, the right of Jews to marry Germans. The Confessing Church, which had broken away from the established state church due to an excess of state influence, held a synod shortly thereafter. A pastor named Dietrich Bonhoeffer thought this would be the perfect opportunity for the church to stand up against Hitler’s National Socialists.   But they did and said absolutely nothing.

Bonhoeffer knew that something of this unwillingness to speak out with boldness had to do with money. The state provided financial security for the pastors of Germany, and even pastors in the Confessing Church would jeopardize their incomes only to a certain point. (Bonhoeffer, 282)

On the other hand, Bonhoeffer himself was both willing to stand up against state sponsored racism and he was lavishly generous.

When Jensen [one of Bonhoeffer’s students] was at Stolp hospital with appendicitis, he was transferred from the third-class ward to a private room. “The orderly told me that a good-looking gentleman with glasses had been in that morning declaring he would bear the cost….Another time we [students] were making our way home after an open evening in Berlin. Bonhoeffer bought the tickets for all of us at the station. When I wanted to repay him, he just answered: ‘Money is dirt.'” (Bonhoeffer, 284).

Bonhoeffer’s boldness to stand up against the Nazi’s was inextricably tied to his attitude toward money.  Similarly, his colleagues’ cowardice in the same circumstance also rooted itself (at least in part) in their attitude toward money. For the latter, their income and the security that it can provide had become an idol, a created good that had assumed ultimate value in their hearts. Threatened with its removal, they would fail to speak when one of their so-called values was directly challenged.

In my last post, I talked about the fear that the removal of an idol can produce in us. We will do almost anything to hold onto the things that have a hold on our hearts. We see our idols as our chance at fulfillment, our chance to really live, and the possibility that chance may be removed paralyzes us with anxiety (Counterfeit Gods, 149).

Bonhoeffer, although from a wealthy family, did not let money (and the security, status, or power it brings) become an idol.  And because he never placed his hope in money he could not be manipulated by the threat of its removal. But how did Bonhoeffer do this? How did he keep money from owning him?

Simple: He gave it away.

Bonhoeffer was generous with his cash because he knew that it is, like dirt, a created thing, As a created thing it is property of the Creator.  Psalm 50 puts it plainly:

9 I [God] have no need of a bull from your stall
or of goats from your pens,
10 for every animal of the forest is mine,
and the cattle on a thousand hills.
11 I know every bird in the mountains,
and the insects in the fields are mine.
12 If I were hungry I would not tell you,
for the world is mine, and all that is in it.

God taught me this lesson in very pointed way in the Fall of 2009. I went to bed Wednesday night having just attended a Bible study on money. The theme: our stuff is not really our stuff; It’s God’s stuff. The next morning I woke up and set out for class. But when I went to the bike rack….the beautiful cherry red Schwinn that I rode to seminary was gone and the lock laid limp, like a dead worm on the ground. Immediately, I remembered, “The world is mine, and all that is in it…”

My whole perspective shifted. All of the sudden I found myself praying as I walked to class, “God, I don’t know why you wanted your bike stolen, but I am sure you have a good reason.” The next day, my bike showed up at the rack behind my building. God taught me a lesson I am still struggling to learn.

If I truly recognize the money (and stuff) in my possession as God’s money, than I must use it for his mission. According to Jesus, he came

 …to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners
and recovery of sight for the blind,
to set the oppressed free,
19 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor. (Luke 4:18-19)

Giving to people in need should be a natural habit for Christians flowing out of the gratitude we have toward God…because God gave up his own Son for our sake. Any grace we show others is a response to and an evidence of God’s amazing grace toward us. That is why it is so natural for Jesus to command us, “Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you” (Matt 5:42).  He knew the giving heart of the Father.

Yet we are so often hesitant to give our money to people in need. Christians, who should know and live by this principle, give only about 3% of their income to churches in this country–churches who should be about using their so-called ‘tithes’ for the mission of God. We cross the street when we see a homeless person so we don’t get hit up for cash. We hear of a friend in need and we say, “I’ll pray for you,” and then pad our 401k.

But if we are not generous with God’s money, if we don’t give it early and often for the sake of his mission, than it might slowly and insidiously seep its way into our hearts, becoming an idol that enslaves us.

Something I heard at a conference today from Seth Godin, a marketing blogger/author/speaker,  sparked a thought. Dollar bills are like vegetables, when you don’t eat them or give them away, they rot.  If money is not consumed for needs or given away, but rather collects dust as it piles higher and higher in the refrigerator savings account, it gets moldy. And the rotting stench spreads and infects.

Give it away before the love of it rots your soul, like it rotted the souls of some pastors in the Confessing Church.

For more on giving, see City Church’s succinct statement.
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