Wednesday, February 07, 2007

It's Not About the Money

My dad had major surgery on the vertebrae in his neck Monday. They expected the surgery to take seven or eight hours, but he ended up in surgery from 9:20 in the morning until well after midnight. Needless to say, various people were in and out of waiting all that time not to mention those who were in waiting the whole time. Given this, there was plenty of time for conversation.

Someone uttered the all-too-oft-uttered phrase "if I win the lottery..." This brought up mention of reports of churches and ministers that have refused money from people who won the lottery. Someone looked at my wife and I and noted, "Say, doesn't your church have a policy against accepting money that was won in the lottery?" Before I could answer someone else expressed another all-too-oft-uttered argument, "but the money can be used for good."

Can the money be redeemed and turned into use for good? What good could it do? Feed the poor? Arguably, the lottery helps keep people poor. On the other hand, we're not as poor in this country as we like to think we are. It is reported in one church that the pastor refused lottery money donated to fund a building project. The church fired him, took the money and built the building. Because of this, attendance has dwindled from 165 people down to less than 50. How good was that? Perhaps it was a good thing that attendance dwindled in this church. However, in terms of offerings I'm sure more money was lost from lower attendance than gained by taking the lottery money. The problem with this argument is that it is anecdotal. We need a solid theological foundation for good application.

One thing the Bible teaches and that has been argued is that the church should "'COME OUT FROM THEIR MIDST AND BE SEPARATE,' says the Lord. 'AND DO NOT TOUCH WHAT IS UNCLEAN; And I will welcome you.'" (2 Cor. 6:17). This means that the church should be holy. There's no place where the Bible says not to accept money from gambling or the lottery. There's no place where the Bible says not to look at pornography. However, the principles against lust and covetousness are clear. People look at pornography because there is lust in their heart. People gamble and play the lottery because they covet what they do not have. The flaw in this argument is that churches take in money at all. From whence comes the money that churches receive? The same government that allows the killing of millions of pre-born babies prints the money. I'm sure we can find many more evil things from the government. Should we refuse all money? Money also comes from the sinners who are members of the congregation. Can we say that they have all conducted themselves well at work? If they have slacked off at all, have they not stolen decent wages from their employers? Perhaps they work for Wal-Mart or Ford, both of whom support homosexuality. Should we investigate the practices of all the people and businesses from which tithes are gleaned?

It is not out of a spirit of legalism that we should turn away money. It is not out of a spirit of reliance on money that we should accept it either.

A better consideration is Paul's "meat sacrificed to idols". The principle behind Paul's discourse in I Corinthians is that we should not cause our brother to stumble. Playing the lottery is poor stewardship. A couple of bucks for a ticket seems like a drop in the bucket compared to twenty dollars or more for a round of golf. What harm could it do? The problem is we tend to focus on the quantity of money rather than our quality of spirit. The meat is nothing. The money is nothing. Our witness for the sake of Christ is everything. We must take each other's consciences into consideration. Christ told us not to give anything to the church without reconciling ourselves to our brother (Mat 5:23,24) lest we be guilty of murder.

My teaching is this: It's not about the money. God will provide for us to accomplish that which He has determined we are to accomplish in His name. Our part of the equation is to trust Him. By focusing on the quantity of money rather than the quality of our spirit, we are exhibiting a lack of dependence on God. Whether a church can in good conscience or not accept money from dubious sources must be contingent on the question, "are we trusting God?" Even our nation's money says "In God we trust." We might put up a fight if someone lobbies to remove the motto, but do we even follow this as an admonition in conducting the business of our churches?

As one last piece of anecdotal evidence, the church of the individual who said, "but the money can be used for good," each year takes pledges like most churches and regularly doesn't meet the annual budget in tithes. My church, as a principle, doesn't do pledges. Last year we spent nearly a cool million on a renovation of the worship center, sent roughly a tenth of our regular congregants out on missions and took in over 90 grand in tithes beyond our budget. We aren't any better than anyone else and have done nothing to deserve this except that God has used us to demonstrate His faithfulness. God is good. He is faithful to fulfill all that He has promised. He will provide all that is needed to accomplish his purposes. Arguably, there are ministers and churches that are focused on the money and have received much money. However, it will be a testimony against them if their hearts are not reliant on God...

...even still, God will have His way. In Him we can trust.

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