This experiment began several years ago when I received a brochure in the mail advertising silver bullion coins as an investment vehicle. The “hook” was, “We will sell you two silver eagles for the price of one, if you agree to read our special report on silver.” When I saw this, I thought, “I could give one of these coins to a friend who was having money problems as a touch point for her prayers.” I sent her a coin and a notebook with instructions. Every day we prayed that the Lord would grant her wisdom in the area of finance. Every day she made an entry in her notebook.
The initial experiment was extremely successful. At the end of six months, her attitude towards money was radically different. She began to systematically eliminate her consumer debt. She changed some behaviors that were sabotaging her financial situation. Then towards the end of the six month experiment, she was able to move into her own home for the first time in her life.
Finally, when the participants are ready, they will give their coin with a blank notebook to a friend or a family member who is ready to change their relationship with money. In this way, friendship and blessings will keep flowing forward forever, even into eternity.
“Thou shalt have no other gods before me.”
I listened to Tim Keller speaking on idolatry. His lecture got me thinking about our many problems with the first commandment, particularly as it relates to money. I would define an idol as anything we look to for salvation, fulfillment, and deliverance other than God. The more obvious of our cultural idols would be related to money, sex, and power, but ferreting out our idols is not a simple task. Self fulfillment, political ideologies, and even our church or its dogmas can become idols that supersede the importance of God in our lives and our heart. Keller suggested that the loss of something important in our lives would certainly make us sad, but the loss of an idol would tempt us to despair or even suicide. If when someone questions one of your beliefs or practices, you find yourself driven to demonize your opponent or resort to nasty, sarcastic attacks, chances are you are defending one of your idols. If you feel the necessity to resort to violence, especially when you haven’t been physically attacked, chances are you are defending one of your idols.
I spent the majority of my working life in the suburbs of Washington, DC. In that city, the gods of political power, liberal and conservative, Democratic and Republican, were worshiped in their many shrines. Tim Keller lives in New York City, home to the gods of finance. He points out that child sacrifice is routinely practiced in Babylon on the Hudson. It is also practiced in Washington, DC. If you really want to go somewhere in your career, you are talking a minimum of fifty hours a week, plus time for your commute, and a half hour a day for lunch (if you take a lunch break). If you are looking to reach the highest levels of your ziggurat, sixty hours a week are a minimum.
Does that leave much time for parenting?
Greed is one of those tricky sins. It is hard to know when someone else is committing the sin of greed (excess in the desire for and pursuit of material possessions, especially money for its own sake). I have seen wealthy men who are unaffected by their money. It is simply a tool they use as a carpenter would use a saw or a hammer. I have seen wealthy people become a slave to their own money. I have seen wealthy people so overcome by the importance of money in their lives that the loss of it led to their suicide. I also spent nine years of my life toiling in southern factories with the working poor. I can tell you that greed is not a sin limited to the wealthy. I have seen the poor lust after money and the things it can buy.
So how are you doing with money? Do you ever compromise your morals to get more of it? If you routinely pilfer office supplies, money is probably a problem. “Thou shalt not steal,” commandment number eight comes to mind.
Do you envy the success and possessions of others? “Thou shalt not covet thy neighbour's house, thou shalt not covet thy neighbour's wife, nor his manservant, nor his maidservant, nor his ox, nor his ass, nor any thing that is thy neighbour's.” commandment number ten bites all of us now and then. Just the other day I saw a new SL series Mercedes tooling through our neighborhood.
Money is an absolute necessity in this material world. It is necessary for survival. Enough of it allows you the freedom to live a good life and do some good things in this material world. However, “He who dies with the most toys, wins.” The motto of our society is an indication that we, as a culture, have a real problem with greed and its idol, money. If you are working so many hours you forget your child’s birthday, you have a problem. If you are overwhelmed with credit card debt, it is quite possible that you have a problem with greed. Although there is a close correlation between money and happiness up to an annual salary of $70,000 a year in this country, ultimately money can not buy you happiness. Finding the middle ground between greed and prodigality, the reckless misuse of money and time is tricky.
“Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”
Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”