Talking about the intersection between our faith in Jesus Christ and our money. Does a Christian have a different attitude toward their money than a non-Christian. Our central confession as a Christ follower is that ‘Jesus is Lord’. Jesus is King. So with that said, does that Kingship bleed into every area of our life or are there places where Christ is not welcome to go?
Well turns out Jesus has a LOT to say about money and that’s the most pronounced in the writing of Luke. Luke wrote the gospel of Luke and also Acts. Acts in many ways can be considered the gospel of Luke, pt 2. And so that’s where we’re going.
Now, Lord, consider their threats and enable your servants to speak your word with great boldness. (Acts 4:29)
Stretch out your hand to heal and perform signs and wonders through the name of your holy servant Jesus.” (Acts 4:30)
After they prayed, the place where they were meeting was shaken. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke the word of God boldly. (Acts 4:31)
All the believers were one in heart and mind. No one claimed that any of their possessions was their own, but they shared everything they had. (Acts 4:32)
With great power the apostles continued to testify to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus. And God’s grace was so powerfully at work in them all (Acts 4:33)
that there were no needy persons among them. For from time to time those who owned land or houses sold them, brought the money from the sales (Acts 4:34)
and put it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to anyone who had need. (Acts 4:35)
Joseph, a Levite from Cyprus, whom the apostles called Barnabas (which means “son of encouragement”), (Acts 4:36)
sold a field he owned and brought the money and put it at the apostles’ feet. (Acts 4:37)
So this is an interesting passage of scripture because it brings together 2 things that typically don’t spend much time together: Spiritual Experience and Money.
So we’re gonna do a bit of a 2 part sermon tonight. The first half of spiritual experience and the second half on how that affects your attitude toward money. Sound good?
Part 1 Spiritual Experience
Ok, so a little context for our scripture.
Basically what’s happening here is the leaders of the bran new Christian church, Peter and John, are preaching publicly about Jesus. They’re arrested, brought before the religious authorities and told not to preach Jesus or they would be thrown into prison. So basically a threat.
When they’re released, they go back to the rest of the Christians and they all begin to pray. And what we read it essentially the END of their prayer.
“Now Lord, consider their threats (because they had been threatened) and enable your servants to speak your word with great boldness.” (Acts 4:29)
“After they prayed, the place where they were meeting was shaken. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke the word of God boldly.” (Acts 4:31)
Ok, so that word ‘shaken’.
So that’s not just poetic, in the Bible when God’s presence comes down, things shake.
Ex: When God came down on Mt. Saini (Exodus 19 & 20) the mountain shook.
Whenever something greater comes down and touches something weaker, there’s a quake.
Ex: Being that I am a somewhat large person, there are times when I come down on a chair that’s not ready for the full weight of my glory, and things crack. I don’t know how many of you have had the experience of sitting down on a lawn chair on to have the legs of the chair do a spread eagle and dump you out the back, well that’s no way to impress the ladies, let me just tell you that. Luckily a lot of the time you can sense the dumb ling before the chair gives way completely and you can just play it off. “I just feel like standing, I’ve been sitting all day.”
So it’s the same idea here, that when God comes down, even the mountains shake.
There’s a place in Isaiah that says, “Oh Lord, come down, that the mountains might melt.”
So there’s some interesting questions that come up here.
- ‘God’s presence comes down’ – Well isn’t God omnipresent. How can has ‘presence’ come and go? If by definition, his presence is always everywhere?
- ‘They were filled with the Holy Spirit’ – Didn’t that already happen in the infamous ‘Day of Pentecost’ weren’t they filled with the Holy Spirit then? Again, does it come and go?
Answer: The God they already knew, and the Holy Spirit they already had, they were experiencing in a powerful new way.
Spiritual Experience : To deeply sense with the whole person what you may already know with the mind logically.”
To deeply sense with the whole person what you may already know with the mind logically.”
Ex: In those days in Israel, no one had ever tasted or seen sugar. How’s that for a miserable existrence. Yeah I know you saw Jesus in the flesh, but NO BROWNIES?! Get me get out of this hell!
Sugar only existed in Southeast Asia where sugar cane grew.
So that’s where they learned to make it into powder form and used in food and sold as a commodity.
In Israel, there was still ways of sweetening food – fruit, that kind of thing, but no sugar.
Now imagine someone coming to Israel and telling people about sugar. And how incredible and sweet it was. I’m sure everyone would have believed them, no reason not to. ‘Ok wow, so there’s this stuff called sugar and it sounds really great.’ So they have in their mind this idea about sugar.
Well now imagine if a caravan were to come with sugar and these people would actually taste it? What’s the difference? Well its not information, they already believed in sugar, they already had correct sugar theology, that it was sweet, but they hadn’t experienced it yet. Well one day they get to try it, what happens? Their whole body is infused with the magic of sugar, and baked goods, and desserts.
And they getting new information? No. They’ve experienced it now, which changes everything.
And that’s the idea with spiritual experience. You can hear a billion sermons about the goodness and beauty of Jesus, but if you’ve never experienced that, well then it’s just in your head.
Think of the times when the Psalmist says ‘Taste and see that the Lord is good.’
Who’s he talking to? He’s talking to Israelites. People who already believed that God was good, but he wanted them to ‘taste’ it.
Another example: Romans 8:16 – “The Spirit of God bears witness with our spirit that we are his children.”
So if you’re a Christian, you have the belief that God has adopted you, and now you’re his child. But Paul here says that the spirit of God would come ‘bear witness’ to that reality. So what you knew logically, you now know experientially.
Incoming parenting analogy here. I’ve know for a long time that parents love their kids. Who in their right mind would not agree with that?
Well recently, because of Grace, that has taken on a very different ‘taste’ to me. My belief hasn’t changed, but my experience certainly has. Now I hold this precious baby girl in my arms who is COMPLETELY dependent on us for absolutely everything, and sometimes I’m just sitting there feeding her a bottle and it hits me, just the power of that experience. And what I’ve known in my head, I now know in my heart. And that’s a huge difference.
The NT writers teach us that God doesn’t just want us to know ABOUT him, he wants us to KNOW him.
I think about Celebrity crushes. I don’t think I have any ‘Hollywood’ crushes, like if I saw Brad Pitt or something, I THINK I’d just be like ‘Oh yeah, there he is. Shorter than I imagined.’ But some of you would lose your minds. I don’t know if I’m like that with Hollywood people, or music people, but I’m DEFINATELY like that with preacher people. Like there’s some preachers that if I ever saw them walking by in the mall, I think my knees would like turn to jello.
And see, I don’t KNOW them, I just know ABOUT them, and I think there’s a lot of Christians that are basically like that with God.
And what God wants is for us to not just know about him, but know him. Like we know the sweetness of sugar. And that’s spiritual experience.
Real Talk: Abuse / Manipulation
Ready for some real talk: I readily acknowledge that there has been an incredible amount of abuse in the church, especially in these last 40 or so years that play on this desire in people’s heart. That if we can just nail this service, which the perfect lighting, and music, and preachers who yell and use the cry voice, if we can just manufacture that, then people will THINK they’ve experienced God and that will lead to more success for us as a ministry. And it’s manipulation. And I know that there’s millions of people who are estranged from the church b/c they’ve seen through that. And so one of two things tends to happen: 1. They want nothing to do with the church. Because they’ve decided it’s manipulative or fake. 2. They want a spirituality that just exists in the mind. Rational thought and that’s it.
And so I think churches have a tendency to be either all about spiritual experience or they’re afraid of it. And so as your paster, I’d like to give you a recommendation: Balance. Gosh what an un-sexy word. Balance. Where your Christianity is not just all in your head, but neither are you throwing your brain in the trash can in order to come to church.
But I see that as a pastor that people are either wanting too much experience or none at all. And I think there’s a middle ground here.
If – Reject – Spiritual Experience
Kenneth Clark Have you ever heard of ‘Kenneth Clark’? Well he was this real big shot Art Historian, passed away in the 80’s. He was a very secular guy. Well he wrote an autobiography called ‘The Other Half: A Self Portrait’ and in it he writes:
“In a villa in France, I experienced a curious episode. I had a religious experience.” Now, here’s a totally non-religious man.
“It took place in the church of Saint Lorenzo, but it did not seem to be connected with the beauty of the architecture. I can only say that for a few minutes (by the way, that’s a long time) my whole being was irradiated with a heavenly joy more intense than anything I had ever experienced before. Wonderful as it was, it caused an awkward problem in terms of action. My life was far from blameless.
I would have to reform. My family would think I was going mad (you know, getting religious). Moreover, I was completely unworthy of such a flood of grace, so therefore, on moral terms, maybe it was a delusion. Gradually the effect wore off, and I made no effort to retain it. I was too deeply imbedded in the world to change course, but I had felt the finger of God, I am quite sure, and though the memory has faded, it helps me now to understand the joys of the saints.”
So here you have a man who was not a ‘believer’ but who had a spiritual experience that went against his rational mind. And as weird as it sounds, I think a lot of people end up coming to Christ like that.
I don’t know how many of you have ever heard of ‘Science Mike’ that the nickname of a man named ‘Mike Mi-Karg’. Well he’s a really interesting guy, goes around and speaks, he’s on this podcast called ‘The Liturgists’ podcast with Michael Gungor. Anyway, he wrote a book called ‘Finding God in the Waves’ and basically he was raised a Christian, then later became an atheist because of science essentially, and then found his way back to God through b/c of science but more b/c he has this profound spiritual experience one night on a beach. And even though his mind tells him that it’s complete non-sense, he can’t get away from this experience he has with God that opens the door for him to find faith again.
And people who would reject all Spiritual Experience end up closing the door for that kind of thing and I just think that’s too high of a price to pay.
ON THE OTHER HAND
John Newton, he’s this hymn writer, wrote ‘Amazing Grace’ amongst others, Well he was also a great pastor and and he wrote back in the day essentially that there’s seasons in when the Christian needs to have these really strong Spiritual Experiences and other times when you’re completely dry without an experience. And you might be thinking ‘Heresy!!!’ But he’s right. There needs to be times in your life where God comes and shakes you and makes real to his love and his kindness and there’s other times when that’s actually not good for you.
Here’s what I mean: One of the differences between an immature person and a mature person is how you handle dull tasks. Immature people can’t stand boredom. They can’t, you know, clean the yard, because it’s boring. And mature person can do the right thing even when it doesn’t feel exciting and sexy. You know what I mean?
And the Christian faith CAN (wait for it) be boring. No really, it can. If you don’t think the Bible is ever boring, you’re not reading it very much. If you don’t think prayer is ever boring, well you aren’t much of a pray-er.
Eugene Peterson calls is ‘A Long Obedience in the same direction’. But if you’re hoping emotion and experience is gonna carry you all the way through this Christian life, well you got some unpleasant surprises coming your way my friend.
So again, balance. That our Christian faith would live in both our hearts and our heads.
Ok, first part of the sermon over.
Part 2 – Money
So what does this have to do with money?
Notice : Holy Spirit Falls – Spiritual Experience – Affect Money
Well what we have to notice is that when the Holy Spirit falls and people have a spiritual experience, one thing that happens is that it affects how you spend your money.
“And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit … All the believers were one in heart and mind. No one claimed that any of his possessions was his own, but they shared everything they had.”
We can actually see this exact same thing happen to chapter earlier in chapter 2 with ‘the day of pentecost’ – After the Holy Spirit comes
says, “All the believers were together and had everything in common. Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need.… enjoying the favor of all the people.” (Acts 2:44)
And so you see a pattern here, and this can’t be a coincidence. When the Holy Spirit comes, and Gods presence becomes real to people, they get radically generous with their money.
People would sell homes and land to provide for the poor people in their community who had need.
So here we had the poor and the rich together in one community.
So this term ‘One in heart and mind’ in referring to friendship – which was spanning across social classes.
Whereas Aristotle (Ancient Greek philosopher) was adamant that true friendship could only exist within the same social class. But here, friendship is spanning race and class. – And that was both beautiful and offensive.
Offensive: “Lucian of Samosata”, (Greek philosopher who hated Christianity), essentially said in one of his criticisms of it:
“Their founder (that’s Jesus) persuaded them they should be like brothers to one another. Therefore, they despised their own privacy and rank and viewed all their possessions as common property.”
Do you see how much he hates this? That this community of Christ followers would have friendship and brotherhood across social barriers and share their money.
Beautiful: Julian, the last non-Christian Roman emperor (who didn’t want to see Christianity spread) said, “The Christians’ success lies in their charity to all. They take care not only of their own poor, but ours as well.”
When the Spirit of God moves it causes us to reach out to people who, before, we found unbearable.
Jail bible study – A man who stabbed his girlfriend in the face. Now David of 15 years ago would have essentially felt ‘Wow, I hope you rot in here.’ – But I felt compassion for him, I prayed with him, I gave him a bible. And I just think that’s what the spirit of God does. And that affects how I spend my money.
How happen? – Break barriers between. “And God’s grace was so powerfully at work in them all.” It was grace.
See dead religion says “if you live as you ought, God will bless you” The gospel of Jesus Christ says “Receive God’s acceptance as a free gift, and then you will as you ought.”
The gospel tells us that exact opposite of every other religion.
And it breaks down class barriers. How? By the rich becoming spiritually poor, and the poor becoming spiritually rich. So we’re all in this together.
1. The Rich become Spiritually Poor
Sermon on the Mount, first thing “Blessed are the poor in Spirit.”
To be poor in Spirit is to recognize that you’re a sinner. And you’re here not because you deserve it, but because God has given you a gift. I’m spiritually bankrupt. And I’m saved through the generosity of God. And that’s true for all of us.
So when you see the poor, you don’t look down on them, but you find solidarity with them. You say ‘Me too. Spiritually speaking.’
You don’t say ‘Pull yourself up by your bootstraps.’ Because you didn’t.
2. The Poor become Spiritually Rich
The idea here is that people who have no reason to be hopeful find hope.
People that have no reason to be peaceful find peace.
This is the whole idea of the book of Philippians, Paul who is quite possibly standing in sewage writes the happiest letter of his life praise God for his goodness. That’s not a normal thing, but that’s the idea of the gospel that the poor become spiritually rich.
“With great power the apostles continued to testify to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus. And God’s grace was so powerfully at work in them all.” (Acts 4:33)
I think that the world has seen enough of Christianity that is willing to address spiritual need, but not physical need. I think they see through that. For the New Testament church, their preaching had credibility because of what they did with their wealth
Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. (James 2:15)
If one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it? (James 2:16)
In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead. (James 2:17)
Sermon – Verbally abused wife I don’t care how smart and touching a sermon of mine would ever be, you’d leave and say ‘Wow! Best sermon I’ve ever heard!’ But you knew that when I went home I verbally abused and screamed at my wife (I don’t by the way), you wouldn’t care what I said. My sermon would have 0 credibility.
What a perfect warning for the American church. We can talk a real good talk but if our actions don’t back up our words, no one will listen.
Prepare – communion
Something in Middle
So the Holy Spirit falls, and the people become generous. But there’s something in the middle there, did notice it? BOLDNESS.
The Holy Spirit fell, they were filled with boldness, and then they gave their money away.
Most Christians aren’t radically generous, but I don’t think it’s because they don’t WANT to be. They’re not stingy – they’re not Scrooge McDuck diving into his money at night.
No, it’s fear. Money insulates us from the fear we feel about our own future. So we invest, and we save and we spend, and that all feels good, but being generous, well that’s scary. Letting money flow out of you, gosh how scary.
But when you understand the gospel, how God came down to earth with beautiful love and acceptance and has promised to always take care of you, well the fear goes away and is replaced with boldness that frees you to be generous.
If you say ‘Oh I know God loves me and takes care of me.’ But you’re not generous, may I suggest to you that perhaps that’s something that is in your head but not in your heart.
And so the ‘action step’ is not simply to give more to ministry and to charity, but to pay attention to God, and experience his love. And that will cause you to be more generous.