The settlers of Jamestown and Plymouth believed in it. Our forefathers framed it. Donald Trump personifies it. Kayne West, The Stones, Green Day and just about every musician describes it. Thousands of people storm our borders each year to get a slice of it. The American Dream.
Dreams are powerful forces. The dreams of European emigrants gave birth to a new nation. The dreams of the early settlers gave birth to a superpower. The dreams of Martin Luther King fueled acceptance and love: "Let us not wallow in the valley of despair, I say to you today, my friends. And so even though we face the difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American Dream."
This story originally ran in issue 19 of RELEVANT.
Dreams champion the entrepreneur who climbs out of government-assisted living with determination and a good idea. They propel the mail clerk to rise through the ranks to CEO. The formula is hard work + courage + determination = prosperity.
This formula for success has fueled unprecedented ingenuity, but how does that fit with our faith? Is the American Dream in sync with God’s Dream for our lives? Specifically, since the pursuit of prosperity drives this dream, what does God have to say about our money?
One Friday night I took my family to a high-school football game. During the middle of the third quarter, one of my twin daughters came to me and asked for some money to buy some candy. I handed her a $5 bill, she made her way to the concession stand and came back with a package of Skittles.
As she was eating the Skittles I asked her, “Landra, can I have a few Skittles?”
She looked at her Skittles, then looked back at me and said, “No!”
Landra didn’t understand several realities. Number one, she didn’t understand that if I had wanted to, I could have forcibly taken the Skittles from her and eaten every one myself. She didn’t realize the strength I have.
Number two, she didn’t understand that I was the one who actually bought them for her. I paid for them with my money.
Number three, she didn’t understand that if I had wanted to, I could have bought her so many packages of Skittles that she couldn’t even eat them all.
The same realities apply to our lives as well. Like my daughter Landra, many of us don’t understand three things.
Number one, if God wanted to, He could take all of our Skittles from us. We forget that He’s much stronger than we are.
Number two, we fail to realize that God is the One who gave us the Skittles in the first place.
And number three, if God wanted to, He could rain so many Skittles on our lives that we wouldn’t know what to do with them.
Some of us have a big pile of stuff, others have a medium pile of stuff and others have tiny piles of stuff. We each have talents and opportunities to make varying amounts of the big green. The question is, how are we stewarding our stuff?
Managers, Not Owners
We’re managers, not owners. God is the Blesser. He is our perfectly beautiful and generous parent who loves to give good gifts to His children (see Matthew 7:1 and James 1:17). He blesses us with intangible elements such as peace, health and security. But God also blesses us with material possessions. Things like that 10th-floor condo, those Diesel jeans, the iPod Nano and your 2000 Jetta. But God doesn’t want these blessings to stop with us. He wants us to be a blessing to others (1 Timothy 6:17-19).
When it comes to managing our stuff God’s way, three words come to mind: bring, give and enjoy.
First, God tells us to bring the whole tithe into the storehouse. The storehouse is your local house of worship. Notice I didn’t say give the tithe; I said bring it. In Malachi 3:8-10, God curses the entire nation of Israel because they withheld their tithes from Him. Let me ask you a question. Do you want to bring your 10 percent to God and have Him bless the remaining 90 percent of your income, or would you rather keep your tithe and have Him curse 100 percent of your wealth? There’s only one example of God asking His children to test Him in the Bible. And it has to do with tithing (Malachi 3:10). It’s as if God’s saying, “I dare you to bring it and see what I’ll do for you!”
“Hey Ed, the tithing verses are all in the Old Testament, so we aren’t obligated to tithe anymore!” If I had a dollar for every time I’ve heard that … It’s both interesting and humbling to note that Jesus elevates expectations in the New Testament for commands that were given in the Old Testament. He sets a higher standard. Adultery is wrong, but so is looking at a woman lustfully. Giving 10 percent is a minimum, but followers of Jesus should be giving even more! So, first and foremost, don’t neglect to bring God’s tithe to your local house of worship. The Church is the hope of the world and God’s first priority.
Second, we also have the privilege to give generously to others in need. Give sacrificially to orphaned AIDS victims in Africa. Provide food for the hungry in your own community. Look for opportunities to be a Teflon person, not a Velcro person. Material possessions stick to Velcro people and never come off. With Teflon people, though, wealth slides off of them and onto others. Don’t give because you feel obligated, but because you recognize God’s blessings on your life.
The give component should also include giving regularly and strategically to yourself. I’m talking about saving and investing. It is a biblical concept to save for the future (Proverbs 21:20, 30:25). You can decide how much to save and invest, but I set aside a minimum of 10 percent of my income.
Third, enjoy. What a concept! A pastor is telling me to enjoy money? Yes, I am. I enjoy the money that God has given me. I bring the tithe, give freely to others, save for the future and then enjoy the rest. A budget is a wonderful way to free you up so you can enjoy your money. Money is God’s gift to you, so enjoy it. I’m not ashamed to say that God has blessed me and my family. And when you bring it and give it, you too will be free to enjoy it.
You might say, “But what about greed? How do we keep the money thing from spinning wildly out of control?”
Ing and the Zone
I call greed a God-given desire gone haywire. It is not the pursuit of money that leads to greed; it is a funky perspective on money. Greedy people live in a land called “Ing.” You know what the land of Ing is? It is a place where people are into own-ing, earn-ing, cloth-ing, hous-ing, bling-bling, ka-ching, ka-ching.
It’s easy to live in the land of Ing and forget that God gave us our talents, our opportunities, our health and ability to work hard, even the prosperous country we live in.
Our wealth is also a gift that should be enjoyed. But money makes a lousy master. Jesus gave us an important warning in Matthew 6:24: “No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money” (TNIV).
Money can’t take us where we ultimately want to go in life, and it can’t erase our deepest desires. In his popular song “All Falls Down,” Kayne West captures both the allure and the deception of wealth:
Man, I promise, I’m so self-conscious
That’s why you always see me with at least one of my watches
Rollies and Pashas done drove me crazy
I can’t even pronounce nothing, pass that Versace …
We’ll buy a lot of clothes when we don’t really need ‘em
Things we buy to cover up what’s inside.
The land of Ing is a place of despair and unmet expectations.
On the other hand, far away from the land of Ing is a place I call the Zone—a place in which God desperately wants us to live. The Zone is where He can shower us with Skittles in every area of our lives, including financially. The Zone is where we can realize the blessings of God—His tangible and intangible favor. It is where we can recognize God as the Blesser, be blessed by Him and become a blessing to others. That is God’s dream for our lives.
Money is just one of the many tangible and intangible blessings from God, and we can enjoy it by following the bring-give-enjoy principle. When we embrace the fact that our wealth is God’s wealth, we realize it’s not about the American Dream; it’s about God’s dream.