The First National Bank of Heaven
November 17, 1991
The results are in and the voters have spoken. Last night Edwin Edwards swamped David Duke in the governor’s race down in Louisiana. That is not a great surprise, given the avalanche of negative publicity against David Duke in the last few days. Perhaps the margin of victory was something of a surprise. Edwin Edwards got a little over 60% while David Duke received something less than 40%. Part of the excitement in this race was the fact that Edwin Edwards had been indicted for corruption during his previous three terms in the governor’s office. He also has a history of being a gambler and something of a womanizer. In the last two weeks bumper stickers cropped up that said, “Vote For the Crook. It’s Important.”
When they did the exit polls in Louisiana and asked the voters why they had voted as they did, one reason towered above everything else. The overwhelming majority picked the economy as the decisive issue. The people who voted for Edwards feared what would happen to the economy if David Duke were elected.
But that’s not just a Louisiana phenomena. Several weeks ago a relatively unknown man named Harris Wofford came from 40 points behind in the polls to defeat Dick Thornburgh in the senate race in Pennsylvania. Wofford issues? Jobs and health care.
Down in the state of Mississippi, a man who had never held elective office before, a man by the name of Kirk Fordyce, defeated the incumbent, Ray Mabus, for governor. Fordyce made the economy his number one issue.
People Vote Their Pocketbooks
It’s the same way all across America. In election after election, people are voting their pocketbooks. It’s the economy in Pennsylvania, the economy in Mississippi, the economy in Louisiana, and it’s the economy here in Illinois. That’s the big issue in the Fall of 1991.
People are more concerned about the economy than about foreign policy. They are much more concerned about bread and butter issues than about moral issues. Even education, as important as that is, has taken a back seat to economic questions. It’s much bigger than foreign aid or the military budget or peace in the Middle East.
There’s a key principle at work here: When times get tough and people are uncertain about their future, they vote their pocketbooks. They don’t vote ideology or party line. They vote for the man or woman they believe will help them with the bottom line questions of keeping their job and making the mortgage payment.
If you look across the country, you find there are three things people want:
1. More Jobs
2. Lower Taxes
3. Better Health Care
That’s what is driving the elections in state after state. People are setting aside theory in favor of the man or woman who can bring home the bacon.
It’s amazing, isn’t it, how things have changed in just 12 months? This time last year we were talking about the war in the Persian Gulf. Now that seems like ancient history. Economic issues have grabbed the spotlight and sent Saddam Hussein to the back pages.
A Frugal Christmas
To make matters worse, we’re in the middle of November, Thanksgiving is upon us, and Christmas is right around the corner. That means the big holiday selling season is just about to begin. But this year many people feel uncertain about their future and that is affecting their spending plans. Many retailers are already saying they expect a lower-than-usual Christmas season because so many Americans seem to be holding back. They are cutting up their credit cards instead of using them.
A recent issue of USA Today reported the results of a nationwide poll in which American consumers were asked, “How much are you going to spend for Christmas this year?”
45% said, “About the same as last year.”
47% said, “Less than last year.”
8% said, “More than last year.”
I’m sure if we took a poll of our own congregation the results would be similar. Things are tough all over. It really doesn’t matter whether you call it a recession or not. What is happening in America is happening in Chicago as well. That means we’re feeling the pinch here in Oak Park.
To be more specific, it’s affected us here at Calvary. I’ve talked to any number of people in the last few weeks who are either looking for work or are worried about losing the job they have. I know a lot of people who feel on very thin ice financially as we move toward the end of the year.
There’s a lot of uncertainty right here at 931 Lake Street.
What has happened everywhere else has affected us as well. The economy is our number one issue.
Sermon on the Amount
It was on a hillside hugging the north edge of the Sea of Galilee that Jesus gave his most famous sermon. At first he intended to speak only to his disciples, but in the end huge throngs gathered on the mountain to hear his words. As he spoke, his words spelled out the radical new way of life he expected his followers to adopt.
–They were to be poor in spirit instead of proud.
–They were to be meek instead of strong.
–They were to be pure in heart instead of entangled with the world.
–They were to be peacemakers instead of war-lovers.
–They were to rejoice in trouble instead of complaining.
Why? Because they were the salt of the earth and the light of the world. They were to make people thirsty for God simply by the unusual way they lived. They were to be like beacons of light in the midst of a dark and darkening world.
As Jesus talked, he covered many of the subjects of life–how to treat others, how to handle lust, how they should feel about divorce, the importance of keeping their word, the difference between true and false prayer.
Eventually he came to the subject of money. That shouldn’t surprise us because money is a big part of what life is all about. We work for money, we live for money, we think about money (and the things money can buy). If anyone says they don’t care about money, don’t believe them. Everyone cares about money. That’s why Jesus talked about it in the Sermon on the Mount. He knew his disciples would be thinking about it. He knew they would have to make some critical decisions about how to make it, spend it and invest it.
That’s what Matthew 6:19-21 is all about. You might call this Jesus’ version of Your Money in Changing Times. He explains in simple terms how his followers are to handle their money. If you examine these verses, you find they have a very simple and easy-to-understand structure:
–Verse 19 gives us the negative command.
–Verse 20 gives us the positive command.
–Verse 21 gives us the reason.
Let’s take a closer look at those verses to see exactly what Jesus had to say. In these days of economic uncertainty, in these days when we are voting with our pocketbook, in these days when we are concerned about how much is coming in and how much is going out, it’s critically important for us to understand Jesus’ teaching concerning money.
We begin with Jesus’ negative command in verse 19.
I. The Followers of Jesus Are Not to Store Up Treasures on Earth because Earthly Wealth is Inherently Insecure.
The words are very simple, and very well-known to most of us: “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal.” Note carefully that this is a negative command. Jesus is here forbidding something to his followers. In the realm of money, there is something they are not to do.
They are not to “lay up treasures on the earth.” That is clear enough. But what exactly do those words imply? Perhaps it’s easiest to go to the truth by going in through the back door. What exactly is Jesus not forbidding?
1. He is not forbidding material possessions in and of themselves.
2. He is not forbidding the private ownership of property.
3. He is not forbidding saving money for the future.
4. He is not forbidding investing for a greater return.
5. He is not forbidding owning insurance.
6. He is not forbidding owning nice things.
What, then, is Jesus forbidding? The key lies in the little phrase “for yourselves.” Jesus is forbidding the selfish, self-centered accumulating of goods as the major end of life. That is, we are not to live as if self-consumption was the goal of life. I’m sure you’ve seen those sweatshirts that say, “The One Who Dies With the Most Toys Wins.” That was reputed to be the motto of the late multi-millionaire, Malcolm Forbes. Although many today live by that credo, the followers of Jesus are to utterly reject it.
No Extravagant Living
What does this negative command of Jesus imply about the way we are to live? I would suggest three areas for our consideration. First, we are to reject extravagant living. That is, we are to reject the ostentatious lifestyle of the rich and famous who parade their wealth in public. (I recognize that extravagance for me might be commonality for you. I also realize that a lower-middle-class lifestyle in Chicago might seem upper-class in some sections of Haiti. Although the standards for extravagance vary from culture, the principle still stands. We are to reject extravagant living, however it might be measured in a given culture.) Second, we are not to ignore the needy. Instead, we are to seek ways to share our wealth with the less-fortunate. Remember, some of the harshest denunciations in the Bible are reserved for those who close their eyes to those in need. Third, we are not to live as if this world is the only world there is. Rather, we are to live always in light of the fact that there is another world coming, a world in which we will live forever, a world where our status will be largely determined by the way we treat others in this world.
Moths and Thieves
Notice that verse 19 gives us a very particular reason for living this way. We are to reject the temptation to spend it all on ourselves because earthly wealth is inherently unstable. If you try to store your wealth, the moths find it and corrupt it. If you try to hide it yourself, the thieves somehow break through the walls and steal it.
There are two problems with earthly wealth:
1. It is destroyed over time. 1111 Corruption from Within.
2. It is stolen by thieves. 1111 Violence from Without.
That’s what will happen to your fortune if you live for the wealth of this world. It will either be destroyed or stolen. Earthly wealth is like that. You can’t keep it forever.
The Forbes 400
A few days ago a friend gave me a copy of Forbes magazine. It happens to be the October 21, 1991 issue. That’s the issue that contains a list of the 400 richest Americans. That’s the kind of list that interests me. I spent some time looking through the list–first to see if my name was on the list and second to see if anyone I knew was on the list! (Unfortunately I struck out both times.)
The subtitle on the front cover said, “When the Rich Go Broke.” Underneath were the words “Getting It, Keeping It, Losing It.” That sparked my interest even more, so I turned to the article called “The Richest People in America.” Here are some excerpts:
What has the Forbes Four Hundred accomplished in ten years?
If nothing else, it has demolished one of the oldest and most persistent myths about wealth in America, widely accepted as myth for most of this century. That is the myth of the rich as a static class, the idea that there is still a fixed, mostly hereditary class structure in America in which a permanent class of enormously rich men lord it over all the rest.
The Forbes Four Hundred shatters that myth by showing that staying rich is nearly as difficult as getting rich, that wealth is not something that automatically passes from generation to generation like titles of nobility but must be earned again with each generation… .
This is not to say that great wealth, once accumulated, doesn’t linger for a generation or two after the chap who piled it up has gone to his reward. But thanks to inheritance taxes, the decline in raw energy from generation to generation and the inherent dynamics of free-enterprise capitalism, wealth, unless constantly renewed, soon loses its influence, and, eventually, its affluence.
Hold it. Rockefellers? Mellons? Du Ponts? Aren’t they vastly rich? Don’t they and others like them constitute a class? The answer is: Look carefully at what is happening to such families. With each generation, their wealth spreads ever more thinly among ever more heirs. The impetus to growth gets ever weaker, the impact of the fortune smaller.
Pity the Poor Kennedys
Later in the article the authors cite several examples of extremely rich people who saw their fortunes dissipate in only a few years. It happens so fast that of the original Fortune 400 in 1982, only 171 are still on the list today. The authors conclude that, “It is one thing to make a fortune, and another to keep it.” (p. 149)
The most interesting example is the Kennedy family. For several generations their name has been synonymous with vast wealth. Another article in the same issue–titled “From Shirt-sleeves to Shirt-sleeves”–details how their family fortune is slowly disappearing. The article begins this way: “Americans may not have the Kennedys to kick around much longer… . The Kennedy fortune, once one of the nation’s greatest, has dwindled to the point where it barely qualified for the Forbes Four Hundred.” (p. 34)
The article points out several reasons, but the biggest one is simply that after Joseph P. Kennedy, Sr., died, no one else in the family has shown the same drive he had to make money. As a result of spending the fortune instead of adding to it, the Kennedys are now worth only about 350 million. That’s still a lot of money, but nothing like what they were worth only 30 years ago. Back then, they were wealthy enough to elect one son President and another son a U.S. senator from Massachusetts.
But now? “Although the aura of the name may linger for a generation or two, the day is probably past when the family can buy its way into politics.” (p. 35) Because of poor management, poor investments, and too many heirs who would rather spend money than make money, it is entirely possible that the Kennedys will go from shirt-sleeves to shirt-sleeves in four generations. “The Kennedys have been consuming capital at such a rate that the fortune will not last far into the next century.” (p. 36)
That brings me back to the original article, which ends with these words:
Is there any certainty at all amidst all this turmoil at the top? Only this certainty: that when the editors prepare the millennium listing of The Four Hundred in 2000, we expect fewer than half of the present names will still be there. And among hundreds of newcomers will be some people who are just getting started in 1991, some only recently arrived from foreign lands. (p. 149)
Imagine that. Over half the names on the current list will drop off in the next eight years. And some of the new names on the list will be people who are virtually penniless today.
I think two comments are in order: First, there is encouragement from the fact that you could be broke today and quite rich in just a few years. It happens all the time. There may be somebody in our congregation who will make the list in eight years. I hope you do, and I hope that when you do, you’ll remember you heard it here first. If you’ll agree to tithe to Calvary Memorial Church once you make The Four Hundred, I’m more than willing to pray for you on that basis!
Second, there is a warning that you can have a fortune today and lose it all tomorrow. And that’s really what Jesus was telling us in Matthew 6:19. The wealth of this world–even the huge family fortunes we all admire (and envy)–is inherently unstable. As the writer of Proverbs says, “Cast but a glance at riches, and they are gone. For they will surely sprout wings and fly off to the sky like an eagle.” (Proverbs 23:5)
The lesson is clear: Wealth is hard to get. It’s even harder to keep. It’s here today and gone tomorrow. The Forbes Four Hundred simply proves the point.
Let us learn well the word of Our Lord: When you set your life to store up the wealth of this world, you are setting your life after that which cannot last. You may indeed amass a fortune, but you won’t be able to keep it, or your descendants will waste, or the government will find a way to take it away. What you have may last for a few years, or for a generation or two, but eventually the money you worked so hard for will slip from your hands.
And that’s why Jesus said that his followers are not to concentrate their efforts on building up massive fortunes in the world. Why? Because the wealth of this world is inherently insecure.
That’s the negative command of Jesus. Verse 20 gives us the positive command.
II. The Followers of Jesus are to Store Up Treasures in Heaven Because Heaven is the Only Place Where Our Wealth Will Be Secure.
Verse 20 is a replay of verse 19 with only two changes: “But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal.” The difference is simple: “on earth” versus “in heaven.” The issue is not whether we will store up wealth. That’s a given. The only question is where we will do our banking.
Jesus is saying that we ought to put our money in the First National Bank of Heaven.
But what does that mean? You can’t buy stock in the First National Bank of Heaven. And they don’t have any automatic tellers here in Oak Park. So even if we understand these words of Jesus, how in a practical sense do we obey them? How do you make a deposit on earth for dividends to be paid in heaven?
Here in one sentence is the answer: You store up treasures in heaven by investing your money in things that will last for eternity.
Only Two Things Last Forever
Everything else vanishes. Cars, boats, homes, clothes, jobs, salaries, planes, vacations, books, buildings–they all pass away. They wear out or blow up or fall down. You eventually lose your job. Your salary runs out, your bank account goes dry, your investments pass away. Nothing that is material lasts forever. It’s part of the way God created the world. The world is passing away (I John 2:17). Jesus said, “Heaven and earth shall pass away, but my words will last forever.” (Matthew 24:35)
Since only the Word of God and people will last forever, that’s where we ought to be putting our money. And the ultimate investment you can make is to invest your life in getting the Word of God to people! That’s an investment that will last forever.
That’s what you’re doing when you give to a missionary or to a Christian college or to an evangelistic ministry. It’s also what you are going when you give to a Christian relief organization or to an inner-city outreach ministry.
And that’s what you are doing when you drop your envelope in the offering plate on Sunday morning. You’re not just supporting a budget. You’re not just paying utility bills. You’re not just paying salaries. When you do it with the right motive, you’re giving so that the Word of God–which is eternal–can go out to people who are eternal.
When you give that way, it makes giving a great thing. You are doing what Jesus commanded–putting your money into things that will last forever.
Here at Calvary we’ve been investing in people for 76 years. Not just in programs or staff or beautiful buildings. Ultimately it all goes to help us reach people with the Word of God. Sometimes we don’t spend enough time considering what our money has produced.
A few days ago we decided to ask someone to share a testimony with you. We wanted someone who has only recently come to Calvary, whose story would be unknown to most of you. After thinking about it, we asked Brian Jager to tell what Jesus Christ has done for him. Because you gave, he has something to share with you. (The testimony that follows was shared by Brian Jager in both morning services on November 17, 1991.)
I was raised in a Christian family but at a very early age I turned to drugs and alcohol–mainly because I never felt worthy before God. I thought God couldn’t love someone like me. Alcohol and drugs helped fill a big void in my life. At first they helped take away my fear, but pretty soon they took over my life. I became in bondage and all I could think every day was getting high and getting drunk. It created a life of a lot of pain and misery.
I reached a point in my life where I started to question my sanity because of all the drugs I was using. I knew that I had to stop but I thought I was going to be this way forever. And I was really scared. I knew I had to stop but I also knew I couldn’t stop by myself.
I knew from my upbringing that Jesus could help me. And so at that time I asked Christ to forgive me for the way I had been living. I asked Christ to come into my life and help me and stop this pain.
After that I went into treatment for my addiction. About a year later I came to Calvary. Since then my life has really changed. I’ve been able to attend a new believers Bible Study with Dave and Lynette Hoy. I’ve been a member of the Ambassadors Sunday School Class. I come here whenever the doors are open. It’s made a big change in my life. Christ is really working through this church.
Recently I’ve been able to help out with Crossroads and I also help get the VCRs to their right rooms on Sunday. It’s helped to give back just a little, to help out any way I can.
Christ has taken my life–with a lot of pain and misery and fear–and given me hope and joy. Calvary Memorial Church has played a tremendous part in that. Pastor Ray and Brian have helped by just preaching the truth.
Christ has changed my life. And I thank you for your investment in me.
I think you might call that “Profit-Sharing.” What happened in Brian’s life came about as a direct result of your giving. We’re happy to share with you the profits from your investment in the work of God at Calvary Memorial Church.
Don’t ever look at this church and think that your giving goes for bricks and mortar and programs and salaries. Those things, as crucial as they are, are simply a means to an end. We give in order to touch lives for Jesus Christ–so that stories like Brian Jager’s can be repeated over and over again.
Think of it this way: Brian is going to be in heaven forever, and we’re going to be there with him. And all of you who gave had a part in getting him there. Your gifts enabled the Word of God to reach his life.
That’s what Jesus meant when he said, “Store up treasures in heaven.” I’m all for getting rich. But I’m for getting rich in the right way. The world doesn’t understand what Brian was talking about, but we do. His story is what makes giving so worthwhile.
Verse 21 gives us the punch line. It explains the reason why where you store your treasures is so important.
III. Where You Put Your Money is All-Important Because Your Heart Follows Your Money–Either Up to Heaven or Down to Earth.
Jesus said, “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” Let me say that in a very simple fashion. Your heart follows your money.
That’s not the way most of us think. We tend to think that our money follows our heart. Jesus said, “No, it doesn’t work that way.” Your heart always follows your money. It either follows it up to heaven or down to earth.
Since your heart always follows your money, it only makes sense to put your money where you want your heart to be!!!
You Don’t Own the Boat The Boat Owns You
So many of us never grasp that point. We spend all that we have on the things of this world and then we wonder why we have trouble concentrating on the things of God. Our problem is this: We’ve invested everything down here and nothing up there. Our money has kept our heart lashed to the earth with cords of silver and gold.
You’ll never be able to get your heart focused on heaven as long as all your money is focused on the earth!
I’m sure you’ve heard it said that when you buy a boat, you don’t own the boat … the boat owns you. The same thing is true of new car. Because you’ve invested so much money, you don’t own the car; the car owns you. It’s especially true of a new house. Let’s say you put down $20,000 and then finance $130,000. That’s a huge investment of resources. Where is your heart going to be? In that new house. You’re going to think about it, worry about it, dream about it and talk about it. Your new house is going to be the center of your life. Why? Because your heart always follows your money.
Would you like to discover where your heart is this morning? Open your checkbook and see where you’ve been spending your money. Your checkbook tells the whole story.
Where’s Your Heart?
So it all boils down to one question: Where is your heart? The answer is always the same: Your heart is wherever you’ve been spending your money.
Is your heart on earth exclusively or is it also partly in heaven?
If your heart is partly in heaven, it’s because you’ve been investing in heavenly things. What heavenly things? Like getting the Word of God to people. Like spreading the gospel of Jesus Christ. Like feeding the hungry in Jesus’ name. Like funding a Crisis Pregnancy Center where unwed mothers can learn about the love of God. Like writing a check so kids can go to Camp Timber-Lee. Like buying a Steve Green tape to give a friend. The list is endless because it includes everything you do that advances the kingdom of God on earth.
Jesus’ Investment Advice
I conclude by summarizing Jesus’ investment advice. I believe if he were today facing a group of Christians struggling to keep stay afloat financially, this is what he would say: “If you want to invest your money, find the investment that will give you the most security and the best rate of return over the longest period of time. There is such an investment open to you. But it’s not on earth. It’s in heaven.”
The Rich Man Who Went to Heaven
The story is told of a certain rich man who died and went to heaven. As he went through the Gates of Pearl, Saint Peter came to personally welcome him. He greeted him with these words, “Welcome, my friend, to heaven. It is my responsibility to show you where you are going to be living.”
That suited the rich man just fine because as he looked around, he saw mansions stretching out in every directions. Not just any mansions, but the most beautiful buildings he had ever seen. Some appeared to be constructed of gold and silver and precious gems. Some were stately colonial mansions while others had a European flair. Each one was unlike all the others, and all were breathtakingly beautiful.
As Saint Peter and the rich man began to walk along the streets of gold, they came to a particularly ornate mansion. As they paused to gaze at it, the rich man said, “Whose mansion is that?” St. Peter replied, “That’s for your janitor. He was a godly man who loved the Lord Jesus and served him all his life. This is his reward.”
“We Did the Best We Could With What You Sent Ahead”
They continued to stroll past other mansions, until they stopped before a second one, very unlike the first, larger it seemed and made almost entirely of emeralds and rubies. The rich man thought to himself, “This one must be mine.” So he asked St. Peter, “Whose is this?” Back came the answer, “That’s the mansion for your maid. On that little pittance you paid her, she raised six children and supported missionaries around the world.”
At length they turned a corner and seemed to pass into a new section. The houses weren’t as nice for some reason. As they walked across a small hill, they came upon a shack. There to the rich man’s surprise, he saw a tiny house–not more than 12’ by 16’–made of tar paper and what appeared to be used sheet metal. The front door was cut from a refrigerator box. The whole thing was held together with bailing wire and twine.
After pausing for a moment, the rich man said, “And whose is that?” “Why it’s yours,” said St. Peter. When the rich man protested that he deserved something much nicer, St. Peter bowed his head and told him sadly, “We did the best we could with what you sent ahead.”
Six Simple Words
What are you sending ahead to heaven? What will you find when you pass through the Jordan River on your way to the Celestial City? What investments are you making today that will make a difference in eternity?
The whole teaching of Matthew 6:19-21 may be summarized in six simple words: Invest in that which lasts forever!