Last week, we considered Andrew Carnegie’s 1889 essay, “The Gospel of Wealth.” This week we hear from Mike Slaughter, author of a book that came out last week. Slaughter’s book emerged from his popular sermon series, “The Christian Wallet,” given at Ginghamsburg Church, one of the largest Methodist congregations in the country. I’m drawn to his question, “Are we fans of Jesus or followers of Jesus?” If we’re followers, are we following with our wallets too?
Adam J. Copeland, Director
Center for Stewardship Leaders
The Christian Wallet: Spending, Giving, and Living with a Conscience
by Mike Slaughter
Every Christian knows that we are called to love God with all our heart, mind, soul, and strength. But what about our wallet? We get asked to open it every Sunday when the offering basket comes by and are told that’s being a “good steward.” Jesus’ definition of stewardship, however, is far more radical. Almost 40 percent of his parables found in the gospels deal with true faith and faith’s relationship to our money and possessions.
Jesus’ encounter with a young “ruler” (signifying that the man is a person of status and means) dismisses any notion that a commitment to faithful discipleship can be separated from our economic lifestyle practices. When the young man asks, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus’ response doesn’t allow wiggle room to define eternal life as simply a personalized faith or the practice of moral behavior. “You still lack one thing,” Jesus says. “Sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me” (Luke 18:18–22).
There is no clearer indicator of our ultimate values than our financial priorities and practices — how we spend, how we live, how we save, and how we give reveal the true altar of our hearts. In Jesus’ own words, “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. . . . No one can serve two masters; either you’ll hate the one and love the other; or you’ll be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money” (Matthew 6:21, 25).
The Poverty of Affluenza
Writing The Christian Wallet: Spending, Giving, and Living with a Conscience was a challenge for me. I am not immune from the virus of consumption I describe in the book’s pages. Like so many others, I suffer from influenza of affluence — known these days as “affluenza.” I’m not going to mention how much money I spent on my newest skinny pair of jeans. I would like to use the excuse that the jeans’ company uses organic cotton, pays workers a livable wage, and works to ensure safe working conditions — all very important factors in considering our purchasing choices — but let’s be honest, I spend too much money on clothes and purchase items that I don’t need or rarely wear.
Jesus directed the young ruler to “Sell your possessions and give to the poor. Then come and follow me.” These words haunt me. I find myself wrestling with tough questions: “Am I truly a follower of Jesus or just a fan?” “Have I bought into a self-serving, consumerist, Americanized, version of the gospel? “Has growing older and having a more comfortable lifestyle dulled the edge of my commitment to follow Jesus in costly discipleship?” Ultimately, how we use our money is unavoidably a spiritual question.
I fear the 21st century Church too closely resembles the ancient church of Laodicea. Jesus addresses the Laodicean Church in the book of Revelation, saying, “You say, ‘I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.’ But you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind, and naked. I counsel you to buy from me gold refined in the fire, so you can become rich; and white clothes to wear, so you can cover your shameful nakedness; and salve to put on your eyes, so you can see.” (Revelation 3:17–18). Are we failing to recognize our own poverty in the comfort of our wealth?
Challenging Questions — Difficult Answers
The Christian Wallet offers practical tools and insights for our money matters, but it also asks difficult questions about morality and money, exploring the issues at play while acknowledging there are no easy answers. It is my prayer that its readers will wrestle with the tough questions, making the hard choices to transform our lifestyles, and experience true transformation in the process.
Mike Slaughter is the lead pastor at Ginghamsburg Church in Tipp City, Ohio. Under his leadership, Ginghamsburg became known as an early innovator of small group ministry and a leader in global mission efforts. A frequently sought-after speaker, he is the author of many books, including Renegade Gospel: the Rebel Jesus, Dare to Dream, Change the World and Christmas Is Not Your Birthday.
Online ELCA stewardCast: Saturday, February 27, 11:30 EST, join ELCA Presiding Bishop Elizabeth Eaton and others via livestream for an event on the power of embracing stewardship. Register by February 12, 2016.
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