The same four words appear on every single American coin and every single American dollar. Four words that reveal a conviction. Four words that confess a truth. Four words that identify a belief. Do you know those four words? ‘In God We Trust.’
That motto first appeared in 1863, right in the thick of the American Civil War. Half of America faced extinction! Ideas and people could be lost! So, a concerned American requested the phrase: ‘In God We Trust’ be stamped onto American coins. Should civilization crumble and return to sand and timber, archaeologists and historians could find these coins. They could read the inscription and conclude that America was not full of godless heathens (https://www.treasury.gov/about/education/Pages/in-god-we-trust.aspx). That motto made headlines again in 1957, just as the Cold War got colder. The Soviet Union outlawed religion and promoted atheism [a belief that no God exists]. So, the motto ‘In God We Trust’ appeared on dollar bills. It implied that God favored American morals and would lend his divine support. (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/In_God_We_Trust). That phrase: ‘In God We Trust’ clearly confesses that only God can grant real security.
So, how ironic that a confession of God’s protection is found on an object in which many want to find protection! Ponder that for just a moment. Money is capable of bringing pleasure into your life. It is. It can buy vacations and cars, houses and outdoor toys, clothes and shoes. Money provides for you. Still, stamped on American money is the confession: ‘In God We Trust.’ Only God grants real security. So which one is it? Which one do you expect to provide for you? God or Money? In Whom Do You Trust?
Calamity has a way of exposing the heart’s security. You have an object of trust. When troubles rage, you flee rely on it. In that moment you then determine if that object could keep you safe or not.
Just look at our reading. Calamity barrels towards the leaders in Zion (that’s southern Israel) and against those on Mount Samaria (which is northern Israel). God guarantees punishment. Northern Israel chiseled out figures in stone; they have carved wooden statues. Israelites leave their homes and trot out to a shrine filled with prostitutes. They hope sharing bodies will make for a good financial year. Farmers trust the cow-god Baal, relying on him to make a good growing season. Masses flock to deities that do not exist, shamefully shatter God’s commands— and the leaders do not care. Governors do not shut down these pagan temples. They do not elevate worship of the true God who rescued them from Egypt and gifted this land to them! So, God guarantees: You have lifted up the shrine of your king, the pedestal of your idols, the star of your god— which you made for yourselves. Therefore I will send you into exile beyond Damascus (Amos 5:26-27).
Go to Calneh and look at it; go from there to great Hamath, and then go down to Gath in Philistia. Each city once stood equal to northern and southern Israel. They had the same amount of land, the same level of safety, the same economies. Now, it’s all gone! Tiny Calneh destroyed by superpower Assyria! Hamath conquered by northern Israel and Gath held captive by Zion! God warns: Are they better off than your two kingdoms? Is their land larger than yours? No! ‘What happened to them will happen to you! You will be destroyed.’
That warning meant to alert sleepy hearts. ‘Wake up!’ Instead, Israel’s leaders lie on beds inlaid with ivory and lounge on couches. [They] dine on choice lambs and fattened calves. [They] strum away on harps like David and improvise on musical instruments. [They] drink wine by the bowlful and use the finest lotions, [no one] grieves over the ruin of Joseph. No one cares about the threat of exile because… well… nothing bad has happened. No armies threaten their borders, and therefore no fear of captivity. Economies flourish; money passes through hands, and therefore no worry of food shortages or home foreclosures. Peace reigns in the region, and therefore no concern that you could lose a familiar landscape or friends or freedom. So, hearts wallow in every pleasure money offers. Getting drunk makes this negatives news of destruction go away. Money spent on choice meat could still be used to hire more armies and better defenses. Little musical fantasies drown out God’s warning. In Whom Do They Trust? They love what pleasure money can purchase. They love how money can make them feel safe. They trust money’s ability to provide everything needed for life.
God has this to say: You put off the evil day and [you] bring near a reign of terror. ‘You worship temporal pleasures and let your spiritual life rot.’ Money can bring satisfaction to every area of life except one. Money cannot save your soul.
Calamity erupted just like God promised. The Assyrian powerhouse that steamrolled Calneh obliterated northern Israel. Governors turned to wealth. They thought it could buy weapons. They thought it could buy armies. They thought it could buy peace. It did not. Even worse, those who placed trust in wealth over God died spiritually bankrupt. Money could not buy their way into heaven.
What a reminder, then, those four words on money serve for us! ‘In God We Trust.’ Do you still pay attention to those words? Do you remember they are even there? Maybe we only care when some group wants to erase it! Yet, the heart does a fine job of erasing it on its own! Do you think that a new house will solve a sore relationship? Or that new a car will finally satisfy you and you will never anything else again? Perhaps you think more income will finally take away every fear— no more restless nights, no more stress about bills, or no more counting every cent you spend. Maybe you find security in a large savings account— relying on this cushion to make you feel happy and secure. Maybe that’s why we can easily forget those four words found on money: ‘In God We Trust.’ We can look at the green paper and shiny coin and think this object will give us the happiness we crave. This object will solve any tension, any struggle, any aching worry. This object will save me.
If that is where your trust lies, then God has this to say: ‘Woe to you!’ You will leave this earthly life and your wealth will not come with you. You will stand before God naked and penniless. If money remains an object of trust, then Calamity (we could say ‘death’) exposes the heart’s security. It exposes money’s inability to provide real peace.
God makes that point pretty clear on a mount called ‘Calvary.’ There, Jesus hangs naked and penniless. Attached to him is your (and my) trust in everything money could buy. He hates the sight of it so much that he rains down punishment on Jesus. The punishment meant for you (and me).
Calamity exposes the heart’s security— and when you look at the heart of Jesus, you do not find reliance in wealth. You find a pure trust in God to provide! He does! God provides Jesus with life! God provides you (and me) with Jesus’ life! That you now carry Jesus’ innocence. Something money can never buy! Something that allows you to stand before God, completely confident that he cares for you. That he provides for you. That he opens heaven for you.
In Whom Do You Trust? Calamity exposes the heart’s security. When troubles rip into life, you will turn to an object. Money might address physical shortfalls, but it will never satisfy you completely. Only Jesus fills you with real peace. The real peace of forgiveness. The real peace that comes from knowing that God still provides all things in this life. ‘In God We Trust.’ That becomes apparent by the way we use money.
Believers in the Old Testament had an opportunity to give a ‘firstfruits’ offering. They set aside about 10-percent of the crops coming off field first and gave that to God. Now, if you farm, you realize that giving your first crops can be a little nerve-wracking. After all, the previous year’s reserves run low. You could use that corn and hay. Still, God says, “Give me your firstfruits” (Deuteronomy 26:1-15).
People did. They willingly give that offering; you give the first of your resources confident that God will give you more cuttings of hay and more corn. Giving demonstrate a trust in God to provide. A trust that drowned out personal fear. Actions reveal a trust in God’s promise.
What do your actions say? You (and I) are able to evaluate our income and consider what we may set aside. Maybe that means we set aside an amount for offering before we pay bills. You set a portion and then spend what is left over. Maybe that means we determine key bills first and then set aside an offering. If we do not have enough to be at McDonald’s every day, we thank God for still feeding us. Or, if we cannot buy five new outfits this month, we thank God for still clothing us. Setting aside a portion of income for an offering allows us to rely on God to keep providing for us.
We can look at the money in our hand and see those words ‘In God We Trust,’ we can use it confidently. If you’re not sure, then for one month (that’s four Sundays), see what you are able to give. Be bold. Trust big. You offering may increase price of a hamburger spread out over four weeks. That amount might not look like much, but it is much. It comes from heart that trusts God to provide. Maybe your giving increases by the cost of a tank of gas each week. Even that generosity demonstrates a reliance on God. You are not worried that you will need that amount back later. Our act of giving reveals our certainty in God to do what he promises; that he will give what we need.
That phrase: ‘In God We Trust’ clearly confesses that only God can grant real security. So, how ironic that a confession of God’s protection is found on an object in which many want to find protection! Ponder that for just a moment. Money is capable of bringing pleasure into your life. It can buy vacations and cars, houses and outdoor toys, clothes and shoes. Money provides for you. Still, stamped on American money is the confession: ‘In God We Trust.’ Only God grants real security. Which one is it? Which one do you expect to provide for you? God or Money? In Whom Do You Trust?
This is an Equal-Arm Beam scale. (You have probably seen one of these before; it’s a pretty common scale.) As you can see, the main beam balances and pivots in its exact center. Each end of the beam is an equal distance from that center pivot. So, you can add weight to each end and study how the beam balances. A heavy object will cause one side of the beam to drop and the other to rise. To balance the beam, you must add weight to the light arm until the beam levels. Then can you conclude the two objects have equal weight.
Scales perform wonderfully in comparing weight. In fact, scales do not care about the value of an object— whether you weight gold and rocks or food and dirt. The scale simply reveals which object is heaviest.
This morning God uses a scale to reveal what has top value in your heart. Out of all the objects in this worldly life, only one holds eternal value. So, Keep Balanced the Scales of Your Heart! Worldly wealth never satisfies, but God’s mercy always overflows.
In our Old Testament selection you see scales at work. In fact, you see them as they are most commonly used: in business. Ancient coins did not have a number-value attached to them. For example, today’s money has a value stamped on it. So, the same-sized scrap of green paper can be worth different amounts simply due to the number printed on it. Yet, ancient coins (like the shekel) had value based on weight. Two shekels could weight different amounts. So you needed a scale. If loaf of bread cost two shekels, the merchant would hang a two-shekel weight on one side of the scale and you would weigh out shekel-coins until the scale balances. That balanced scale allows the merchant to receive and you to pay the right shekel-weight.
A scale makes transactions fair. So, some tweaked it. Merchants made the ephah small and the shekel great[.] An ‘ephah’ measures about a half-bushel… but the merchants adjusted those measurements. If you are selling grain, they pull out a slightly larger basket and you give away more grain than needed. If you are buying grain, they break out a slightly smaller basket and you receive less than desired. Or, if a loaf of bread costs two shekels, the merchant would hang a weight heavier than two-shekels on one side. You shelled out more coins and the merchant gained more wealth! Yet, they do not stop there; they hoard more by giving less. No one lowers food prices for the elderly and disabled, those between jobs and those honestly trying to get by. After all, donating is money given away! The merchants would sell— not give— but sell a measly peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwich for 8-hours of labor. And if your bare feet needed a pair of cheap, two-dollar-sandals, they made you scrounge for two dollars first. They even swept up the grain kernels and husks, leaves and stems, pack it into a bag, and sell it. Those sneaky merchants do all they can to suck a little extra money from you.
Let’s be clear: God does not condemn gaining money. It is not wrong to be rich. It is not wrong to make six-digits. It is not wrong to buy a big house or new car. God does not condemn an individual person. He does not say: “Listen up you merchants and business-owners!” No, he condemns those who trample on the needy and bring the poor of the land to an end. That can refer to any person: rich or poor, business or customer. Simply put: God condemns an attitude.
Here’s how that attitude appears. On one side [of the scale] hangs God. On the other side hangs money. Greed consumes more attention than God. Greed says, “When will the New Moon be over[…] and the Sabbath be ended?” Weekly worship allows people to leave work, leave business behind, and reflect on the spiritual rest the God provides. People worshipped, but not because they wanted to. Instead, they sit in the pew and stare out the window wondering: ‘When will church be over so that we may market wheat [and] that we may sell grain?’ Those with much want more. Those with little want more. Greed has no limits; it will only consume more and more of the heart. Worldly wealth never satisfies.
You (and I) live in the wealthiest nation in the world (https://fortune.com/2015/09/30/america-wealth-inequality/). And I’m not talking about the ‘Top 1%;’ this is you (and me), middle class. You (and I) are able to select a day and retire. You receive so much extra money that you can literally stop working and still get paid from retirement accounts. I have known people whose retirement lasted longer than their working years. The prices at McDonald’s goes up and we complain, but we still go there. In fact, we can afford the menu and maintain our standard of living. Social Security received a raise last year (after having six flat years!) and you still hear: ‘Well, it’s still not enough.’ You have already been living without that raise! You had food and shelter, clothing and transportation. What necessity did you go without that Social Security must cover? You learn the financial needs of your congregation and can still say, ‘Well, if I had more, then I could give more.’ If you find those words coming out of your mouth, then it appears the problem is not with a lack of money, but with the priority of money. That starts with the attitude of the heart.
That’s what a scale reveals. When money becomes an object worshipped, it demands more and more time devoted to it. That keeps us from wanting to let it go. God keeps filling your pockets for daily bread and still comes the complaint that it is just not enough. We make excuses as to why we cannot even consider giving more to God. We create reasons as to why cannot even give food to the needy or blame a struggling neighbor for his poverty. When money becomes a priority, it has become your god. The object consuming your heart, mind, and soul. You cannot serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and Money (Luke 16:13). When the scale of your heart (and mine) tips in favor of money, The Lord [swears]: “Surely I will never forget any of their deeds.
You know what? God has not forgotten the greed that exists in your heart (and mine). That name, ‘Lord,’ is capitalized for a reason. That name: ‘Lord’ tells you that God is (1) absolutely serious to punish greedy hearts and he is (2) absolutely serious to forgive greedy hearts. In fact, God is so serious that he swears by the ‘Pride of Jacob.’ That ‘Pride’ is himself. He promised Abraham’s grandson, Jacob, to send Jesus. Nations would rejoice in that forgiveness and Jacob’s family tree could rejoice in their great Descendant. God kept his oath. He sent Jesus.
Look at the scales of Jesus’ heart. The Jews offer him crown and throne; every physical need would be forever met! Yet, Jesus does not come to accumulate wealth (John 6:15). He comes to give. He gives bread and fish to thousands. He gives taxes to Caesar. He gives life to the lifeless without charge. Jesus comes into contact with money, but it never becomes his god. And that is what makes Jesus life’s most priceless treasure. Out of the billions of people who have lived, currently live, and will live, Jesus is the only Person who received God’s seal of approval (Matthew 3:17). And he gives that priceless seal to you.
God is so serious about greed that he condemns Jesus for our greed. He takes away help and rescue. He takes away life. That is what greed deserves— and Jesus made that payment. Now you stand ‘Not Guilty!’ Look at the cross. See Jesus pour his pure life into your spiritual account (and mine). See Jesus fill you with his perfection, his unblemished life, his innocence. See how Jesus has paid your complete price for heaven. Money will never satisfy that eternal debt. Yet, God’s mercy always overflows.
God has straightened out our bent hearts. Now our hearts look like this: Jesus’ payment for sin is far more valuable than money. Do you see what happened? The scales shifted. Money is not life’s most valuable item. If the heart does not consider Money ‘god,’ then it becomes something less than God. It becomes a ‘tool,’ an object used.
Have you ever thought of money like that? Money is received so that you can use to address your needs! The money you receive is used to satisfy hunger. The money you receive is used for home and heat so that you remain warm and safe. The money you receive is used for time off so you can relax. You save up money and use it when your body cannot handle work, when you need nursing home care, when you need to cover funeral expenses. Do you see what role money has in life? You use it, not hoard it!
That gives you the ability use money like a tool. You can use it for an offering. You actually give away something the world considers ‘valuable.’ Yet, giving an offering admits that your love for God trumps love for possessions. Giving an offering also allows God’s house to be maintained. To have lights and heat on. To enhance gathering places and maintain worship space. To support a Pastor who brings God’s Word to your heart each Sunday, in the hospital, at your house. To support a Pastor who teaches your children about God’s love and equips them for heaven. Your wealth (and mine) is a tool used to share God’s life-giving Word.
Prices will always rise. Healthcare expenses will always rise. Same with groceries and utilities and maintenance and college. Thank God that you have had enough. You have always had enough food for each day. You have not neglected your body because of cost. You may need equipment, but God provides a new furnace or used car. You may not attend university, but still get education in college. When you look and see needs met, you can thank God for giving us what we need.
Because money is a tool An object used. That’s why it does not carry a heavy place in the heart. We do not worship the object, but the One who gives! Money always leaves us and we thank God that he never does!
So, what has top value in your heart? Out of all the objects in this worldly life, only one holds eternal value. Fix your eyes on Jesus and you will Keep Balanced the Scales of Your Heart! You will see Worldly wealth never satisfies, but God’s mercy always overflows.