Summary: Pastors’ Conference: A special sermon addressing the ethics of money. This was presented at a special worship service that was part of a monthly gathering of pastors.

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Money does strange things to people. I found this cute little story on the Internet that was carried in the December 1980 issue of Campus Life. (p. 19) It starts by asking: What’s the most outrageous thing you would do for $10,000 cash? The question was posed recently by Chicago radio station WKOX. More than 6,000 full-tilt crazies responded. The eventual winner: Jay Gwaltney of Zionsville, Indiana, who ate an 11-foot birch sapling - leaves, roots, bark and all.

He put away the 11 foot tree at a very formal event. He donned a tux and dined at a table set elegantly with china, sterling, candles and a rose vase. Armed with pruning sheers, the Indiana State University sophomore began chomping from the top of the tree and worked his way, branch by branch, to the roots. His only condiment: French dressing for the massive birch-leaf salad. The culinary feat took 18 hours over a period of three days. When it was all over, Gwaltney complained of an upset stomach. Evidently the bark was worse than his bite.

Money does strange things to people. If you really want to check out the ethical formation of a person – check out the way that person treats money. In our society, money becomes the gauge by which most things are measured. The significance of a person is usually assigned by how much money they have. The importance of person’s vocation is most often measured by how much money that they control or manage. Sadly, even friendships and relationships are often determined by money.

Many years ago, I taught a a small community college. Over the course of several years, another instructor at that school and I developed a close friendship. We’d often collaborate on teaching projects. We socialized together – ate together and even commiserated when we had things that bothered us. My friend had a master’s degree in electrical engineering and he also had a Professional Engineering ticket. I was a pretty fair microcomputer circuit designer. It only seemed natural that we would try to collaborate on a business venture together. And so when the opportunity came to bid on an automotive design project, we took the risk and won the bid.

We were contracted to design a system that would disable the car if the owner dialed a telephone number – sort of like a pager. So if the car was ever stolen, the owner would dial a number. This would send a signal to the stolen car and an audio message would play over the car radio that said: “Stop! Your crime has been cracked! You have 60 seconds to pull the side of the road. In 60 seconds the engine and all ignition functions will be disabled.”

Now listen this was before car alarm systems became commonplace. We were in a wonderful position to make a mint in a brand new market. Because my friend had the PE certification, he was listed as the project manager. The investor advanced 50% of the contract fee to my friend. I got a portion of that fee in order to purchase the items that I would need to design the digital microprocessor circuit that would be the brains of the system. My friend was to design the power circuits and the interface to the ignition and radio circuits of the car.

I finished my part of the project ahead of schedule. My circuit met all the design objectives. I turned it over to my friend and I was looking forward to getting the other 50% of my fee, which actually represented the profit. Only one hitch… my friend had never designed power circuits for an automotive environment. He couldn’t quite get it right. Picture the scene, the investor is there. We are to demonstrate the prototype. But instead of, “Stop! Your crime has been cracked!” – we got lots of sparks and blue smoke from the power and interface circuits. Not a good thing when you are trying to convince the investor to sign off on the prototype. The investor had lots of – ‘impressive’ - things to say – because of money.

Well, listen, when I asked my friend to pay me for the work I had done, he refused. He said that the investor had backed out. I said, “Hey, I met my side of the deal. All design objectives for the microprocessor circuit were met.” He said to me, “Tough. I didn’t get paid and you won’t either.” It was at about that time that I learned that money can affect relationships. Before it was all said and done, my friend and I stopped socializing, stopped collaborating and stopped talking with each other. Money does strange things to people.

A young man with many possessions came to Jesus. From all outward appearances, he seemed to be a good guy. The passage from Mark says that his young man ran up to Jesus and knelt in front of him. He had obviously heard about Jesus. He wanted to be in relationship with Him. He wanted to make sure of his eternal destiny. And so He asked Jesus, “Good Teacher, what should I do to inherit eternal life?” He seemed to have his heart in the right place.

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