Monday, February 11, 2013

February 10, 2013 The Harder I Go, the Behinder I Get: Catching Up On Our Finances

Mark 8:34-37
Luke 12:13-15

Next week we begin a series of messages that will take us through Easter.  The messages all come from the Gospel of Matthew and are based on stories from the final week of the life of Jesus.  The title of the series is Walking In the Way of Jesus, and in that series we’ll look at six topics across seven messages.  The first and last messages have the same title, but different content – the first and last messages are Life Over Death, and the other messages are Service Over Power, Mercy Over Judgment, Love Over Law, and Deeds Over Words.

This morning we come to the end of our series The Harder I Go, the Behinder I Get.  Our final message is Catching Up On Our Finances.  I am relieved to say that I have enough money to last me the rest of my life.  Of course, if I live past Wednesday I don’t know what I’ll do.

My disclaimer this week is that you probably don’t want to take financial advice from me, as I’ve made about every financial mistake a person can possibly make.  To borrow a phrase from Dave Ramsey, I’ve paid a lot of stupid tax.

It’s hard to talk about money, isn’t it?  Sometimes we are so stressed out about our finances that the last thing we want is to come to church and hear someone asking us to think about money.  In fact, the stress we experience from finances pressures, especially in recent years, is probably our greatest source of stress, and it’s one area of life where we feel as though we have very little control.  We can work on our health.  We can eat healthier and work out.  We can work on our relationships.  We can sit down and talk to others and work out the problems in our relationships.  We can work on our time.  We can cut something out of our schedules.  But money is tougher, isn’t it?  When it comes to money we feel at the mercy of other forces.  We can’t control the economy.  We can’t control the cost of a gallon of gas.  We can’t control the cost of groceries.  And sometimes we can’t control whether or not we have a job.  So, all things considered, it’s often easier to simply ignore any talk about finances.

But there are few things that impact our daily lives as much as money, and, the Scriptures have a lot to say about money.

First, we are reminded that we are people who live in different worlds.  We live as the people of God called to a particular way of living, with a particular way of relating to God, to others, and to our finances.  But we also live in an economy that seeks to tell us how we should spend our money and even to view our own value in relation to how much money we have. 

The world of faith and the worlds of finance are often in great conflict with one another.  We live in an economy that works best when we continually consume, when we continually accumulate, and when we lay up treasure for ourselves and for our future.  But we also live within the kingdom of God, which reminds us to not lay up for yourselves treasures upon earth (Matthew 6:20) and take no thought for your life (Matthew 6:25).

How do you reconcile those two perspectives?
We do so, I believe, in the following ways.

1.  Remember That Everything Belongs to God.
As the Scriptures talk about money and economics they present the economy of God as different from any kind of economic system we know.  The Scriptures don’t present a particular economic philosophy such as capitalism, socialism, or any ism.  Scripture tells us the economic system of God is that of stewardship, and stewardship begins with this affirmation – everything belongs to God.  Everything.  Psalm 24:1 reminds us the earth is the Lord’s, and all it contains, the world, and those who dwell in it.

What was the responsibility given to Adam in the Garden?  To cultivate it and keep it, according to Genesis 2:15.  It was not given as a possession, but as something for which to care.  Creation, proclaimed as being very good, is placed in the care of humanity to tend, not to do with as we please, but to care for that which belongs to God.  Jesus tells several parables dealing with the concept of stewardship, and each one focuses on the idea of caring for that which belongs to God – Matthew 25:14-30 and Luke 19:11-27 tell the parable of the talents; Luke 12:42-48 tells the parable of the faithful steward; and Luke 16:1-13 tells the parable of the unrighteous steward.

So we are called, in God’s economy, to remember that what we have really belongs to God, which will cause us to think far differently about what we have in our possession.

2. Financial stresses are, I would say, the number one relationship killer.
Of all the stresses that face couples it is finances, in my experience, that is the number one source of stress and conflict.  And it’s one of the areas of life that couples often don’t talk about.  When couples ask me to officiate at their wedding I sometimes talk to them about important matters they need to consider.  I say sometimes because here is the reality – they don’t really want to hear what I have to say about anything, because they’ve already got it all figured out.  I knew everything before I got married.  Didn’t you?  It was not until after I got married that I discovered how little I really knew.

In May, Tanya and I will celebrate our 29th anniversary.  I’m very proud of that accomplishment.  Please don’t ask Tanya if she is.  After 29 years you learn a few things.  And what I have learned is that people need to talk about their financial lives, and a lot of people don’t.

As I said at the beginning of this message, it’s hard to talk about money.  But we better talk about it in our relationships, or those relationships are going to face some real challenges.

But it’s not just couples – it’s friends and family members as well.  If you want to find out just how much money can affect relationships, ask someone for money.  Can I borrow $500 from the choir this morning?  Don’t think about it, just answer!

Here’s what I believe, and you can take this advice for whatever you think it’s worth – don’t lend money.  Don’t lend money – give money.  Just make it a gift.  When you lend money it really complicates a relationship because it so often erects a wall in the relationship.  Now, I know not everyone will agree with me about this, so I’ll add this piece of advice – if you don’t make it a gift, make your agreement very clear.  Specify the terms very clearly and make the expectations very clear.  And when you do you’ll find it still makes the relationship awkward.  Is a relationship worth the cost?  If it’s a relationship that really matters, just make it a gift.  And if someone makes such a gift to you, do the same for someone else sometime.

3. You are of far greater value than the sum total of your personal bottom line.
Do not take your sense of worth from money.  Advertisers certainly have learned how to pick the money out of our pockets by playing to our sense of worth.  In fact, you will never see or hear a commercial on television or radio.  They are never called commercials.  What are they called?  We’ll be back right after these – messages.  Advertisers are not selling us a product as much as they are selling us a message.  If we purchase their product we will become more popular, better looking, healthier, or any number of other promises they make.

When Jesus talked about money, which he did quite often, one of the reminders he offered was that our self-worth is not based on the size of our bank accounts. Life does not, he reminds us, consist in an abundance of possessions.  Living in a society that so highly prizes an accumulation of money and possessions, it is easy to be driven to try to gain more and more.  The drive to accumulate is often tied very closely to our sense of self-worth.  The more we have, the more important or valuable we must be, at least in the eyes of society.

But the drive to gain more and more is never-ending.  Though a purchase may provide a sense of satisfaction and well-being, it is only temporary.  Soon we need to buy something else to recapture that feeling, and we begin a cycle of buying in an effort to feel better about ourselves.  The reality is, you can’t buy enough stuff to make you feel better.  I’ve tried it.  It doesn’t work.

4.  Be Generous.
In 2010 a 14-year-old by the name of Hannah Salwen convinced her family to do something rather amazing.  She was riding in the family car with her father when they came to an intersection.  She noticed, on one side, an expensive luxury car and on the other a man begging for food.  She told her father if the man had a less expensive car perhaps the man could have something to eat.  Her father talked to her about the fact that there are some inequities in the world.  She couldn’t accept that.  She continued to talk with her parents about the inequities in the world, prompting her mother to finally ask, what do you want us to do?  Sell our house?  They actually did.  They lived in quite a beautiful home in Atlanta – a 6,500 square foot home that even included an elevator to Hannah’s room. 

They sold the home for quite a profit, gave half of the money to charity, and purchased a smaller home with the remaining money.

Not everyone could do such a thing.  In fact, not very many people could do such a thing.  And doing such a thing will not take care of all the inequities in the world.  And I’m not saying you should go out and sell your house. 

But I am saying we need to think about how we can be generous.  One of the things I don’t like when people preach on money is the guilt that is often dumped on us.  Let me put you at ease this morning – I’m not going to tell you how to be generous; that’s up to you.  All I’ll tell you is this – be generous.  If it’s just giving a dollar, give a dollar.

What’s important about generosity is that it draws us out of our tendency to focus upon our own lives to the exclusion of others.  Even if it’s a dollar, we are thinking about another life rather than just our own.
Be generous.  Reflect the generosity of God in your own life.

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