Wednesday, October 9, 2013

A Gift From God

Here is my sermon from Sunday.  The text was 2 Timothy 1:1-14:

Today we being a new sermon series roughly based on a series created by Dave Ramsey, entitled Faith, Hope and Money, but even though this series coincides with our stewardship campaign, this will be a series on money unlike you have ever probably heard before, because it won’t only be about how we should be giving, or giving more, to the church.  Unfortunately the church has reduced the idea of stewardship simply to this idea, but that is not what stewardship is really about, and in reducing stewardship to that understanding, the church has done a disservice to itself, and more importantly it has done a disservice to you, because even if you were to be tithing to the church, which means to give 10% of your income, and that is the Biblical witness, you would still have 90% of your money with which to deal, with which to figure out what to do, how to handle it, what to save, what to spend, and where and on what, and the Bible has something to say about that.

There are more than 800 passages that deal with money or possessions. Jesus talks more about money than just about anything else.  Money impacts nearly every area of our life, including our spiritual life, after all money is the root of all evil right?  Isn’t that what the Bible says?  Actually it doesn’t, and we just heard that passage from 1 Timothy last week, in which we are told that it is the love of money that is the root of all kinds of evil.  Money in and of itself is morally neutral.  It is neither good nor bad, it just is.  We are the ones who give any attributes to our money. John Wesley, the founder of Methodism, also had a lot to say about money, its benefits and its perils, with perhaps his most famous statement being “Make all you can, save all you can and give all you can.”

Now I know most of you don’t want to talk about money, especially your own.  Money is one of those topics which if I was to ask you how much money you make, or how much debt you have, that you would kindly tell me what I could go do with myself, and so when the topic of money comes up we get a little uneasy, maybe some of us are wondering if there was still time to duck out the back without anymore noticing.  And so let’s just recognize and name this giant elephant that’s in the room.

Financial planner Karen Ramsey, who is not related to Dave Ramsey, begins each of her lectures by asking by a show of hands, “How many of you feel that everyone else besides for you has money figured out?”  By another show of hands, and this question comes from Dave Ramsey, “who here has ever done anything stupid with their money?”  Good, now we’re being honest, and being honest about our financial lives is the only way we can begin to control our financial lives.

There is a lot of talk lately about protecting the sanctity of marriage, and that is something the church should be concerned about, as half of all marriages will end in divorce.  But according to a study done by Citibank, the reason why half of these divorces take place is because of financial issues, although the divorce lawyers association says that upwards of 90% of divorces happen because of financial issues.  The couples might give different reasons, but at the heart of the matter it is about the money. So if we as the church could potentially help end half of all divorces by getting peoples finances in order, then why aren’t we doing that?  Because the reality is, according to a recent study that came out a few weeks ago, 76% of Americans live paycheck to paycheck, that is most of us are one paycheck away from economic oblivion if we were to lose just one check.  55% of Americans carry credit card debt from month to month, and the average is $15000 at 15% interest.  Only 40% track their expenditures.  2/3 of Americans say they are not saving enough for retirement, including a staggering 40% who say they save nothing for retirement.  Only 11% of people over the age of 55 have at least $250,000 in invested assets saved for retirement.  55% have never even calculated what they might need for retirement, and yet 58% say they will be financially ok.  According to Money magazine in any given 10 year period 78% of us will have a negative financial occurrence, with negative being it will cost us at least $5000, and yet 33% of Americans do not have even $1000 is savings.  These are the things that lead to financial stresses in relationships which lead to divorce, and yet the church doesn’t really talk about any of these things, and we don’t talk about them together, and sometimes we don’t even talk about them with our spouse.   That is to ignore the elephant in the room.  Suze Orman has said that one of the financial laws is that “truth creates money and lies destroy it.”  So the first start to solving our financial picture is to be completely honest.

If I go to the grocery store to get an apple, when I bite into it I am not going to taste an orange, right?  I’m not going to find an orange pretending to be an apple.  An orange is an orange, and an apple is an apple.  Even though scripture warns us to beware of wolves in sheep’s clothing, that’s really a metaphor about us as humans, because we are the ones who lie about things, who pretend to be things we are not.  There is integrity in the rest of creation, where things almost always are what they appear to be.  Now I say almost always, because there are some animals which take on other characteristics either so they can hide themselves from predators or they will appear to predators to be something they are not.

The Viceroy butterfly looks like a Monarch butterfly, and the puffer fish makes himself look a lot bigger than they actually are.  And why do these animals try to be something they are not?  Because of fear, and really the same is true with us.  We try to be something we are not financially because we are fearfully.  We are fearfully that someone else will figure out that we don’t have it all together, and we are fearful that we are the only ones like this.  We look at our neighbor, or friends, or coworkers, or family and we see what they, and let’s be honest about what it is and name it scripturally, we covet these things.  We see they have a nicer car and a nicer house and nicer clothes and nicer toys and they take nicer vacations and maybe they even seem to have a nicer spouse and kids, and as a result, as Dave Ramsey says, we end up buying things we don’t need with money we don’t have to impress people we don’t even like.  But if you want the simple truth, more than likely those that we want to be like are probably just like the viceroy butterfly or the puffer fish.  They are making themselves out to be something they are not, and while they have all those things they are up to their noses, or even further, in debt.

In the great book The Millionaire Next Door, Thomas Stanley and William Danko exposed the myth that millionaires lived in big fancy houses and drive expensive cars.  Now some certainly do, but what the authors found was that the majority do not, because of the simple rule that the quickest and easiest way to become wealthy, or to acquire wealth, is to spend less than what you make, which most of us do not, and the reason why is because most of us are driven by fear when it comes to our finances for all the reasons we just talked about.  Most people don’t even know what their true financial position looks like, often because of fear that if they truly knew it would be even worse than they think it is, and so they would rather stick their heads in the sand and keep going on as they are.  But if we want to change our financial life, if we want to handle our money as the Bible says we should, then we have to be honest with ourselves, and as Jesus says “you shall know the truth, and the truth shall (make you free).”  I know that’s taken out of context, but it still remains true. If we want to have a healthy relationship with our money than we must first be completely honest with where we are financially.  “Truth creates money and lies destroy it.”  The lies we tell ourselves about our money, and the lies we tell others about our money, will always keep us from having the relationship with our finances that God calls for us.

When I was growing up, I played competitive soccer, and so we would travel around the state playing in different tournaments.  During this time, my father also lost his job, and so I remember one weekend as I was preparing to go to a tournament in Tucson, my mother gave me some cash and told me that I should use what I needed, but that I shouldn’t spend it on things I didn’t need and that whatever I could bring back would be appreciated.  This was my first introduction to family finances.  So we went to the tournament, and on Sunday after the last game everyone stopped at the souvenir stand and they were buying different things, and the guy selling shirts asked me if I wanted a shirt and I said I didn’t, but he wouldn’t let up, telling me he knew how much I wanted a shirt, and then the coach also started in telling me I should get a shirt, but I didn’t want to spend the $10 on a shirt because that would be $10 less that I could take home to my mother, but I also didn’t want to tell them that, and so what I did is that I ran away and went out to the parking lot to the car to wait for everyone else to finish and come out.

I tell you that story because Suze Orman says that how we deal with our money as adults is based on lessons or memories about money we learned when we were children, and until we come to terms with these memories, or even recall them in some cases, we will never be fully in control of our financial lives.  In order to understand how I related to money, how I spent and how and why I didn’t save, I had to understand how that money memory from that soccer tournament was still impacting me as an adult.  I never wanted to be that little kid who couldn’t get what I wanted because I didn’t have the money, and so I had tried not to deprive myself again, and if I wanted something I would buy it, whether I could actually afford it or not.  When I recovered that money memory, then I was able to look at how I dealt with my money, and my greatest fears about money, and I was able to make the changes necessary to go in a different direction, or at least begin to go in another direction. To be honest about what I was doing and why, and to be honest about spending, my debt, my expenses and my income.  Now there are still times in which I still have the urge to go buy something, especially when money is tight, because I don’t want to be deprived again, and so there is a part of me that wants to give in and just do it, but I also understand that impulse and have much greater control.

Orman says that all of us have a money memory like this that drives us.  I can remember when Linda did this exercise and her having the same sort of a-ha moment that I did that helped her understand how and why she approached finances the way she did.  And so here is your homework from today’s sermon.  On your bulletin, on the back side, I want you to write down this question, “what is my money memory?”  And then sometime this week I want you to think back to the first money memory that meant something to you as a child.  Some will have positive memories, but most will be negative memories, negative meaning it is something that causes us fear or agitation, a sense of never having enough, or being enough, or a lie or deception that took place.  You may come up with several, but sort through your emotions of each one and trust the one that feels most true for you, and then I want you to remember as much as you can about that experience.  In most cases, this money memory has not only impacted our financial lives, but also has seeped into the rest of our lives and has been driving many of the fears and concerns in our lives.  But once we get control of that fear, once we can understand what is causing us to make financial decisions that are sometimes destructive, then we will be on the first steps to overcoming our fears of money, and most of us are driven by fear of money, but what is the first thing that we hear about Christ?  What is the first announcement that people are told about Jesus?  Fear not.

Jesus said you cannot follow both God and Mammon, or God and money.  As long as we are being controlled by our fears and anxieties about money, then we are being controlled by our money.  We are being influenced by money in ways that not only unhelpful, but are in fact dangerous, because it means we are serving our money and not God.  In today’s passage from 2 Timothy, the writer says “for this reason I remind you to kindle that gift of God that is within you… for God did not give us a spirit of cowardice, but rather a spirit of power and of love and of self-discipline.”  When we lie to ourselves and others about money, we are exhibiting a spirit of cowardice.  When we seek happiness, belonging, meaning and purpose in our possessions or even in our wealth, then we do not understand what it means to be loved by God and we are rejecting Jesus teachings that “one’s life does not consist in the things he possesses.”  When we seek to have more than we can afford, then we are not practicing self-discipline. 

When we are working in alignment with God’s will for our lives, when we are approaching our financial lives using God’s teachings, then what we find is that everything is a gift of God, and we begin to understand God’s economy which is best demonstrated for us in this table.  As we take the bread and we take the cup, and we share in God’s abundance which has been given and poured out for us, and given to us free of charge, without cost, and from which we receive God’s abundant grace and mercy and forgiveness. Proverbs says “the plans of the diligent lead surely to abundance, but everyone who is hasty comes only to want.”  We are taking the first steps of diligence, to financial diligence.  Dave Ramsey always concludes his radio program by saying “There is ultimately only one way to financial peace, and that is to walk daily with the Price of Peace, Christ Jesus.”  May it be so.  Amen.

No comments:

Post a Comment