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"MESSAGE FOR JANUARY 27, 2013"

ON FINANCIAL STEWARDSHIP

       

The past two weeks we’ve seen from the Scripture that if a believer is not sacrificially and joyfully generous with his/her money, there’s something wrong.  God created his children in Christ to be generous just as Christ was generous.  God uses things like our failure to be generous—not to beat us up, but to graciously cause us to wake from the slumber of self-deception that allows us to think we’re doing fine with God when we are not.  Our generosity or lack thereof is a very accurate barometer of where we are with God.  One of the most helpful uses of our material possessions and wealth is that God uses our attitude toward it to show us how close we really are to him.  When we don’t show sacrificial generosity marked by joy, that means something is seriously wrong with our hearts.  We may sing boisterously the choruses and hymns and listen attentively to the message on Sunday mornings, but if, when the offering plate comes around—we aren’t sacrificially and joyfully generous, God wants us to see that as an indication of a heart problem and repent of whatever idolatries we are harboring—that are stealing our joy and endangering our souls.  Today we want to look at specific expressions of sin in our hearts that the Bible teaches create a spiritual blockage in our hearts to joyful generosity.  We’ll look at four areas of sin that poison our hearts against being sacrificially generous and make us poor stewards of God’s money. 

       

The first roadblock to generosity is the eventual consequence of the others and that is: Excessive Financial DEBT.  Debt is a way of life for Americans in the 21st century.  Almost 47% of Americans carry credit card debt and of those, the average balance—at 15-25% interest--is over $15,000.  The average mortgage debt in America—this figure includes those homes that are completely paid off—the average mortgage debt is just shy of $150,000 and the average student loan debt taken on by college students in America is almost $35,000.[1]  In the 1950’s there was virtually no household debt in America—it just didn’t exist.  In 2012, there was a total of $12.9 trillion of household debt in the second quarter of 2012.[2]  Rasmussen reports that over 35% of Americans give more than 30% of their income to pay their mortgage.[3]  If last week, God moved in your heart to begin to tithe your income but say, nearly 40% of your income is tied up in only one line item of your budget, would you be able to immediately obey and still manage to pay down your debts?  Maybe.  Reasons for a lack of sacrificial, joyful generosity like, "Well with all our other debts, we just couldn't afford to give much away” are very common, but they indicate sin that must be repented of.  Many of us must take downsizing, cross-bearing measures in this area if we’re to be right with God.  We’ll need to downsize our houses or get rid of other commodities that we’re making monthly payments on.  Many of these are interest-bearing debts that do not go away unless you are willing to go through a season of deep sacrifice and austerity to eliminate them.   

       

The crushing weight of personal indebtedness is why so many people in church today look at the call to be Biblically generous as being totally unrealistic.  They hear a message on being sacrificially generous with great joy and wonder what planet the preacher flew in from.  A person’s indebtedness is not an excuse for a lack of generosity—it’s a roadblock to it that must be removed.  In this era of big ticket, interest-bearing purchases, we must first ask the question, “Would God, who commands me to be generous, lead us to buy a house or other commodity that would put us in the kind of debt that significantly disables our capacity to be generous?”  Would he lead you to do something that would keep you from obeying his call to joyful, sacrificial generosity?  The answer is—no.  Many people never ask this question before they make a significant purchase. That means that Jesus has no Lordship over a big area of their lives in spite of how fervently the buyer says they prayed about the purchase.

       

Think about the powerful practical implications this can have on us.  Suppose a family you know—someone you’ve known for years—a dear brother and his family are experiencing a financial crisis and they do the incredibly difficult thing of humbling themselves and asking you for some financial assistance—just until they get on their feet—three months, maximum.  You desperately want to help them, but you know without any research that every dollar you earn is spoken for because your expenses are almost totally predetermined by all the things you are making payments on—many of which are wants, not needs.  With deep regret, you turn the family away with a promise to pray for them.   How does that feel?  The Scripture says that being in that situation where other people (creditors) control how much money you have to give away is "bondage." Someone else, not you and certainly not the Lord is in control of how much of God’s money you’re able to give away. 

       

Proverbs 22:7 says, " 7 The rich rules over the poor, and the borrower is the slave of the lender.” You’re giving control over your money to anyone to whom you’re in debt because the money you owe the lender is not yours anymore.  In this sense, when we go into debt, we’re giving our creditors control over what we give to God.  Deuteronomy 15 tells us that God's plan for his covenant people is, "...you will lend to many nations but will borrow from none." One implication of that text is that God wants his people to live modestly enough to free them to be givers, not borrowers.  Another reason accumulation of excessive debt is sinful is because it presumes on God.  James 4:13 says, “13 Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit”—14 yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes. 15 Instead you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that. 

 

When you sign a contract that brings indebtedness, you’re making an assumption that you’ll be alive during the entire length of the loan.  You’re also assuming that nothing will happen to you to decrease your ability to pay back the loan like job loss or a change in your health.  God tells us that we have no idea what the future will bring and therefore we must hold onto it lightly—giving God control over it to take you where HE wants you to go--which may mean a season of low cash flow.  Going into significant, long-term debt means we’re dictating to God—“I will be working at a job with this income level for the next X number of years.”  That doesn’t sound like holding your future loosely.  We’re assuming money will be available to pay off our debt in the future.  James says by implication that we have no right to do that.

 

In light of the fact that God’s blessing for his obedient people is that they will “lend to many nations but will borrow from none” and these other texts on debt, I don’t see how we can claim that God is obliged to provide for us to pay off big debts on purchases that meet far more of our wants than our needs.  Jesus says in Luke 14:28, “For which of you desiring to build a tower does not first sit down and count the cost, whether he has enough money to complete it  The assumption is that we’ve thought carefully about how to pay for what we purchase instead of simply assuming on God.  There simply is no valid Biblical promise for us to claim that God is obligated to pay debts we entered into presumptively?  We are called to be people of faith, but that faith is to be anchored in the Word of God, not our covetous desires.  When we’re faced with the prospect of a large purchase, it seems much wiser to trust God to either supply the funds to buy it outright or look for a cheaper option--rather than trust God to help us pay Biblically ill-advised debts.  If for instance, you want a new kitchen, save up for it.  If that means you have to spend two more years messing with that drawer that won’t close, or looking at that bright yellow sink or listening to the loud drone of the noisy dishwasher, these hardships are not unbearable—they don’t compare with taking chemotherapy or losing a loved one.  Allow God to show you how faithful he is to either provide for it or change your heart and take away the desire to make the purchase, or  show you that you want more of a kitchen for you than he wants for you.

       

Does that mean that the Bible teaches that debt is always wrong?  I don’t hold that view.  But it certainly means that if we are in debt to the degree where our creditors are heavily influencing how much money we can give to the Lord, then we are in bondage—they are our masters and we need to get out of debt as soon as possible.  We as a church want to help you if you have a problem with debt or handling your finances.  That’s why we’re once again offering a video course on how to handle money and get rid of debt.  There will be an announcement in the next couple of weeks with more details, but that’s a great place to start.

       

A second hindrance to generosity is: CARELESSNESS in managing God’s money.  Some people don't have money to give to the Lord, NOT because they haven't earned enough and NOT because they are deeply in debt, but because the money just seems to disappear.  The question they habitually ask themselves is, "where did it all go this month?"  They don't throw their money away on extravagant purchases; it just seems to slip unnoticed through the cracks, somehow.  They are poor money managers.  Is poor financial management a sin?  Jesus says it is.  Remember the parable of the talents in Matthew 25.  In the parable, the servant who took his talent and buried it in the ground is called by his master, "wicked and lazy." The reason he is called “wicked and lazy” is because he didn't at least put the money into the bank where it could draw interest.  Jesus says because he didn’t wisely invest what he’d been given—(which certainly goes beyond money, but includes it), he was wicked and lazy. 

       

The Bible teaches that the money we possess, which can mysteriously slip through our fingers, is NOT ours, but the Lord's.  If you gave a family member $25,000 of your money to manage for a year and at the end of the year, he said, "Gee, there seems to be about two thousand dollars that just disappeared...I just don’t know where it all went." how would you respond to that?  If a family member pulled that on you, you’d probably be more grieved by the fact that he/she assumed on you and abused your relationship than by the fact that you were out two grand.  When we mishandle God’s money, we’re assuming on and abusing our relationship with him.  We’re acting as if his money isn’t worth being careful with.

       

Proverbs 27:23 says to people in an agrarian economy, "Know well the condition of your flocks and give attention to your herds” Updated for today's industrial economy, that could be translated, "Pay attention to your finances, carefully manage your assets."   Planning and budgeting are keys that enable YOU to establish your financial priorities instead of someone else.  Proverbs 21:5 says,  "The plans of the diligent lead surely to abundance; everyone who is hasty comes only to poverty."  Discipline and planning lead to abundance according to the Proverbs.  If how you spend your money is not a product of discipline and some sort of formal planning process, you are NOT being a good steward and you will be unable to be as generous as God would have you be.  As we’ve already noted, Jesus in Luke 14:28 asks a very prudent question about counting the cost first.  He assumes it to be common sense that people will do careful planning and deliberating about their finances--looking ahead to the future.  Does that describe how you manage God's money?  Carelessness with God's money is sin and is a serious roadblock to generosity.

       

A third roadblock to generosity is simply unbelief.  Most of us are not very good at trusting God.  When we worry about money, we’re showing our unbelief.  We really don’t trust God to provide for us the way he does the ravens and the lilies of the field.  Even though we probably wouldn’t admit it, many of us would rather walk barefoot across burning sands of the Sahara rather than be forced to trust God for our daily bread.  As a family, several years ago, we read the biography of George Muller, a man God used mightily in Bristol, England in the 1800’s and who trusted God for a huge ministry to orphans.  Muller made it a matter of policy to never ask anyone for money.  He prayed it all in because he was convinced that God was able to provide.  He lived by faith.  I had to force myself to not quit reading that book in the middle.  Frankly, it bothered me because it brings so clearly into focus my own unwillingness to trust God.  It’s scary because trusting him means we’re giving up control to a God whom we can neither see nor touch.  That’s what faith is.

       

Often, God doesn’t wait until we have a ton of money before he asks us to give it away.  The Macedonians gave out of their “extreme poverty.”  When God calls us to be generous—to give money away, many times, we look only at our bank balance and if there is not keep our current lifestyle, we assume it cannot be from God.  We are saying—“if I have to trust for anything other than the amount in my account, it must not be God.”  Although God doesn’t sanction recklessness, he doesn’t want our first look to be to our bank balance—he wants it to be to Him and he doesn’t want our first question to be “will this leave me a suitable cushion to maintain my current lifestyle?” He wants it to be, “God, is this what you want me to do?  That’s the question faith asks.  Because if He does, he’ll provide the money.  Unbelief causes us to handle our resources more like an accounting firm—tallying up what we have rather than a faith-driven, risk-taking money distribution ministry.  As we’ve said, sound accounting and management are a must, but we must also admit that sometimes God will call you to do things that are risky.  Look at Noah or Abraham or Gideon or anyone else in the Bible who did things that seemed to those around them to do foolish things, but they did what they did because they trusted God. 

       

Here are four Biblical diagnostic questions that will help you determine whether a proposed gift to God is a product of faith or recklessness.  First, “Is the need or ministry I’m thinking about giving to Biblically valid?”  If a known drug addict wants you to give him 50 dollars, it would be foolish and reckless to just hand him the money because you’ll be financing his destructive habit.  We must be as “wise as serpents” and that often takes work and investigation on our part. Not all Christian ministries are worthy of God’s money but because certain ones are good at marketing themselves and people are undiscerning and theologically shallow, many corrupt ministries continue to receive generous donations.  We must ask about the worthiness of what we are giving to.  A second question is, “Have I earnestly prayed about it?  God says in Jeremiah 29:13, “You will seek me and find me. When you seek me with all your heart,” God will show us the truth if we seek him with all our hearts.  Our problem is we don’t like doing that—first, because it’s hard work and second, because he may not tell us what we want to hear.  This is earnestly praying about a need, not deceitfully “checking in” because  you already know what you’re going to do but in pretense “pray” about it.  Ignorance is bliss to these folks. 

       

Third, we must ask ourselves, “Am I a person who naturally tends toward carelessness or recklessness?” Proverbs 23:1-2 says, “When you sit down to eat with a ruler, observe carefully what is before you, and put a knife to your throat if you are given to appetite.”  The broad application of that verse is--know your weaknesses and allow that self-understanding to inform you in your financial decisions.  For instance, at one end of the continuum are people who are just more “adventurous” in their personalities and others who are so laid back, they tend not to check into things before acting. These folks are more apt to err on the side of being reckless.  If you’re careless with money, you must be extra careful about going far out on a limb financially for God because your track record indicates that you can easily mistake recklessness for faith.  On the other hand, if you are fastidious—very careful about your money—if every duck must be in a row, and you think God may be calling you to make a big financial sacrifice for him—there’s a better chance that is of him because it’s not something you would probably generate independently.  Fourth, we must ask, after we’ve spent time praying and seeking God, “Do I have a sense of God’s peace about this?”  Philippians 4:6-7 “do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.  And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”   God promises peace as we pray.

       

Perhaps the most foundational form of unbelief is seen in a lack of appreciation for what God has done for us in the gospel.  What opened the Macedonians’ purses in such a miraculous way was their great love for God in appreciation for Christ becoming poor for them that they might become rich.  If you’re a person who hasn’t seen your sin clearly—your tremendous need of forgiveness and do not often preach the gospel to yourself and revel in God’s grace, you won’t be very generous.  Your heart will not be open to giving to God because you don’t appreciate what God has given to you.  You don’t love God very much because, as Jesus tells Simon the Pharisee,he who has been forgiven little loves little.  Your biggest problem is NOT that you aren’t generous—but that you are at best a spiritually immature believer.  If you see giving even a tenth of your income to the Lord as “extreme” it’s because you don’t appreciate what God has done for you in Jesus Christ.

 

If we struggle with unbelief in this or any area, relief from that struggle will come as we soak our heads in the faith-inducing word of God.  We must allow texts like Psalm 37:25 “I have been young, and now am old, yet I have not seen the righteous forsaken or his children begging for bread” to fuel our faith.  We must allow texts like Second Corinthians 9:8 “ And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that having all sufficiency in all things at all times, you may abound in every good work.”  We must allow those kinds of texts to buttress our weak faith as we meditate on them and store them in our hearts.  We must internalize the truth of Philippians 4:19  And my God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus.  We must allow those precious truths to encourage our unbelieving hearts—and unbelief, which the Bible calls “rebellion”, is something we must repent of as sin if we are to remove a major roadblock to generosity.

 

The roadblock to generosity the Bible speaks most frequently about is our fourth point.  That is GREED or COVETOUSNESS. Greed and covetousness are used more or less interchangeably in the Scripture.  When we think of a greedy person, we think of someone who is constantly cooking up "get rich quick" schemes so they can have their first million by the time they are 30.  That’s not a Biblical understanding of greed.  As we’ve seen before, the Greek word translated "greed" or "covetousness" literally means, "have more."  The definition of greed according to the Bible is the failure to be content with what we have.  Hebrews 13:5 says, "Keep your life free from love of money, and be content with what you have, for he has said, "I will never leave you; nor forsake you."  We rightly treasure that promise about God never leaving or forsaking us, but we often fail to realize that the context of that verse is money and our relationship to it. 

       

What the author is saying is, "What enables us to be content with what we have-free from the love of money, is the reassurance that God, who alone can bring us contentment, will never leave us."  If we KNOW, really KNOW that we have the greatest Treasure and he will never leave us, we’ll be far less likely to covet temporary material things.  That’s what that verse means.  Think about it--when you have the LORD of the universe living in your heart, why would you strive after the cheap toys this world has to offer?  If you owned a fleet of Rolls Royce limousines, would it make sense for you to go to the junkyard and drool over a rusted-out 87 Geo Prism? 

       

Ephesians 5:5 tells us the gravity of greed in God's kingdom.  Paul writes, "For you may be sure of this, that everyone who is sexually immoral or impure or who is covetous (that is, an idolater), has no inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God."  If you’re greedy--that is, you put the things of this world above God, you have no place in heaven.  Paul is saying by implication--if the reason we’re not generous is because we’re covetous of the things of this world, then we have “no inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God.  It’s easy to see this issue of financial stewardship as a peripheral one where our salvation is concerned.  That’s simply not the case.  As we said earlier, our giving and stewardship are an accurate barometer of our spiritual condition.  Jesus affirms this in Matthew 6:21, “21 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” He links our treasure to our hearts.

       

Greed or covetousness, which is idolatry, is in many cases the rotten root from which the other roadblocks to generosity grow.  We’re greedy for things we want, but can’t afford them now--so we go into debt to get them.  The root sin isn’t excessive debt, its idolatry because we crave the things of this world so much we’re willing to sin against God to get them.  Some times the reason people are careless with God’s money is because they want THINGS more than they want to be careful with God’s money.  We’re often guilty of unbelief because we really don’t want to trust God because we don’t appreciate the gospel and we know that we may have to give up some of our idols.  We worry and get anxious about money because we have idolatrously placed our security in our bank account or retirement accounts instead of God who owns the cattle on a thousand hills.  The root sin in all those examples is covetousness, which is idolatry.

       

Those are four roadblocks to generosity.  There are doubtless more. Search your hearts and respond in generosity not only to the church, but to all the ministries God where wants to use you as a funnel for his money.  May God give us the grace to be a supernaturally generous people and in so doing reflect his incredible generosity to us through Christ.


[1] These statistics provided by: http://www.nerdwallet.com/blog/credit-card-data/average-credit-card-debt-household/

[2] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Household_debt 

[3] http://www.statisticbrain.com/percent-of-americans-who-cant-afford-their-morgage/

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