Matthew 6:24; Ecclesiastes 5:10; 2 Corinthians 9:5
It is nice to see some of you back. I am glad that last weeks’ sermon didn’t scare you away and I hope today’s doesn’t either. Today is the first of two sermons on the nut$ and bolt$ of finances. Today I will be focusing on personal finances and then next week I will move into Church finances and stewardship. Next week we will also have a time when we will fill out Estimate of Giving cards which will state what you are estimating your giving to be for 2013. Now the number one reason we are talking about money over these three weeks is to learn and desire to glorify God with what we have. Not only in our time and talents but with our finances as well.
Let me first say a few words on that. These cards will only be seen by our Financial Treasure, Lynda McCorkle and myself. Here is what a card looks like. This is just a basic card I purchased at Cokesbury and it has a line for you to fill how much your estimate will be. It says, “In grateful recognition that all our time, treasures, and abilities come from God, we gladly join with others in the support of Christ’s church.” Then there is a spot where you can mark down per week or per month or however you decide to give to the church. Then there is a line for an amount and then signatures. Then you can mark down what you wrote on the edge of the card to keep for your records, although we will send you a confirmation letter later on this month to verify we received the right information.
I call these “Estimate of Giving Cards” because they are estimates. These are not pledge cards or credit cards. This is the church and we completely understand that life happens and there are situations when what you estimated cannot be seen through. We will not send out creditors to your house or garnish wages or anything like that. The reason we do this is twofold and I will get into more of this next week. But to give you a sneak peek, we do it because it boosts our spiritual connection with God. Any time we move into a covenant with God, like what God is asking us to give in 2013, we can become closer to God. We also need to be good stewards of the gifts coming into the church and want to make educated, smart, and good fiscal decisions for the coming year. This is all possible when people take the question, “What percentage of my income is God asking me to give in 2013,” seriously and they plan, pray, and prepare to answer that question.
Which brings me to the topic of today’s sermon, personal finances. First let me start by giving you some stats on the average American family. Now, this is the average, so there are people way higher and people way lower, but still the numbers are staggering. According to CreditCards.com the total revolving debt, 98% of which is credit card debt, in the US is $801 billion as of December 2011. This is what the Federal Reserve reported in February of this year. Now there are 50.2 million American households who carry credit card debt. When you divide our debt of $801 billion by the amount of households that carry that debt, 50.2 million you get an average American household credit card debt of $15,956. We have about 60 households in our church. This means that a rough estimate of all of our debt combined would be $957,360, if we all carry the average debt. That is stunning to think about and I pray it isn’t true but I am sure the amount of non-mortgage debt in this congregation is closer to that then you think. The average credit card has an interest rate of 15% on it. If you paid $200 a month towards this debt it would take you almost 36 years to pay it off. How many of us have 36 years to be able to pay that amount off? 55% of the American households live paycheck to paycheck. That means if they missed a paycheck or got laid off from their job, they would be close to financial ruin.
The new normal is to carry debt. That is what people say and it is what I believed for the beginning of my adulthood. It is normal to think you will always have a car payment, student loans, and if you are lucky a house payment. But God doesn’t call us to be normal, God calls us to be followers and servants in this world. God wants us to serve and worship him. Matthew 6:24 says, “No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be loyal to the one and have contempt for the other. You cannot serve God and money.” One of the reasons we hate it when money is talked about in church is that we are loyal to money and we have contempt for God or at least the minister when it is brought up. With these stats I would say that many of Americans are serving money not God. Greg Groeschel, the senior minister at Life Church, says, “Money is one of the most visible measurements of the condition of your heart. Money is a great outward expression of our inward souls.”
We are under the power of money and don’t realize it. Think about it, how does money control your life? Does it control what you are able to do in life? What you will eat later on today? How warm or cold you keep your house? When we serve money, money controls everything we do. Groeschel also says that money is a magnifier. If you are a spender with a little bit of money, you will be a spender with a lot of money. You just will spend a lot more. If you are a giver with a little bit of money you will be an even bigger giver when you have more money. Ecclesiastes 5:10 says “The money lover isn’t satisfied with money; neither is the lover of wealth satisfied with income. This too is pointless.” You can love money whether you have it or not. But just because you win the lottery doesn’t mean your love for that money will go away, it will only be magnified.
Now some of you are looking at me like I have no clue. You are looking at me and thinking, “Jim, you have to have money do live. How else are you going to provide the basics, food, water, and shelter?” You are correct money is needed but the question I am asking is are you controlled by your money or does your money control you?
Alycia and I went through Dave Ramsey’s Financial Peace University a few years ago and it completely changed our view on money. The way we were living was there was way too much month left at the end of our paycheck. We made some stupid mistakes but we are on better track now. Each month we set up a budget and spend all our money before we get it. That sounds weird but we are telling our money what to do before our money tells us what to do. We attempt to think of everything that month that we will need money and budget for it. We save what we need to save, spend what we need to spend. We do this so that we have control over our money and our money doesn’t have control over us. In the beginning it was really hard but it is a lot easier now. Some months are still hard and the move this year has put some of our plans on the back burner but we have not added debt to our house in over three years. If everything goes well we will be completely debt free in a year and a half. We live on cash and only use our debit cards to purchase gas. We now have more money than we ever had and we have made the same amount of money for the last three years. This is all because we decided that we would serve God and not money any longer. I don’t say this to brag but I tell a little bit of our story only to show you it is possible. We are still in the beginning of Dave Ramsey’s baby steps but we are on our way to financial freedom all on a minster’s salary.
Something Dave Ramsey said that really stuck with me was “the majority of people in churches really want to give, they simply can’t give.” They have too much debt or they don’t make giving a priority so they simply can’t give. I have realized that the Church, as a whole, has this idea that our members will simply learn how to tithe or how to give or how to be generous on their own. Somehow through osmosis they will come to understand how to make serving God more a priority than serving money. But this isn’t true. I can talk until I am blue in the face about giving, about being generous but that won’t magically make the debt go away. That is why we are offering a course in February. Mark Hubbard, who is Sarah Vickery’s nephew, will be coming to lead this two day event on February 9th-10th. You can see more of that information in the bulletin. It only costs $25 per household to participate. Please mark your calendars and plan on attending this life altering course.
But once we make God a priority in our lives other things fall into place. 2 Corinthians 9:5 says, “This is why I thought it was necessary to encourage the brothers to go to you ahead of time and arrange in advance the generous gift you have already promised. I want it to be a real gift from you. I don’t want you to feel like you are being forced to give anything.” Giving to the church won’t just happen, it has to be planned and then implemented. Sure there are times when a compelling case is made like in the case of an emergency situation like Sandy that we want to go above and beyond what we normally give. But we can’t survive like that every week because stuff will happen during the week and all of a sudden there is nothing to give when you show up for church. This is why offering the first fruits is so important. Let me show you.
(Lay out 9 green apples and one red) This is one of the best ways I have seen tithing demonstrated. Adam Hamilton used this illustration and I thought it really hits home. God gives us ten apples to live on. He tells us that there are nine green apples for us and that all he is looking for in return is one apple, the red one. God tells us to use these nine apples to take care of your family, to put food on your table and a roof over your head. He tells us these are the apples that we are to use to plan and prepare for the our future, to put gas in our cars and to enjoy life through fun, vacations and toys. Out of these nine you can even give gifts to your friends, give to the poor, and help other organizations which do wonderful things for this world. But one of these apples, the red one, he says is his. It is to be used to show me how much you love me and your devotion to me. God promises that if we give him this apple that he will use it to do good things through you and his church. This is why it is important to take this apple and place it on the alter first. Then you look at the nine left and who doesn’t think they could be full after eat nine apples?
But if we leave the red apple alone and consume the rest before we give to God our view on this apple changes. All of a sudden nine apples might not be enough. We hold this tenth apple in our hands then and we think, you know what the Lord won’t mind if I take a little from it to finally make it down to Disney World this year. Oh my gosh, did you know that Christmas is only 60 days away, God you won’t mind if I get my family something nice this year. I mean it is kind of giving…right? I am giving to you through giving to my wife and kids right? Oh and little something for myself. We are not planning for the future or preparing for when stuff happens and all of a sudden something does. God will understand, at least he will forgive me.
All we have left is an apple core, which is brown and nasty looking. We say, “Here you go God, I can give you what’s left over. Actually, I don’t need this anymore. Maybe you can use it.” This is a graphic example but I think this is what happens to many of us in our lives. We look at our lives and we simply offer God what is left over, or what we don’t need anymore. Yet God doesn’t want our leftovers, he asks for our first 10%. God knows that if we start out by giving him one apple, we won’t be tempted to take chunks out of it. Through planning, prayer, and preparing we can offer that first 10% to God, but it will take work if you are not use to it.
One question I have heard a lot in my ministry is how do we know what we should tithe? Is it the gross income or the net? Is it our income before or after taxes? Well let me give you some very practical advice for you to discuss this week as you plan on what to write down on the Estimate of Giving cards. The best way I have heard described about what to give is look at your paycheck after taxes, after retirement and take 10% of that. Then if you get a return on your taxes, give 10% of that money. When you retire, hopefully you will have a habit of giving your 10% and so tithe it then.
One person called me up and needed some advice. Her husband went back to school and they will be living off of what she makes plus some student loans. As they planned out their budget they realized they could just squeak by. They had just enough for shelter, food, and basic necessities. They knew it would be tough but when then got into this life change they didn’t realize they would be this close. She said they only way they could figure out how to give their tithe to the church is to use their student loans. Essentially they would borrow money to be able to give money. That just didn’t settle with me and I don’t think that is what God is asking. God is forgiving and understanding and so if there is a huge financial weight on you and you physically can’t give it is okay. We cannot earn our way to heaven. But I told her that after her husband is out and make more money in her new profession, then you will have plenty of time to make it up.
I have a minister friend of mine tell me a story about a discussion he had with a parishioner who owned his own business. He came to my friend and said that he wasn’t in the place where he could give because he didn’t know his monthly income. Some months are good and some are bad. My friend said he understood and then asked him if he could push him a little on this. He said, how much do you pay for cable. His parishioner said, about “$120 a month.” My friend asked him, “How do you know you can afford to do that?” “I know I have some money each other to work with but I don’t know how much I can give,” the parishioner replied. What was happening was this parishioner’s extras in life were coming before God.
Now the college couple could barely do food and shelter. They didn’t have much fluff or any extras in their budget. I think God is a little understanding when it comes to that. But God is a jealous God and if we are putting our television package, our second vacation house, our extra car or expensive toys or even in some cases an abundance of plastic junk for our kids and grandkids, that is serving money not God. With every no there is a yes and with every yes there is a no. As Dave Ramsey says, “You need to live like no other in order to live like no other.” The world may not get why we say no to expensive cable or satellite but when we do we are saying yes to God. It may not make sense to the world why we don’t lease a car or why we drive a car until it literally falls apart but when we do we are able to say yes to God. The world may not understand why we make a budget for Christmas and stick to it but then we can say yes to God. When we say no to putting the extras in life before God we are saying yes to serving God. When we say yes to putting God last and offering him what is left over or what we don’t need, we are saying no to true discipleship and walking close to him.
We have to learn that we can glorify God with all that we have because all that we have is a gift from God. We have to learn to make God a priority and that will take planning, prayer and precreation. Simply because it is hard, doesn’t mean it won’t get easier and it won’t be worth it. May you be in prayer this week as you come prepared to answer the question, “What percentage of my income is God asking me to give?” May you say no to the waste and frivolous ways of the world and say yes to a way of managing your finances God’s way and glorifying him by offering up the first fruits.
And all God’s people said…Amen.