This past week was certainly a significant one for our nation. This past Tuesday something of remarkable and historical proportions was experienced as the first black president was elected to lead our nation. It was a moment in which I gathered my two older kids… and tried to convey just how significant this was.
Of course there were many issues at hand… plenty that may have given reason to take heed or hope.
Whether this election causes you to take heed or take hope… or perhaps both, I was reminded how much I value gathering as a community identifies with a calling that transcends the limits of our national politics.
We are certainly are a nation deeply shaped by a Biblical worldview… and even Biblical convictions. That such principles have been a part of what has made this nation great is so clear. And as such… it is understandable that many would feel concerned if they see the nation drift away from those principles…. And positive if we see something reflect those principles.
But we never have been nor will be a country that establishes a common religion or belief. And this reminds us of what God had always intended us to be… a ‘distinct people’ (1 Peter 2:9)… an alternative redemptive community in the world. We must embrace that we gather as such… as a people who seek to be centered in God in ways that remain distinct… that permeate outward.
As such, I want to invite us to gather around one of the striking dynamics that is at hand within our world… that of financial uncertainty and insecurity.
Only two and a half days after being elected the next president… on Friday, President Elect Obama began his first press conference with these words… "This morning, we woke up to more sobering news about the state of our economy. . . . " and noting some of the latest news, stated that “we are facing the greatest economic challenge of our lifetime, and we’re going to have to act swiftly to resolve it.
Some of the news reported within just the past three days…
• Nation’s retailers saw sales that were the lowest for October since 1969. (http://www.comcast.net/articles/news-general/20081106/Retail.Sales/)
• A group of food price analyst announced that food prices will rise at least 7% in the coming year (2009). (http://www.comcast.net/articles/news-general/20081106/NEWS-US-USA-FOOD-PRICES/)
• This week…the Labor Department said the number of people continuing to draw unemployment benefits jumped to a 25-year high
There are broadly experienced feelings of uncertainty… and insecurity. It’s being felt in our nation, our world, and likely … at various levels… within ourselves.
I know that we don’t all feel this in the same way or at the same level… but there is a common underlying effect is at least some level of feeling less certain and secure about our financial resources.
I also know that it is an unfolding drama that is playing out. On one hand it involves constant psychological swings… driven by daily financial news, daily turns in the stock market, as well as this weeks election which may have been felt as a break in the focus… even a time of hope. But beneath the many daily swings also lies fundamental issues that are not likely to change anytime soon.
> There are losses that no new plan… and no new president are going to easily restore …dynamics that will likely bear far more long term changes.
How are we to navigate times of financial uncertainty and insecurity? What spiritual insight can help us find peace amidst such times?
I want to consider some of the spiritual principles which I believe are very timely for the times at hand.
We must understand that
I. There is a spiritual power attached to money.
Several year’s ago, Richard Foster wrote a book entitled “Money, Sex, and Power.” He captured well the centrality that these three aspects hold in terms of spiritual life. They are three of the most dominant issues which God speaks to…and which Jesus taught about. They are each powerful in trying to control us and corrupt us. However, they are actually each natural parts of God given life which only control and corrupt when they are experienced apart from God. When they replace God as the center… they devolve into something which is given spiritual power over us.
Those of us who at least seek to be more spiritually centered people… can become uncomfortable about money itself …as a topic.. as a part of our lives … similar to the way we are uncomfortable with the topic of sex. (We are planning a longer series on sexuality in a few months.)
What is so important to understand is that the power that money, sex, and control can have in our lives… is not a reflection of anything evil or shameful about them… but rather the power that is given to them when they operate apart from God.
I want to be clear that nowhere are we told that money is evil…or that having money is bad.
Money itself is not evil…
The Old Testament is a testament to this…
• The garden of Eden was a lavish provision.
• God sought the prosperity of Abraham who we discover “was very rich in cattle, in silver, and in gold.” (Gen. 13:2).
• Isaac was blessed in a similar fashion. (Gen 26:14).
• We are told that Job was a man of great wealth AND that he was ‘blameless and upright, one who feared God, and turned away from evil.’ (Job 1:1)
Jesus related to money in a similar way…
• He ate with the rich and privileged (Luke 11:37, 14:1)
• Enjoyed the lavish wedding feast at Cana (John 2:1)
• Allowed well-to-do women to support his ministry. (Luke 8:1-3)
What Jesus taught was not about money… but our relationship to money.
Money itself is not evil. It is just paper or a form of metal. Paper is not evil. BUT our relationship to it can be evil. Money as a material may be neutral… but
Money is a material that is given meaning…. and depending on the meaning it is given… it can represent something quite evil.
Among his most pointed words, Jesus said…
Matthew 6:24 (NIV)
"No one can serve two masters. …You cannot serve both God and Money.”
You may have noticed that the word ‘Money” is capitalized… because Jesus used the Aramaic term ‘mammon’ to refer to wealth… and did so in a way that reflected the personal and spiritual character.that it holds in our lives.
He describes the way we actually relate to money and possessions… ‘as a master we serve.’
Strong statement? Why would we serve some inanimate object… sounds a bit like old fashioned idolatry.?
> Because we serve whatever we deem as our source of security.
The word used for ‘serving’ bears the meaning of worshipping. As a competing source of security… it becomes a rival.
One simply cannot have two Gods… two controlling centers of life.
That is why Jesus spoke of money as part of the very root of turning to God.
• The rich young ruler asked Jesus how he could have eternal life and received the startling reply…. “Go sell what you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven: and come, follow me.” (Matt 19:21)
The rich young ruler’s wealth was a rival god.
• When a tax collector… Zacchaeus… who had sold his life’s honor to make money…. Was accepted by Jesus… “Zacchaeus stood up and said to the Lord, "Look, Lord! Here and now I give half of my possessions to the poor, and if I have cheated anybody out of anything, I will pay back four times the amount." Then…” Jesus said to him, "Today salvation has come to this house, because this man, too, is a son of Abraham.” (Luke 19:1-10)
Clearly… he speaks into every heart differently… for every heart must choose and is shaped differently. But all of us must recognize that we have infused money with the spiritual force of security… and significance… that then has our allegiance.
Richard Foster - “Behind money are real spiritual forces that energize it and give it a life of it’s own.” … The thing that Jesus saw so clearly is the way in which mammon makes a bid for our hearts. Mammon asks for our allegiance in a way that sucks the milk of human kindness out of our very being.” (M, S, & P, pg.26)
1 Timothy 6:10 (NIV)
“For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs.”
How many griefs are at hand today..
• How many crimes are committed for monetary gain
• How many corporate executives have been gone to prison for fraud…. corruption… not only of their company… but of their character.
• The number one reason cited for divorce is financial disagreements.
This season of near global crisis reveals just how powerful money can become.
And this is a season in which the power of money will rise up and beckon our fears more than ever…and call for our trust more than ever.
The more anxious we become about losing something… the more tightly we want to hold on. With every grip… every act of thought and worry… the material or money… grows in power But Jesus says this is an opportunity to take a second look. Catch a glimpse of it’s limitations. Loosen your grip.
As such, these times in which we face financial insecurity can also be times of restoring what is at the controlling center of our lives. That is not a simple process… but it is a process of ultimate worth.
How can we develop a right relationship with money?... a God-centered relationship with money? Well naturally it begins with restoring God at the center.
What is our true relationship to money to be?
Here lies what can be the most fundamental and freeing truth….
II. We are not owners of anything … but rather entrusted managers…privileged “stewards.”
Deuteronomy 8:18 (NIV)
“But remember the LORD your God, for it is He who gives you the ability to produce wealth, and so confirms his covenant…”.
To Job God declares,
“Everything under heaven belongs to me.” Job 41:11
To Moses He says,
“All the earth is mine” - Ex. 19:5-6
The Psalmist declares,
“The earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it.” Psalms 24:1 (NLT)
We are not owners of anything … but rather entrusted managers…privileged “stewards.”
The older term is that of being stewards.
A steward is someone who manages or administers the property or affairs of someone else as an agent.
Years ago persons called stewards, rather than huge financial institutions, were employed to manage the financial affairs and households of wealthy people. Their management included not only money but everything that makes a household thrive. (Ency. Of Everyday Christianity)
The message of the Old and New Testaments is that human beings were intended to serve as stewards of God for creation.
Harder for us to accept than we realize.
I’ve watched each of four children reach the first stage of verbal communication… and I can tell you that one particular word comes out with more intensity than any other… “MINE”
Certainly the Bible uses language that refers to people as owners. On a societal level there doesn’t appear to be any problem with people owning property in the daily functioning of affairs. The Bible doesn’t seem to present a common plan for some sort of communal system such as government ownership and communism like distribution. But what we were meant to understand… is that such ownership is merely a relative way of operating our human affairs.
> But such ownership is really extended management… the steward has control, but on behalf of another… to whom they will give account.
Colossians 1:16 (ESV)
“For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth… through him and for him.”
Everything is God’s. We are either faithful managers… or embezzlers.
1 Chronicles 29:14 (GW)
“But who am I and who are my people that you enable us to give so generously? Everything comes from you. We give you only what has come from your hands.”
Christmas …we enjoy the gift-giving… especially with younger children… is always special… but also a rather humorous dynamic.
• I love what they get me…. but whose money did they spend?
• They used my money to buy me a present.
• That describes our lives… defines the true nature of money and things.
• Everything that we do for God’s is already God’s… we’re just giving it back to him.
Jesus understands that ownership is an illusion… a grand illusion. It will be shattered when the Owner says it’s time to give an account.
For those led by Christ, achievement is not measured by how much one makes or how much one has. The measure of one’s life is how well our financial resources and possessions have been used with respect to their owner… with respect to God.
This isn’t simply a call to relinquish all material wealth and possessions. It’s a call to embrace a new role… that of being a faithful manager.
Contrary to the secular viewpoint—“If you don’t own it, you won’t take care of it”—being a steward should increase our care and diligence in the use of property and wealth. It is not ours; it will be taken back by God one day; God will hold us responsible for what we do with it. Our everyday stewardship—even maintaining a vehicle and doing chores—links us with God, who maintains the world. God wants not just an intact creation but a “return” on his investment.
Transform our sense of connection with God.
Managing the place and possessions of another involves a special connection.
• If you were staying in the vacation home of a friend… you would constantly be reminded of them… think about them… who they were… what their desires are.
This is a season in which our role as stewards or managers of God’s resources becomes tested.
How can confront the corrupting and controlling power of money?
Four of the dynamics that God emphasizes as restoring our relationship to money.
• Simplicity – The freedom from controlling attachment to things; maintaining a distinction between ‘wants’ becoming ‘needs.’
• Trust – The freedom to know and experience God as our ultimate provider.
• Generosity – The freedom to share with others in need.
• Gratitude – The freedom to enjoy the blessings that we have.
Each of these is a vital part of restoring our relationship with money… to restoring our role as managers… who manage well. We’ll look at what Jesus teaches us about the latter three over the next three weeks… including concluding with a day of sharing some gratitude on the Sunday of Thanksgiving weekend.
I want to simply consider the first very briefly… that of simplicity and contentment.
III. Simplicity is the development of contentment…the process by which we develop freedom from the controlling attachment to various ‘things.’
“Keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have, because God has said, "Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.”
“I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do everything through him who gives me strength. “
“Simplicity is a value not much heard or talked about these days. It is the elegance of living simply with what you need. It is the idea of being so aware of everything that something as simple as a great tasting apple can make you happy.” – Grace Kelly
Some practical steps for managing money in uncertain times…
1. Take some time to get in touch with your feelings about money… especially the fears that surround it’s role in your life.
Examine Your Motives for Spending. If we better understood why we spend, it will bring us halfway home in our quest for freedom from debt. (Richard Swenson)
2. Consider some of the particular attachments that you have to certain standards of life that may be ‘wants’ claiming to be ‘needs.’
I read about a spiritual seeker who interrupted a busy life to spend a few days in a monastery.
"I hope your stay is a blessed one," said the monk who showed the visitor to his cell.
"If you need anything, let us know, and we’ll teach you how to live without it."
(Philip Yancey, "What 147 Elk Taught Me About Prayer," Christianity Today March 2006)
“What some people mistake for the high cost of living is really the cost of high living.” - Doug Larson
Make Spending Need-based
If we are honest, only a small minority of our purchases are need-based. Instead, most of our purchases are desire-based, interest-based, pleasure-based, or cash-flow based. Just because we get a raise or a hefty tax refund is no reason to increase spending. – Richard Svenson
3. Review the choices for various personal expenses and consider how to reduce your expenses to fit the economic changes that may be at hand.
COMPANY CANCELED $50,000 FILE CABINET ORDER AFTER FIRST CLEARING OUT OLD ONES
In his book "Maverick," Ricardo Semler tells of a lesson he learned working at Semco.
"We were in yet another meeting...when we came to the purchase of $50,000 worth of file cabinets. Several departments had been waiting months for the cabinets and in desperation had decided to pool their requests...
"We didn’t buy a single new file cabinet that day. Instead, we decided to stop the company for half a day and hold the First Biannual Semco File Inspection and Clean-out...
"Our instructions were simple: We told everyone to look inside every file folder and purge every nonessential piece of paper...
"I was one of Semco’s biggest file hogs, with four large cabinets and a request for two more. After our cleanup, I trimmed down to a single cabinet, and that was pretty much how it went throughout the company... The cleanup went so well that when everyone had finished, Semco auctioned off dozens of the unneeded file cabinets."
Sometimes what we think we need isn’t what we really need. When we pray, we learn to distinguish between needs and wants.+
4. Prayerfully make at least one choice that frees you from the power of unhealthy attachment… and share your choice with those who can support you.
Closing – I know that it can be hard to let go of what we become attached to… in fact… Jesus seems to KNOW it won’t be easy… that’s WHY he speaks about the process a lot. But when we sense it’’s right… I know that Jesus is here to lead us.
A lot of us are facing financial issues… some loss of work… some debt… some overwhelmed with changes in your plans. I want to invite you to come for prayer.