Summary: What can we learn from the story of the Prodigal Son about dealing with debt?

OPEN: I have a quiz for your today (I found this at two different sermoncentral sermons and I don’t know who to it credit to):

1. Ellen is 30 years old. She has a $3,500 balance on her Citibank credit card at 18% interest. She makes the minimum payment each month. How old will she be when her credit card paid off? [70 years old]

2. Susan and Tom needed a new washing machine, so they went to Sears and found one for $299. They got a Sears charge card and made the minimum payment each month. By the time the washing machine was paid off, how much did Susan and Tom actually pay for that washing machine? [$1,199]

APPLY: Debt has become as American as apple pie.

According to one bank’s research of 1996 applicants for home loans, they found that:

· 90 % of applicants had a minimum of 4 credit cards

· 3 of the 4 cards were at the maximum allowable limit

· 82 % of the applicants had 2 car payments; the average payment was $326 for 48 months

· 70% of all applicants showed some late payments on their credit reports

· When faced with the decision to keep a new car or sell it in order to qualify for a home loan, 50% of young adult 1st time home buyers chose to keep the car and continue renting

· and 32% of the young adults applying had overdrawn their checking account less than 90 days prior to the date of application

(source: Bob Russell, preaching minister at the SouthEast Christian Church in Louisville, KY)

ILLUS: It reminds me of the true story a meat store owner told some time back:

The owner said: “one day a customer informed me she had gotten some unexpected money and wanted to fill her freezer. She picked out about $200 worth of meat and handed me her credit card."

Laughing, the owner said: "I thought you got some unexpected money."

"I did," she replied. "They raised the limit on my credit card."

Debt, it would seem, has gotten out of control in America.

I. But, some debts are not bad things.

As I was preparing for today’s sermon, I struggled with this strange reality. Some debt is not a bad thing. In our society, given the low rates of interest, buying a house is usually a better investment of our money than renting. But unless you have a sizable amount of money in your back pocket buying a house requires us to borrow money. And there’s not a thing wrong with that.

Buying a car, can also require us to borrow money. BUT if we are careful and buy a good car at a reasonable price within our budget, there’s not a thing wrong with that either.

Borrowing money sometimes makes sense.

ILLUS: Banks will only lend money to creditors who have borrowed money in the past. My dad used to borrow small amounts of money from the bank and then pay it back in a timely fashion - just to establish a credit record … so that when he really needed to borrow money, he could get it

ILLUS: Last month, our 20 year old refrigerator bit the dust. We went down to Sears and bought another one on a Sears Credit Card. Now, you might think, why is Jeff telling us all these terrible things about credit cards and then telling us he just bought a refrigerator at Sears? Well, we bought the refrigerator on a credit card, because they gave us 12 months same as cash. No interest for a year. So, Diana will make regular payments interest free till that appliance is paid off. Debt is not always a bad thing - if you handle it right.

II. But debt that isn’t handled right is a terrible thing.

ILLUS: My dad was a farmer back in the 40’s, and along with other farmers had received a government loan to help out in a bad time. However, the other farmers didn’t pay the loan off when the crops came in, like dad did – and they ended up in worse shape than they were in before.

Many Americans (including Christians) are in serious trouble with their finances partly because they don’t take debt seriously. They don’t seem to realize that debts have to be paid.

Psalm 37:21 tells us: "The wicked borrow and do not repay."

Many people struggle with debt. It affects their marriages, their health, and their ability to even function They have become slaves to their debts

Proverbs 22:7b tells us “..the borrower is the servant of the lender” and that’s what that means: our debts can make us into slaves. Forever working to pay off debts that have put us into a sort of debtor’s prison.

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