November 11, 2018
Norwalk First United Methodist Church
Enough: Discovering Joy Through Simplicity and Generosity
25th Sunday after Pentecost
Enough: Wisdom and Finance
Proverbs 21:5, 20
Our message series during this Stewardship Month is based on selected passages from the Bible and Adam Hamilton’s book, “Enough – Discovering Joy Through Simplicity and Generosity.”
As we learned last week, when we have these diseases of affluenza and credit-itis, we can become a slave to our own debt and then we can no longer have the joy of contributing to God’s work and kingdom. Our souls were created in the image of God, but they have been distorted. We were meant to desire God, but we have turned that desire toward possessions. We were meant to find our security in God, but we find it in amassing wealth. We were meant to love people, but instead we compete with them. We were meant to enjoy the simple pleasures of life, but we busy ourselves with pursuing money and things. We were meant to be generous and to share with those in need, but we selfishly hoard our resources for ourselves. But the Bible and common sense financial planning offer solutions to our diseases of affluenza and credit-itis. We will explore those solutions today, but first would you pray with me?
In Proverbs 21:20, Solomon offered us these wise words: Precious treasure remains in the house of the wise, but the fool devours it. Eugene Peterson in his Bible translation called “The Message” puts it this way:
20 Valuables are safe in a wise person’s home;
fools put it all out for yard sales.
Many of us don’t seem to be too wise about our finances. We are foolish when it comes to money because we want instant gratification. We want what other people have. Yet people who live beyond their means are living in a false sense of reality. They’re doing a juggling act, often taking cash advances to pay off other lines of credit and making only minimum payments on their credit cards. That is a warning sign of impending financial disaster. Another warning sign is increased consumer debt.
In the Gospel of Luke, Jesus tells the story of a young man who was living beyond his means. He wanted his father’s inheritance now to live the good life instead of waiting until he was more mature to handle his finances. Listen to this story from Luke 15:11-16: 11 Jesus [said]: “There was a man who had two sons. 12 The younger one said to his father, ‘Father, give me my share of the estate.’ So he divided his property between them.
13 “Not long after that, the younger son got together all he had, set off for a distant country and there squandered his wealth in wild living. 14 After he had spent everything, there was a severe famine in that whole country, and he began to be in need. 15 So he went and hired himself out to a citizen of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed pigs. 16 He longed to fill his stomach with the pods that the pigs were eating, but no one gave him anything.
From Jesus’ description here, we see that the prodigal son had the habits of squandering and spending. The word prodigal does not mean someone who wanders away or is lost. It literally means “one who wastes money.” A prodigal is one who wastes money, who is a spendthrift.
Many of us struggle with that habit as well. We’re not worried about tomorrow. We’re not thinking about what’s going to happen twenty or thirty years from now. In fact, 50% of all Americans have less than $25,000 set aside for their retirement. We want what we want today. The problem with that kind of thinking is that, for most of us, the “famine” eventually comes. It comes when we have spent everything we have and even a little bit of next year’s income. So we use the credit card and charge it, and we go a little further into debt. Finally, we come to a place where we “find ourselves.” We have nothing left, not even any credit, and we can’t figure out how we are going to make it.
Many of us live for the short term pleasure and not the long term security and peace of mind. We waste the opportunities that are before us, selling out for short-term pleasure. We charge our future away.
Many of us also ask, where did all of our money go? It seems the more we make, the more we waste. The more financially secure we become, the less we worry about spending money here and there. We waste a dollar on this or that, and we forget where it went. Money just seems to flow through our fingers.
We’re not as careful with our money as we should be. There are many ways we waste money, but there are two primary money-wasters that many of us struggle with. It is not necessary to eliminate these two things all together, but we should think more carefully about how we spend our money. See if you practice one of these money-wasters.
The first is impulse buying. How many of you, like me, have gone into a grocery store for one thing to complete a supper dish at home and come out with a grocery bag full? Here are a few tips.
Never go grocery shopping when you are hungry. Shop for what you need only. Make a list and stick to it; buy what you need and get out of the store! And for those impulse items, like a new TV or an iPad, wait twenty-four hours before purchasing an impulse buy. You may have a change of heart in the morning when common sense finally takes over.
The second money-waster is eating out. I have tried to curb this one. The issue is not eating out but the frequency of eating out. According to Kiplinger’s Personal Finance Magazine, the average American eats out four times a week. If a family of four were to order burgers with fries and soft drinks at a sit-down restaurant, it would cost – with tax and tip – anywhere from $48 to $55, depending on the restaurant and the area of the country in which we live. And if that family were to eat out four times a week, fifty-two weeks a year, they would spend roughly $10,000 or more on eating out in a given year! If they would eat that same meal at home, it would cost them less than $4,000 per year – money they could save, spend on something more important, or give away.
You see, we have to clarify our life purpose. What is your life about? Why do you exist? Do you exist simply to consume as much as you can and get as much pleasure as you can while you are here on this earth, or do you have a higher purpose? I would suggest that you and I have a higher purpose. Once we understand our life purpose then we can spend our money in ways that are consistent with this purpose or calling.
Our society tells us that our life purpose is to consume – to make as much money as possible and to blow as much money as possible. But the Bible tells us that we were created to care for God’s creation. We were created to love God and to love our neighbors as ourselves. We were created to care for our families and those in need. We were created to glorify God, to seek justice, and to do mercy. Our money and possessions should be devoted to helping us fulfill this calling.
We are to use our resources to help care for our families and others – to serve Christ and the world through the church, missions, and everyday opportunities. We have a life purpose that is greater than our own self-interests, and how we spend our God-given resources reflects our understanding and commitment to this life purpose or mission.
Being able to accomplish the greater purposes God has for our lives requires some measure of planning. Taking the time to set goals related to our lives and our finances is crucial if we are to become wise stewards of our God-given resources.
One of our scriptures today says this: The plans of the diligent lead to profit as surely as haste leads to poverty. Once we have set some financial goals, we need to develop a plan to meet those goals. A budget is a spending plan that enables us to accomplish our goals. Some people use an envelope system to help them manage their saving and spending and stay on budget. Many people find it helpful to seek the advice of a financial advisor. For those who find themselves in the midst of a financial crisis, a financial counselor can help to work out terms with creditors and develop a workable financial plan. Whatever approach you choose, the important thing is simply to have a plan.
Here is a plan with six financial planning principles.
First, pay your tithe and offering first. Put God first in your living and your giving. Give your tithe and offering from the “top” of your paycheck, and then live on whatever remains.
Two, create a budget and track your expenses. Creating a budget is simply developing a plan in which you tell your money what you want it to do. Tracking your expenses with a budget is like getting on the scales: It allows you to see how you are doing and motivates you to be more careful with your expenditures.
Three, simplify your lifestyle and live below your means. Because this discipline is critical to the success of any financial plan, the sermon in two weeks will be devoted to this topic.
Four, establish an emergency fund. An emergency fund is an account separate from checking or long-term savings that is set aside specifically for emergencies. It takes a lot of worry and stress away when emergencies do happen. Dave Ramsey, the financial guru, recommends beginning with $1,000 and building that to three months’ worth of income. When you have this amount, you won’t need to use your credit cards anymore.
Five, pay off your credit cards, use cash/debit cards for purchases, and use credit wisely. As you are building your emergency fund, begin to pay off your credit card debt and start using cash or debit cards for purchases. Some experts suggest starting with the credit card that has the highest interest rate. Others suggest paying down the smallest debt first, experiencing that victory, and applying your payments from the first card to the second, and so on, creating a snowball effect to pay off the cards as soon as possible.
Cut up your cards as you pay them down so that you are not trapped or leveraged by your future for present-day pleasure, as the prodigal son was. If you must use a credit card, such as when traveling or making purchases online, be sure to pay off the debt monthly. If you are unable to do this, then it is better for you to cut up your cards and stop using them altogether.
And six, practice long-term savings and investing habits. Saving money is the number-one wise money management principle everyone should practice. We do not save merely for the sake of saving. There is a word for that: hoarding. Hoarding is frowned upon in the Bible as the practice of fools and those who fail to understand the purpose of life.
Saving, on the other hand, is meant to be purposeful. There are three types of savings we should have: emergency savings; savings for wants and goals; and retirement savings.
These six principles combined create a simple plan to help you become a better money manager. Remember, the prodigal son was welcomed home and loved by his father; but he had to make a new start and so do we.
And so the question I want to leave you with this morning is this: “Which do you find more admirable in a person – someone who is living at the edge of his or her means and thus cannot do the things that really matter, or someone who lives below his or her means and has a meaningful life of purpose? Do you admire the one who lives extravagantly, or the one who gives extravagantly?
The Shakers had a wonderful song called “Simple Gifts.” “’Tis the gift to be simple, ‘tis the gift to be free, ‘Tis the gift to come down where we ought to be, And when we find ourselves in the place just right, ‘Twill be in the valley of love and delight.”
Begin your financial plan now if you don’t have one. I want each of you to be in the valley of love and delight. Enough with the ways of the world, God wants you to discover joy through simplicity and generosity.