Enough: Defined by Generosity

November 25, 2018

Norwalk First United Methodist Church

Enough: Discovering Joy Through Simplicity and Generosity

Christ the King Sunday

Enough: Defined by Generosity

1 Timothy 6:17-19 & Proverbs 11:24-25

          When I meet with families to plan a funeral service for a loved one, I always ask, “Tell me something about your loved one that you want other people to know? What were his or her defining characteristics?”

Someday, for all of us, someone will sit with our family or friends and ask those same questions. What will their answers be? How will we want people to remember us? How will we be defined?

Several years ago, I officiated at two funeral services in the same week. One was a man, the other a woman. The man had very little experience with church; maybe some in his childhood years, but for all intent and purpose was considered one of the unchurched. The woman, on the other hand was a saint of the church, faithful to God and proud to witness to the saving grace of Jesus Christ.

The woman was defined by her generosity. If you came into her house and admired something she had, you went home with it. Giving was her defining characteristic. The man was defined much differently. One of his family members said that he was hard-pressed to give up his George Washingtons. These two people, both very good and loving people, were remembered and defined by two very different characteristics.

I don’t know about you, but I certainly hope that I will be remembered for my generosity. My hope for all Christians is that people would say of us, “He was defined by generosity” or “She lived what Jesus taught: ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive’” My hope is that we would learn the truth of Winston Churchill’s famous words: “We make a living by what we get, but we make a life by what we give.”

You see, at some point in our lives, we have to make a choice of loving money or of loving God. As you evaluate your own generosity, you have to beware of the danger signs of loving money. First, are you more concerned with making money than with honesty or giving a quality effort? Second, do you feel like you never have enough money? Third, do you tend to flaunt your money by wearing, driving, or living in what money buys? Fourth, do you resent giving money? And lastly, do you sin to get more money, for example, cheating on your income tax or the business expense account, or taking things from work? Your choices define your generosity.

Paul tells Timothy in our scripture today to tell the people not to fix their hope on the uncertainty of riches, because they can be gone tomorrow, but instead, to fix their hope on God, who gives us everything we need to enjoy this earthly and eternal life. How do you want to be defined? Would you pray with me?

PRAYER

Today is the last message in this series on “Enough – Discovering Joy through Simplicity and Generosity” based on the book by the same name by Adam Hamilton. In his book, Hamilton says this, “God created us with the willingness to give – to God and to others. This design is part of our makeup; we actually have the need to be generous. Yet there are two voices that “war” against our God-given impulse toward generosity, tempting us to keep or hoard what we have.”

The first voice is the voice of fear, which tells us, If I give, there may not be enough left over for me. We are afraid to be generous because we are afraid of what might happen to us. What if we don’t have enough to fill the gas tank or buy groceries or pay the bills? Fear, along with a misplaced idea about the true source of our security, keeps us from being generous and leads us to hoard what we have. Yet the truth is that hoarding offers us no real security in this world. Paul instructs Timothy to tell the people 18 …to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share.

The second voice is the voice of self-gratification, which tells us, If I give, I won’t have enough money to buy the stuff I need to make me happy. Our culture tells us that our lives consist in the abundance of our possessions and pleasurable experiences. So we find ourselves thinking, If I give, there won’t be enough left for me.

So how do we defeat these voices of fear and self-gratification? We can begin to defeat them when we give our lives to Christ, invite him to be Lord, and allow the Holy Spirit to begin changing us from the inside out. It is only then that our fears begin to dissipate and our aim in life shifts from seeking personal pleasure to pleasing God and caring for others. Although we still may wrestle with the voices from time to time, we are able to silence them more readily and effectively the more we grow in Christ. And the more we grow in Christ, realizing that our lives belong to him, the more generous we become. Generosity is a fruit of spiritual growth.

Hamilton says this: “As the Holy spirit continues to work in our lives, we begin to think less about ourselves and more about others. We begin to see the needs of others and wonder, If I don’t do something who will? As this change takes place within us, we experience real joy. We discover that we find more joy in doing things for other people and for God than we ever did in doing things for ourselves.”

The Bible gives us reasons to give to God and others. In Acts 20:35, Paul addressed the elders of the Ephesus church with this: 35 In everything I did, I showed you that by this kind of hard work we must help the weak, remembering the words the Lord Jesus himself said: ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’ ”  In other words, we find more joy in doing things for other people and for God than we ever did in doing things for ourselves.

In Psalm 24:1, King David praises God that life is a gift, and everything belongs to God. The earth is the Lord’s, and all it contains, the world, and those who dwell in it. Everything we have is a gift from God. You didn’t bring any of it with you when you came into this world, and you won’t take any of it with you when you leave. In his wonderful book, When the Game Is Over, It all Goes Back in the Box, John Ortberg says that at the end of our lives, everything goes back in the box – a box about six-and-a-half-feet long by two-feet wide, to be exact. You see, we don’t really own anything. God owns it all.

From the early days of the Old Testament, God’s people observed the practice of giving some portion of the best of what they had to God. A gift offered to God was called the first fruits or the tithe, and it equaled one-tenth of one’s flocks or crops or income. Abraham was the first to give a tithe or tenth. The law in Leviticus 27 says this: Thus all the tithe of the land, of the seed of the land or of the fruit of the tree, is the Lord’s; it is holy to the Lord.

But as Christians who live under the new covenant, we are not bound by the Law of Moses; we look to it as a guide. Yet most Christians agree that the tithe is a good guideline for our lives, and one that is pleasing to God. Though tithing can be a struggle, it is possible at virtually every income level. If you cannot tithe right away, take a step in that direction. Years ago, I didn’t start out tithing but figured what percentage of my net income I was giving to God. Then each year, I just increased it by 1% until I reached the 10% level. Perhaps you can give 2 percent or 5 percent or 7 percent. God understands where you are, and God will help you make the adjustments necessary for you to become more and more generous. I don’t miss what I give to the church, because I still have 90% of my income on which to live.

But here is what we have to remember. Tithing is a floor, not a ceiling. God calls us to grow beyond the tithe. We should strive to set aside an additional percentage of our income as offerings for other things that are important to us, such as mission projects, schools, church building funds, and other nonprofit organizations.

Folks, from the earliest biblical times, the primary way people worshipped God was by building an altar and offering the fruit of one’s labors upon it to God. They would burn the sacrifice of an animal or grain as a way of expressing their gratitude, devotion and desire to honor God. The scent of the offering was said to be pleasing to God. It wasn’t that God loved the smell of burnt meat and grain. Rather, God saw that people were giving a gift that expressed love, faith, and the desire to please and honor God; and this moved God’s heart. When given in this spirit, our offerings bless the Lord.

Without a doubt, God responds to our giving. In Luke 6:38, Jesus says this: Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.” I can say without question, that God has continued to richly bless me with what I have given him. If God can trust you and me in our generosity to him and others, then he will give you and me even more to do his kingdom work right here on earth.

Many times, and I think you know this to be true from your own experiences, our generosity usually does more for us than for those to whom we are giving it. Through our generosity, our hearts our changed. When we are generous – to God and to our families, friends, neighbors, and others who are in need – our hearts are filled with joy. They are enlarged by the very act of giving. This always reminds me of the Grinch, who, giving back to the dwellers of Whoville, enlarged his heart almost to the point of bursting.

Hamilton says this: “In the beginning, we may be hesitantly generous. We may be reluctant. But something happens to us in the midst of our giving, and we find ourselves becoming more generous. In this respect, generosity is similar to love and gratitude. Sometimes we may not feel love, but when we choose to act in loving ways, loving feelings begin to flow. Sometimes we may not feel like giving thanks, but the best way to cultivate a heart of gratitude is to give thanks in all circumstances.” Likewise, when we give generously, we become more generous.

Generosity changes us, filling us with joy and filling our lives with blessings. When we are generous with what we have, we find that unexpected blessings flow back into our lives, catching us by surprise. Somewhere along the way, as we see our acts of generosity helping others and perhaps even changing the world, we say in wonder and amazement, “Wow, look what happened,” and we find ourselves blessed. What’s more, as our generosity blesses others, they are changed, too.

Malachi 3:10 says this: 10 Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. Test me in this,” says the Lord Almighty, “and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that you will not have room enough for it.

Many Christians have it wrong. They say that if you give, then God will give more back to you. But that is not how it works. We do not give to God so that we can get something in return. But when we give to God and to others, the blessings seem to come back to us. Of course, there is no guarantee that if you tithe you will never lose your job or never have other bad things happen to you. Nevertheless, when we give generously, the unmistakable blessings of God flow into our lives.

So the question comes back to us once again. When the pastor sits down with your family to plan your funeral service, how do you want to be defined? What will be your most defining characteristic? Did you have a love for money or did you have a love for God? Will they say of you, he or she was a generous person? Will they say of you, my loved one discovered the joy of God through simplicity and generosity? Will they say, my loved one had enough.

Enough: Cultivating Contentment

November 18, 2018

Norwalk First United Methodist Church

Enough: Discovering Joy Through Simplicity and Generosity

26th Sunday after Pentecost

Enough: Cultivating Contentment

Hebrews 13:5-6 & Luke 12:13-21

          We just heard this in our scripture reading: And [Jesus] said to them, “Take care! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of possessions.” In recent years we have witnessed a number of devastating natural disasters, including hurricanes, floods, tornadoes, and wildfires. Natural disasters remind us that everything in this world is temporary.

If our stuff is taken away by bankruptcy or plundered by thieves or blown away by a tornado or burned in a wildfire, we must remember that material things are only temporary. This is why we can say with Jesus, “[My] life does not consist in the abundance of possessions” (Luke 12:15).

I believe that. I believe it, first, because Jesus said it. I also believe it because somehow I intuitively know that it’s true.

Yet our culture is shouting that it’s not true. The world continually tells us that our lives do consist in the abundance of our possessions. You and I are bombarded with messages such as, If you had a little bit more, you’d be happier. If you had this thing that you currently do not have, you’d find more satisfaction in life. If you had a bigger house or a nicer car or more fashionable clothes, you’d be happy – at least happier than you are right now.

The result is a wrestling in our hearts. Despite the fact that we say we believe Jesus’ words, we still find ourselves devoting a great deal of our time, talents, and resources to the acquisition of more stuff. We say that our lives do not consist in the abundance of our possessions, but we live as if they do. The result is Restless Heart Syndrome. More about that in a moment, but first, would you pray with me?

PRAYER

Perhaps you’ve heard of restless leg syndrome, a condition in which one has twitches and contractions in the legs. Well, Adam Hamilton, in his book “Enough” says that Restless Heart Syndrome or RHS works in a similar way, but in the heart – or soul. He writes that “its primary symptom is discontent. We find that we are never satisfied with anything. The moment we acquire something, we scarcely take time to enjoy it before we want something else. We are perennially discontent. This is the nature of RHS, and it is a syndrome that, if left unchecked, can destroy us.”

Now, there is a certain discontent that God intended us to have, a discontent that is actually a virtue. God wired our hearts so that they would be discontent with certain things, causing us to seek the only One who can fully satisfy us. We are meant to yearn to know God more, to cultivate a deeper prayer life, to pursue justice and holiness with increasing fervor, to love others more, and to grow in grace and character and wisdom with each passing day.

The problem is that those things we should be content with, our temporary worldly possessions, are the very things we find ourselves hopelessly discontented with. For example, we find ourselves discontented with our stuff, our jobs, our churches, our children, and our spouses. God must look down on us and feel the way we feel when we give someone we really care for a special gift and he or she asks for the gift receipt. It’s as if saying to God, “I don’t like what you have given me, God; and I want to trade it in and get something better than what you gave me.”

We seem to look for reasons to be unhappy with our stuff so that we can go out and buy new stuff. We love stuff more than we love who we are. The wise writer of Hebrews said this in chapter 13: Keep your lives free from the love of money, and be content with what you have; for [God] has said, “I will never leave you or forsake you.” So we can say with confidence, “The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid.” Our contentment comes in knowing that God is always with us, not in the fact that our stuff is always with us. We should be happy and content in God and yet we always seem to be searching for that next thing that will make us happy.

Some of us do the same thing when it comes to the church. We have an illusion that things are going to be perfect in the church. So when we begin to see all of the “warts,” usually as we become more deeply involved in the church family and as we begin serving the congregation and the community, we become discontented. There’s that usher who wasn’t very friendly to us, and that time the pastor said something that hurt our feelings, and the incident when no one called after we volunteered for something; and before long, all we can see is what’s wrong with the church. We can’t see the good stuff anymore. We lose our focus on God.

So we go church shopping and find another church. We hang around there for a couple of years until our feelings get hurt or we are disappointed in some way, and then we go looking for another church again. Somehow we believe the grass is always greener on the other side. But we soon learn that that is not true. I think it was the humorous Erma Bombeck who said, “The grass is always greener over the septic tank.” And folks, that is about the only place.

So with all of that in mind, let me outline four keys to cultivating contentment in your life. The Apostle Paul is an excellent example of contentment. In his letter to the Philippians, Paul wrote of the “secret” to his contentment. He said, “I have learned to be content with whatever I have. I know what it is to have little, and I know what it is to have plenty. In any and all circumstances I have learned the secret of being well-fed and of going hungry, of having plenty and of being in need” (Philippians 4:11-12). When Paul wrote those words, he was sitting in a prison cell in Rome, waiting for the news of whether or not he would be executed.

The first key to cultivating contentment is to repeat these four words: “It could be worse.” Say them with me, “It could be worse.” John Ortberg, pastor at Menlo Park Presbyterian Church in California, says there are four words we should say whenever we find ourselves discontented with something or someone: “It could be worse.” This is essentially the practice of looking on the bright side or finding the silver lining.

When you are climbing into your 10-year-old car, it could be worse. You could have no car at all. When you go to work and are faced with problems and difficulties and disappointments, say, “It could be worse.” You could have no job at all like the 14 million other Americans out there. These four words, “It could be worse,” is recognizing that no matter what we may not like about a thing or person or circumstance, we can always find something good to focus on if only we will choose to do so.

The second key to cultivating contentment is to ask this question: “For how long will this make me happy?” So often we buy something, thinking it will make us happy, only to find that the happiness lasts about as long as it takes to open the box. You’ve all seen it at Christmas time when your kids open their presents. There is a moment of satisfaction when we make the purchase, but the item does not continue to bring satisfaction over a period of time. My attic is full of things that I thought would make me happy.

The third key to cultivating contentment is developing a grateful heart. This is one of the most important keys to contentment and happiness in life. Gratitude is essential if we are to be content. In his letter to the Thessalonians in chapter 5, the Apostle Paul said that we are to “give thanks in all circumstances.” Contentment comes when we spend more time giving thanks for what we have than thinking about what’s missing or wrong in our lives. Hamilton says this in his book, “When we begin to be grateful and express gratitude to God, over time we find our hearts have changed and we are grateful for what we have. Then we are able to be content.”

The fourth key to contentment is found in this question: “Where does my soul find true satisfaction?” The world answers this question by telling us that we find satisfaction in ease and luxury and comfort and money. The Bible, however, answers the question very differently. From Genesis to Revelation, it tells us that we find our satisfaction in God alone.

Matthew 22: 37 Jesus replied: “ ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ 38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ If we keep our focus on these two things, we will find satisfaction for our souls and lasting contentment.

Just to review, the four keys to cultivating contentment are:

  1. repeating the words: “It could be worse.”
  2. asking the question: “For how long will this make me happy?”
  3. developing a grateful heart, and
  4. discovering where your soul finds true satisfaction, in things or in God?

In addition to cultivating contentment in our lives, we also need to cultivate simplicity. Simplicity says less is more. Simplicity says we do not need as much clutter in our lives. More stuff means more maintenance, which involves time, energy, and resources. The truth is that more stuff makes us less happy. There comes a point when we have enough stuff, and everything above and beyond that level only creates stress. Contentment and simplicity go hand in hand. Let me quickly give you five steps for simplifying your life.

First, set a tangible goal to reduce your own personal consumption and the production of waste in your life. For example, when I go to Aldi’s grocery shopping, I take my own canvas bags and refuse any extra packaging. Or whenever you make a purchase, look at the mid-grade instead of the top-of-the-line product. Reduce your utilities by 10 percent by setting the thermostat back a couple of degrees when you are away during the day and asleep at night. You get the picture. Find other ways to reduce your consumption and live below your means.

Second, before making a purchase, ask yourself two questions: “Do I really need this?” and, “Why do I want this?” These questions will help you to determine the true motivation of your desired purchase. Is it a need, a self-esteem issue, or something else?

Third, use something up before buying something new. Take good care of the things you buy and use them until they are empty, broken, or worn out. Buy things that are made to last; and, when buying things that have a short lifespan, spend your money wisely.

Fourth, plan low-cost entertainment that enriches. When it comes to choosing entertainment for your family or friends, plan things that are simple and cheap. You’ll be amazed at how much more pleasure you derive from low-cost, simple activities.

And lastly, ask yourself, “Are there major changes that would allow me to simplify my life?” Consider selling a car and buying one you pay for in full, downsizing your home, or getting rid of a club membership you don’t use. Ask yourself questions related to your home, possessions, job, and activities to identify some significant changes that will simplify your life. Remember, if you cannot do all the things God is calling you to do and you’re unable to find joy in your life, perhaps it’s time to simplify in some major ways.

In closing, simplifying our lives requires the practice of self-control. Solomon wrote in proverbs 25: Like a city whose walls are broken down is a person who lacks self-control.” When a city’s walls are broken through, the enemy can march right in and destroy it. There is no longer any protection.

Likewise, self-control is a wall around your heart and life that protects you from yourself, from temptation, and from sins that are deadly and ultimately can destroy you. When temptation knocks on our door for instant gratification we need to stop and ask ourselves

  1. “What are the long-term consequences of this action?”
  2. “Is there a higher good or a better outcome if I used this resource of time, money, or energy in another way?” and finally,
  3. “Will this action honor God?”

With all of this in mind, I ask you this: “Which tent will you live in?” Will you live in discon-tent or con-tent-ment? You and you alone determine which “tent” will be yours. You choose in large part by deciding what life is about. If you decide that “life does not consist in the abundance of your possessions,” unlike the rich man in our Luke scripture, then you are choosing contentment.

Choosing contentment means we look to God as our Source, giving thanks for what we have; we ask God to give us the right perspective on money and possessions and to change our hearts each day; we decide to live simpler lives, wasting less and conserving more; and we choose to give more generously.

Don’t be like the rich man in our scripture who stored up things in this life and ignored God. God said to him, “You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself? This is how it will be with anyone who stores up things for himself but is not rich toward God.”

Enough: Wisdom and Finance

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?

PRAYER

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.

Enough: When Dreams Become Nightmares

November 4, 2018

Norwalk First United Methodist Church

Enough: Discovering Joy Through Simplicity and Generosity

All Saints Sunday

Enough: When Dreams Become Nightmares

Ecclesiastes 5:8-20

          In 1892, at the age of 53, John D. Rockefeller, the founder of Standard Oil in Cleveland, was the world’s only billionaire, earning about a million dollars a week. Someone once asked Rockefeller, “How much money does it take to satisfy a man?” Rockefeller replied, “Just a little bit more than he has.”

That seems to be our dream in the American culture; to have just a little bit more. If I can have just a little bit more then I will be happy. Well, Solomon, in our scripture today from Ecclesiastes argues that that may not be true.

I am excited about this month. It is that time when we all get a chance to think about our wealth, and we all have wealth, and our relationship to God based on that wealth. When I say we all have wealth, we do, because wealth is a relative thing. We determine our wealth based on what we see others may have or don’t have, but we all have wealth. We came into this world with nothing and we will leave this world with nothing, so what we have in between those times is our wealth. Solomon says in verse 15, As he had come naked from his mother’s womb, so will he return as he came. He will take nothing from the fruit of his labor that he can carry in his hand. This also is a grievous evil – exactly as a man is born, thus will he die.

          But I want to tell you today, that you have a greater wealth than anything money can buy or the possessions you can amass. As we listen to the messages through this month, I hope you will discover the wealth that you truly have beyond the material and discover personal joy through simplicity and generosity. Besides the Bible, I will be basing my sermons on Adam Hamilton’s book “Enough: Discovering Joy through Simplicity and Generosity.” Adam Hamilton is the senior pastor of The United Methodist Church of the Resurrection in Leawood, Kansas.

He says this: “For most people, the American Dream has to do with a subconscious desire for achieving success and satisfying the desire for material possessions. It is the opportunity to pursue more than what we have, to gain more than what we have, and to meet success. And we tend to measure our success by the stuff that we possess.”

A European philosopher who once came to America in the nineteenth century made this observation: “Americans are extremely eager in the pursuit of immediate material pleasures and are always discontented with the position that they occupy…They think about nothing but ways of changing their lot and bettering it.” (Alexis de Tocqueville)

That is not so bad; however, consuming, acquiring, and buying have become the American Dream. The love of money and the things money can buy is a primary or secondary motive behind most of what we Americans do. We want to consume, acquire, and buy our way to happiness – and we want it now.

But the “American Dream” has become the American nightmare for many of us. It is due to two distinct yet related illnesses that impact us both socially and spiritually. More about those in a minute, but first, would you pray with me?

PRAYER

As I was saying a minute ago, the American Dream has become an American Nightmare due to two distinct yet related illnesses that impact us both socially and spiritually.

The first illness is called affluenza. Affluenza is the constant need for more and bigger and better stuff – as well as the effect that this need has on us. It is the desire to acquire, and most of us have been infected by this virus to some degree.

It’s no secret that shopping is one of Americans’ favorite pastimes. Shopping has become an American way of life. In fact, I don’t even go to stores much anymore, I just sit down at my computer, order what I want, and it is delivered to my door! Every newspaper we pick up and every television show we watch is filled with advertisements hoping to convince us that we need something else.

An article on Slate.com noted that according to the National Homebuilders Association, the average American home went from 1,660 square feet in 1973 to 2,598 square feet in 2013 and yet we still have to rent storage space to hold all of our things. Self-storage space in America is continually increasing, and today there is estimated to be 1.9 billion square feet of self-storage space in America. An entire market has developed for storing the stuff we’re enticed to buy – often with money we do not actually have. And that leads us to our second disease that goes along with affluenza. It’s called credit-itis.

Credit-itis is an illness that is brought on by the opportunity to buy now and pay later, and it feeds on our desire for instant gratification. Our economy today is built on the concept of credit-itis. Unfortunately, it has exploited our lack of self-discipline and allowed us to feed our affluenza, wreaking havoc in our personal and national finances.

It didn’t used to be that way. When I was growing up, my mom would take us kids every August to J. C. Penney’s to try on our fall and winter clothing, including our winter coats, for school. I would think, “Why are we trying on winter coats when it is so hot outside?” But we would try them on anyway and then Mom would put them on layaway. And then, when it was so cold outside you could hardly stand it, Mom would finally make the last payment on the coats, we would get them out of layaway, and finally wear them.

What an odd idea; to actually save up the money and pay for something in full before taking the item home! More and more Americans today are going deeper and deeper in debt in order to have what they want now and pay for it later.

The average credit card debt in America in 1990 was around $3,000. Today it’s over $9,000. The average sale is around 125 percent higher if we use a credit card than if we pay cash, because it doesn’t feel real when we use plastic instead of cash. Remember, credit-itis is not limited to purchases made with credit cards; it extends to car loans, mortgages, and other loans. The life of the average car loan and home mortgage continues to increase, while the average American’s savings rate continues to decline. The average college student graduates with $19,000 in student loans and $2,200 in credit card debt. We have become a credit-crazed society.

Many of us are now living the American nightmare, and it leads to debt collectors, foreclosures, and personal bankruptcy – not to mention tremendous stress. In fact, the number one cause of divorce is financial issues. Personally and as a nation we are suffering the consequences of our addiction to consumption and compulsive buying. This is because there is a deeper problem – one that is within us.

There is a spiritual issue beneath the surface of affluenza and credit-itis. Adam Hamilton says this in his book, Enough: “Inside us there is a brokenness; the Bible calls it sin. 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. There is a sin nature within us.”

Solomon saw this when he went to the city hall and the market. Verses 8 & 9: 8 If you see the poor oppressed in a district, and justice and rights denied, do not be surprised at such things; for one official is eyed by a higher one, and over them both are others higher still. 9 The increase from the land is taken by all; the king himself profits from the fields. Solomon knew the human heart and said don’t be surprised by what you see. There is corruption all around. He saw corrupt politicians oppressing the poor. He saw government officials violating the law by using their authority to help themselves to the possessions of others. He saw various officials pocketing the money that should have gone to the innocent poor.

Solomon wanted a government that was both honest and efficient, but man’s heart being what it is, the temptation to dishonest gain is always there. Lord Acton wrote to Bishop Mandell Creighton in 1887, “Power tends to corrupt; absolute power corrupts absolutely.” I ask you, “Does any of this still sound familiar?” Our deep spiritual issues with affluenza and credit-itis tend to rob others, but they also tend to rob us. That is what Solomon is writing about in verses 10-20. And because of that, the devil plays upon this sin nature, those weaknesses in our souls. Satan’s delight is to undermine our effectiveness as Christ’s people, replacing our joy with misery.

Jesus said, “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly” (John 10:10). The devil doesn’t need to tempt us to do drugs or to steal or to have an extramarital affair in order to destroy us. All he needs to do is convince us to keep pursuing the American Dream – to keep up with the Joneses, borrow against our futures, enjoy more than we can afford, and indulge ourselves. By doing that, he will rob us of joy, make us slaves, and keep us from doing God’s will. Paul wrote this to Timothy: 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  (1 Timothy 6:10).

Some people treat money as though it were a god. They love it, make sacrifices for it, and think that it can do anything. Their minds are filled with thoughts about it; their lives are controlled by getting it and guarding it; and when they have it, they experience a great sense of security. What faith in the Lord does for the Christian, money does for many unbelievers. The person who loves money cannot be satisfied no matter how much is in the bank account – because the human heart was made to be satisfied only by God. Verse 10: Whoever loves money never has money enough; whoever loves wealth is never satisfied with his income. This too is meaningless.

Hamilton says this: “Here’s what the devil knows: If he can get you in debt, he can make you a slave. If he can convince you to spend all you have, you’ll never offer your tithes to God, never help the poor as you could have, and never use what you do have to accomplish God’s purposes. If he can tempt you to become a slave to creditors, you will not know simplicity, generosity, or joy. Satan will have neutralized your effectiveness for the Kingdom and choked the gospel out your life.”

Folks, those are harsh words, but they are truthful words. You and I 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. But there is good news. The Bible offers solutions to our diseases of affluenza and credit-itis. We will learn more about these solutions in the coming weeks. You will want to invite your friends to worship next week to learn about the six financial planning principles that will help us to manage our money with wisdom and faith.

When you and I accepted Christ as our Lord and Savior, we received a changed heart. Over the years you have heard testimony to that right here in this church. But in a real sense we need a heart change every morning. Each morning we should get down on our knees and say, “Lord, help me to be the person you want me to be today. Take away the desires that shouldn’t be there, and help me be single-minded in my focus and my pursuit of you.” As we do this, God comes and cleanses us from the inside out, purifying our hearts.

A key part of finding financial and spiritual freedom is found in simplicity and in exercising restraint. With the help of God, we can

  1. simplify our lives and silence the voices constantly telling us we need more
  2. live counter-culturally by living below, not above, our means
  3. build into our budgets the money to buy with cash instead of credit
  4. build into our budgets what we need to be able to live generously and faithfully.

In the closing verses of our scripture today, Solomon tells us that the ability to enjoy your work and accept our lot in life and to enjoy life’s blessings is a gift from God. If we rejoice in God’s daily blessings then we should never have any regrets about the life we have lived. We don’t need more; we just need to appreciate what we have, what God has given us. We need to be good stewards of God’s gifts to us.

Listen to Solomon’s closing words once again: 18 Then I realized that it is good and proper for a man to eat and drink, and to find satisfaction in his toilsome labor under the sun during the few days of life God has given him—for this is his lot. 19 Moreover, when God gives any man wealth and possessions, and enables him to enjoy them, to accept his lot and be happy in his work—this is a gift of God. 20 He seldom reflects on the days of his life, because God keeps him occupied with gladness of heart.