SERMON from 1-8-12: “Unstuck in Your Finances” Part 1 of 5

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My apologies to all of you who have come to expect my sermons posted sometime during the week after they were preached.  December was a hectic time (like I need to tell you) and will learn better blog management as I go along.  Here’s to a great 2012!

This sermon is the first in a 5-part series entitled “Unstuck!”  This week, we will look at how to begin to get unstuck in your finances.  Next week, we will look at getting unstuck in your field–your job.  Then, we will look at friends, family and faith.  The idea for this series came from Nelson Searcy of The Journey Church in New York.  For those who may be going, “huh?’, he used to work with Rick Warren at Saddleback.  That is nothing more than trivia for your head.  Here is the first installment of “Unstuck!”

Proverbs 10.1-15

1 The proverbs of Solomon.

A wise child makes a glad father,

but a foolish child is a mother’s grief.

2 Treasures gained by wickedness do not profit,

but righteousness delivers from death.

3 The Lord does not let the righteous go hungry,

but he thwarts the craving of the wicked.

4 A slack hand causes poverty,

but the hand of the diligent makes rich.

5 A child who gathers in summer is prudent,

but a child who sleeps in harvest brings shame.

6 Blessings are on the head of the righteous,

but the mouth of the wicked conceals violence.

7 The memory of the righteous is a blessing,

but the name of the wicked will rot.

8 The wise of heart will heed commandments,

but a babbling fool will come to ruin.

9 Whoever walks in integrity walks securely,

but whoever follows perverse ways will be found out.

10 Whoever winks the eye causes trouble,

but the one who rebukes boldly makes peace.

11 The mouth of the righteous is a fountain of life,

but the mouth of the wicked conceals violence.

12 Hatred stirs up strife,

but love covers all offenses.

13 On the lips of one who has understanding wisdom is found,

but a rod is for the back of one who lacks sense.

14 The wise lay up knowledge,

but the babbling of a fool brings ruin near.

15 The wealth of the rich is their fortress;

the poverty of the poor is their ruin

Unstuck in Your Finances

By way of an introduction, I might just tell you that we are beginning a 5-week sermon series today.  It is entitled “Unstuck!”  As we are starting a new year, and a good chunk of you missed my official “New Year’s Resolution” sermon last week (wink, wink, nudge, nudge, say no more), I have decided to drag that out into five weeks of talking about New Year’s Resolutions.

No, no.  But we are going to focus on things that are important to the Christian that often become a source of stress or stickiness.  We start off with the most challenging thing to talk about in church…finances.  This is because some of the more interesting topics can wait for later, not just to “get it out of the way.”  Next week, we will look at getting Unstuck in our field–our job.  Whatever your job might be.  Then, we look at the areas of friendship, family and faith.  We are going to finish with faith because that should prepare us for the season of lent, which begins towards the end of February.

Here’s a joke.  It’s not a good one and it is borderline offensive, but I’m going to tell it to you anyway.

A Catholic, a Protestant and a Jew are discussing tithing. They draw a circle in chalk on the pavement below them.  The Catholic says: “We should take the money and throw it in the air, and whatever lands inside the circle, we give to God.”  The Protestant says: “No, we should throw it in the air and whatever lands outside the circle we give to God.”  The Jew says: “No, we throw it in the air; whatever God wants, He keeps!”

Other than tying into the stereotypical views of different subcultural groups in order to be funny, this joke points to a very big problem for people today.  That is, financial planning or responsibility is often no more highly planned for than that!  Right?

It may seem pretty strange to hear a “sermon” on financial planning or financial concerns of any type.  When it comes to the church and finances, it can be difficult for us to conceive of mixing one with the other.  Thanks to charlatans like Benny Hinn and Robert Tilton–who swindle people out of their money in the name of the church–many people have given up the community of faith.  Many more faithful attenders have given up giving money to the church because of fears that it won’t be used correctly.

The church doesn’t talk about finances all that much.  Other than learning from an early age or from the moment you are introduced into the culture of the church, you have the idea implanted into your head that it is a right thing to do to give 10% of what you earn and return it to God.  That typically happens in the form of an offering plate passed by your face in the middle of the service.  Other than that, the church–at least any church that I have ever been a part–doesn’t speak of financial matters.

When it does–and it has any cross-over application to successful financial planning–you can bet that verses from Proverbs will be mentioned.  I would encourage you to read a book on success in business and finance.  When you do, no doubt you will read a word or two from our holy book.  From our passage this morning, “A slack hand causes poverty, but the hand of the diligent makes rich.”  It says in Proverbs 21.20, “Precious treasure remains in the house of the wise, but the fool devours it.”  In other words, the wise save and the fool squanders.  These are not horrible little sayings for us to have as part of our vernacular, but we also have a New Testament where Jesus tells us things that–while not running contrary to Proverbs–are different to try to understand in light what we hear elsewhere.

Jesus tells the rich, young ruler that he must give away all that he owns in order to reach the pearly gates.  He also harshly confronted a group of merchants for conducting business within the house of his father.  Jesus said things like “blessed are the poor” and “whatever you do for the least of these.”  Which is it, then?  Do we make sure to save all we have so that ourselves and our loved ones are never in a financially stressful situation?  Do we give away all we have to ensure that we can get into heaven?

This issue is tough and probably why we only hear about it when the church is in trouble or it is that time of year–stewardship season.  As United Methodists, we often look to our church fathers as a way to understand things.  John Wesley–the founder of Methodism–often spoke of money and preached against its ills.  He preached a sermon entitled “The Use of Money” where he outlined a very simple plan for our financial lives.  Essentially, “earn all you can, save all you can and give all you can.”  Important to note are his warnings against doing just anything in pursuit of money and allowing this method to be an excuse to ruthlessly seek profit in life.  Earn all you can.  Save all you can.  Give all you can.

That’s great, but we still have lives to live.  The lives we live are affected by money and our search for and use of it.  Oftentimes, the stress of it all can push us to avoid dealing with the problem.  Sometimes, we feel like we are getting ahead, only to be pulled back by something unexpected.  Or, we just can’t seem to get ahead, no matter how hard we try.  Probably, the thing that is hampering you today is something I haven’t even mentioned, but you still feel stuck.  How do we get unstuck in our finances?

First, you have to know know where you are.  It’s appropriate that we are talking about this right after the holidays, because the wrap is that many people–possibly including some of us here today–accrue a lot of debt during the holidays.  That’s been true for quite some time.  However, debt isn’t something that is a problem during the holidays.  That’s a 24/7/365 kind of problem.  If you are in debt, how far?  Are you living from paycheck to paycheck?  Are you living on credit?  Are you able to save anything?  Are you able to tithe?  The only way to get to where you want to go or should be going is to know where you currently are.  You must know the answers to these questions for you to know how well you are doing, or how much change you need to undergo.

An insinuation I am making is that there are some of us who let ourselves become so overwhelmed with our financial situations that we become stuck–we ignore it.  The problem only gets worse that way.

Second–and this flows out of the first one–you have to have an idea of where you are going.  In short, you need to have a plan.  So many people today fly by the seat of their financial pants.  They work, they live, they spend.  They work, they live, they spend.  It is a cycle that one can get into.  They expect that everything will be okay or they will be able to get out of trouble if it arises.  What is the old chess adage?  Think three steps ahead.  It’s the same with your finances.  What could happen?  If this happens, what would I do?  If this doesn’t happen, what will I do instead?  To anticipate the needs you may have will help you to be more prepared when the time comes.  Do not trust that things will take care of themselves.

However, there is so much of life that we cannot anticipate.  There are so many mishaps and dangers that may befall us, how could we possibly prepare for something like that?  The key, then, is to make sure that you involve God in your financial lives.  We seek–hopefully–God in the rest of our lives, why shouldn’t we do it when it comes to our pocketbooks?

Which brings us to our third step in becoming Unstuck in our finances: trusting God.  When I mentioned that we must plan and anticipate, some of you may have thought back to the words of Jesus when he said, “do not worry about tomorrow?”  This is true, but his words are seen in the light of the hope and security we find in the arms of God.  Additionally, on the Jesus front, what was the thing that Jesus talked more about than any other thing besides the kingdom of God?  Money.  So, it is certainly important for us to properly understand it–and mostly know how not to let ourselves be defeated by it (or stuck in worry about it.)

Let me go back to the words of John Wesley.  Earn all you can.  Save all you can.  Give all you can.  Given certain events in the news over the last few months, some of you may be pondering these things in light of things you have heard from the Tea Party and Occupy Wall Street.  Let me take you away from an understanding which includes ideas from these two groups.  Partly, because ideas from both groups of people can be found in Wesley’s statement, but mainly because we are talking about our relationship to God and the gifts–however great or small they are–he has blessed us with.  We need to know that Wesley is telling us that we need to do all of these things with the understanding that they need to be done with the things of God on our minds.

We may not ruthlessly profiteer on the backs of and at the expense of others.  We must be satisfied with what we have.  We must be aware that we have an obligation to support the church and God’s people with all of what we have.  Why?  Because we owe it to God.  All of what we have can be accredited to God.  What we have isn’t really ours.  Even if we worked harder–in our minds–than anybody else to get where we are.  What we have is a gift from God.  We need to be satisfied with it and use some of it for the benefit of his kingdom.

This is the most difficult and most insignificant of the lessons in this series.  We don’t talk about money in the church precisely because it is an issue which can be uncomfortable to talk about.  But we need to do it.  We also need to make sure we are faithfully using the gifts God has given us.  Instead of letting ourselves be frozen, or stuck, by our poor situation, we can fully rely upon God to give us guidance to get unstuck in our finances.

We trust him–hopefully–with everything else in our lives.  Why not trust him to help us get unstuck in our finances.

AMEN

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