Balanced: Gaining & Maintaining Financial Stability (Week One)

"Opening The Books" 
So, I am preaching about money for the next four weeks.  I know that some folks might question the wisdom of doing such a thing.  "If you talk about money too much from the pulpit, people will think that's all you care about," they might say.  

I say "might" knowing full well that people have said such things when I have preached about money in the past.  

Here's the thing... Lots of Christians are uncomfortable when their pastor preaches on finances, but you can't ignore the fact that Jesus had so much to say about money that you can't be a follower of Jesus and be irresponsible financially.  In fact, Jesus said more about money than he did about heaven and hell combined, and more than any other "secular" topic.  

Also, there is a relationship with the way you handle your money and your devotion to God.  I know no one wants to hear things like that---especially Christians--but it's true.  

Full disclosure...  The sermon that I am preaching and many of the things I am writing down are the direct result of my study and adherence to a series by the same name that was preached by Andy Stanley, pastor of Northpoint Church in Atlanta.  I actually purchased the materials for this series when I was at a conference at Northpoint over the summer.  

Hey, if the pastor of a church with 20,000-plus members has no issues with preaching on money, I have no qualms about borrowing from him... and doing the same. 

The real reason why I chose to use Stanley's curriculum for this series has to do with my desire to do things a bit differently in terms of Stewardship teaching.  For the past few years, I have done a number of "Stewardship" sermon series, that challenged my congregation to rethink what it meant to be generous, to commit to Biblical tithing and a host of other giving related topics.  But "Balanced" takes a different approach.  Rather than encouraging people to faithfully give, the sermons in this series are designed to offer Biblical tools for my parishoners to better manage their finances.  

Honestly, when so many people are struggling financially, it doesn't really do much good to keep preaching the same kinds of sermons.  To put it another way, rather than continually fishing people out of the river to rescue them... why don't we go upstream to find out why they are falling in...  

First and foremost...  Before we can talk about money in this series, we need to address the concept of "balance."  

There are 3 Laws of Balance:  Reference Point, Constant Correction and Clear Objective.  

The first law assumes that balance requires a singular point of focus.  If you are standing on one foot, it causes you to sway and lose balance if you focus on your leg, your foot, your torso... but if you find a fixed point out beyond yourself and focus on it, you find you are able to remain balanced for longer.  

The second law assumes that there are constant corrections, tweaks and modifications that need to be made if you want to remain balanced.  I think of what it's like to balance a baseball bat in your palm from the small end the bat.  If you don't correct with the swaying and shifting weight, you'll drop the bat.  

Third, we need a clear objective.  Balance will allow you to remain where are if you need to be there.  It will also allow you to progress to where you want to be.  I think of what it's like to cross a river on large, slippery stones.  You can work hard to maintain your balance to keep from falling in while you stand, and you need extraordinarily balance at times to keep from taking a nosedive as you try to cross.  

The interesting thing about finances is that when we get out of balance and things are not going well, we often don't feel the effects right away.  Finances follow the law of the harvest, not the law of Pinocchio.  If you remember, Pinocchio's nose would immediately grow if he told a lie.  What if yours did the same?  You'd quit lying wouldn't you?  What if your poor financial habits had immediate consequences all of the time?  You'd probably be seeking new habits, right?  

With finances you sow now and reap later.  You always reap "later and greater," as Andy Stanley says. Regardless of what you've planted, the harvest will be greater than what you planted.  If you've planted and imbalanced financial process, then you will reap some seriously difficult crops.  

Additionally, finances do not follow a fairness doctrine.  There is nothing fair about the way that some people work hard their entire lives and have virtually nothing to show for it.  The old chestnut that if you just work hard and apply yourself, good things will happen to you doesn't really ring true any more in our culture---if ever.  There's no guarantee that hard work will make everything hunky dory with your money.  You have to be balanced.  

And here's something else... when we cry and moan about fairness what we are really saying is that somebody else needs to take responsibility for my financial well being.  Being balanced requires that I take that responsibility on to myself.  

There are also plenty of people who are imbalanced financially that don't have financial problems.  The more you have the easier it is to get out of balance.  While imbalance doesn't always create financial woes, it does always create stress.  

When our finances are unbalanced we can develop an improper value system at home.  Children can grow up with a distorted view of what is proper and improper when it comes to money.  Couples often argue that it doesn't seem like there is ever enough money.  Spouses might grow concerned about reconciling the future with the present and grow apart, especially if one partner focuses on immediate rather than future needs.  Consumer debt also creates a tremendous lack of balance for many people.  

When we are unbalanced it creates habits that can travel through life stages.  Someone who is single and who has practiced unbalanced behavior with their finances will often have a difficult time changing when they get married.  Some people enter retirement age with a slough of bad habits to change and soon find themselves living from retirement check to retirement check, constantly worrying about their future.  

When we are unbalanced we sometimes worry that we don't have enough when we have enough.  The word "enough" binds us up because we don't know how to measure it.  Also when we are unbalanced it makes it easy to hoard and hard to give.  It makes it easy to spend and hard to save, easy to presume on the future rather than plan for it.  

Up to now, I haven't said anything that Dave Ramsey wouldn't say on his radio show.  It's pretty practical stuff, to be honest.  And even someone who doesn't really buy into the "Christian" message I'm about to share can find some truth in what I've shared.  

But I firmly believe with all of my heart that when we are imbalanced financially thing are out of balance spiritually.  There is a relationship between your use of money and the condition of your heart.  Jesus told his disciples in Matthew 6:21, "For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also."  Basically, as your money goes, so goes your heart.  All you need to do to find out what is near and dear to me is to take a look at my bank statement to see where I spent my money.  It doesn't matter what I say as a pastor, my financial register tells the tale of my heart more than anything else.  

And here's something else... Have you ever felt like you had to compete with someone's stuff for their attention, their affection, their love?  I have to confess that I have been that guy that has sent my family the mixed message that they matter less than my stuff.  I have collection of movies that I sort of obsess over a bit.  I have nearly 400 or so, and they are all neatly arranged in our living room in shelves I bought and assembled from Ikea (God bless them).  I have them arranged according to genre.  So if you want to watch a Drama, you go to the Drama section and peruse the titles.  Same for Action, Westerns, Comedies, Family films, etc.  I tend to yell at people when my movies get scattered.  It's not something I'm especially proud of, but there you go.  

Maybe you've been on both ends of that kind of action. 

I've learned something recently... Jesus can't have total access to your heart until he gets total access to your treasure.  He told his followers once, "No one can serve two masters.  You'll either hate the one or love the other.  You can't serve both God and Money."  The actual word that Jesus uses here is "Mammon."  Some scholars believe that this is a play on words, because the word "mammon" is also a reference to an ancient god that required horribly costly sacrifices---even the sacrifice of one's children---in order to be appeased.  

Want to know something funny?  Jesus never asked for money.  The one time he did, he just asked for a coin to make a point, and it appears in the text that he just handed it back and said, "Render to Caesar the thing that belong to him and to God the things that belong to God."  

Jesus' goal was  not to get money... it was to keep it from getting his followers.  

My goal for this series is for my congregation and anyone who happens to be reading/listening understand that I am not preaching this because I want anything from you.  The church I serve is God's church, and God will provide for it as God sees fit.  It's ot about what I want from you, it's about what I want for you.  I want you to trust God with every area of your life, including your money.  I want you to be free to go where God wants you to go, and free to do what God wants you to do, and to give what God wants you to give.  I also want you to be secure and content with what God has blessed you with in whatever measure you have been blessed. 

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  1. Poor baby, poor baby. When you start crawling, please don't pull down movies or even touch your daddy's movie collection.


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