Balanced: Week 4 "Developing A Plan"

This week I am concluding the sermon series that I've been working on for the past four weeks:  "Balanced: Gaining and Maintaining Financial Stability." 

I have always had a hunch that whenever I have preached on money there are some folks who make the conscious decision to stay away from church.  That got confirmed this week after I heard one of my parishoners told her friends that she wasn't going to attend church during this sermon series.  This was personally kind of icky for me, but honestly I am not surprised.

I am sure that there are lots of ways that people might want to parse it, but in my mind there's pretty much only one reason why Christians don't want to hear sermons on money and how it affects our relationship with God:  Guilt.  Those of us who call ourselves Christians don't want to hear what the Bible has to say about money because we prefer our relationship with God to be separate from our relationship with our cash.

The truth of the matter is that our relationship with God is directly reflected in the way we handle our finances.   Period.  Jesus talked more about money than about any other secular topic because he knew that his followers would struggle to follow if their minds were on their money and their money was on their mind.   Sorry.  I had a hip/hop moment there.

The sermon this week is about how we can organize, prioritize and possibly reorder your financial world.  Pretty simple stuff.  Really.

Listen, there are 5 things that you can do with your money:  You can Spend it.  You can Repay Debt.  You can Pay Taxes.  You can Save it.  You can Give it.  When you take a close look at this list you deduce the following:  Items 1, 2 & 4 are all about you.  Item 3 is about the Government.  And way down the list in item 5 is God.

Funny.  We have no qualms about going to God to help us keep this order in place.... "God, I don't have enough money to pay my taxes and my credit card bill, so could you just show up and help me out with all that, and I promise to keep you dead last.  Thanks a bunch."

Something else.  What governs the % that goes toward these 5 categories?  Priorities and Self Control.  It's not rocket science.  When you have your priorities right and you are exhibiting self control in your finances you will find that your financial life is an open door to God.  If you don't, it's like you slammed the door in God's face.

In Malachi 3:7-10 the prophet Malachi is writing to the leaders of the people of Israel.  It seems that they were bringing diseased or leftover animals to their religious sacrifices, and then they were wondering why God wasn't honoring them.  "How do we show our devotion to you so that you will be devoted to us?" they ask.  God replies, "Return to me and I will return to you.  You've been robbing me, and here's how you've been doing it.... You're holding back.  Bring the tithe into the storehouse.  Test me on this, and see if I don't bless you immeasurably."

Just so we're clear... A tithe is 10 percent.  Israel had 2 tithes.  1 was for the Levites and the upkeep of their "church," the 2nd was for a feast in Jerusalem that was held by the community.  Every 3rd year the the 2nd tithe was dedicated to the poor.  But the people were holding back, giving leftovers, and sacrifices that were improper.   God basically says, "Put me first, and I'll show up!"

Christians need to understand something.  This isn't about getting your money... It's about getting your heart.  It's about priorities. 

In Matthew 6 Jesus gives this admonition to his disciples:  "Where your treasure is, that's where your heart is."   Then in the same passage he tells his followers that they don't need to worry about having stuff.  "Your Heavenly Father knows what you need," he tells them.  "But if you seek first the kingdom of God and God's righteousness... all these things will be given to you." 

When we prioritize God's interests financially, we are offering an invitation to his activity in our lives because God waits to be welcomed.  The direction/priority of my money reflects the direction/priority of my heart.  If we are going to honor God our priorities must represent his priorities.  We need to flip that list.

And I think we can simplify the list.   How about this?  Give.  Save.  Live. 

Give before you spend.  No more leftovers for God.
Save before you spend... even if what you are saving seems like just a little. Live on the rest... even if you have to adjust how you live. 

Too many people think in terms of amounts rather than percentages when it comes to their finances.  This Give/Save/Live system needs to ebb and flow with your income.  And lest you think you are awesome, most of us are living off a percentage of our income right now, we just don't know what it is.  So why not choose it ahead of time and take control of it?

And maybe this is the time when you need to reexamine what you're giving... 

Jesus had a great teaching moment with his disciples when it came to giving percentages...  It seems while they were hanging out at the temple watching people come and go, a widow walked up and dropped in a tiny offering after all of these rich guys had been dumping in a ton of coin.  Jesus got all excited because the woman had given all she had... or all she had to live on.  "Those other guys gave from their abundance," he said.  "She gave from her poverty and gave so much more..." 

Imagine if every Christian took this seriously.  Think of the amount of debt that would be reduced.  Think of the financial stability that would occur in families and the marriages that would be saved.  Think of the missions and ministries that could get done because people had the margin to be generous.  This isn't something that we can just add on to our Christian life.  It's an essential.  We can't talk a big game about being close to Jesus and ignore the impact our financial instability has on our relationship with him.  

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