Balanced Week Three: Back in the Black

This week I'll be preaching the third part of a four part sermon series on money.  The focus this week is on debt.  I rather like the sermon title.  It makes me want to rock and or roll.

Just to refresh...  There are Three Laws of Balance:  Reference Point, Constant Correction and Clear Objective

In the first part of the series we learned that we need to "be knowing where our money is going."  I asked our church members to track their spending so that they could pay more attention to where their treasure was going.  Jesus said that where our treasure is, that's where our heart is and the only way to figure out how to get your heart in the right place is to know exactly what you've been spending your money on every week.  This is our "Reference Point" as we seek to stay balanced. 

In the second part of the series we learned that everything we have belongs to God, comes from God is given by God.  To that end, we need to honor God with everything that we have.  This is our "Clear Objective."

For the next two weeks we'll be focusing on the ways that we need "Constant Correction" with our finances in order to stay balanced. 

This probably sounds like the most obvious statement in the world, but our views of money are shaped by what we experience in our childhood.  Maybe you came from a family where money was tight and it was always a concern.  You may have seen your parents sitting up late at night surrounded by bills and a calculator trying to figure out how to make it all work.  Perhaps you came from a family where there was always enough money and no one ever really talked about it or seemed concerned about it at all.

In my family, money wasn't plentiful, but I don't remember ever really thinking I was poor.  My dad believed that being in debt was pretty close to being unsaved, and was something to be avoided at all costs.  We didn't have credit cards, paid cash for everything or put it on layway (remember that?) and my parents worked hard to pay off the mortgages on their home as quickly as possible. 

It's kind of funny, but most of us choose to either emulate what we watched growing up, or we run in the opposite direction.  I sort of ran in the opposite direction.  My first credit card was from Jordan Marsh, a clothing store like J.C. Penney.  They gave me $600 worth of credit.  I charged nearly half of it right away buying clothes and shoes.  It was pretty much off to the races after that.  I think I had credit cards from every major retailer and eventually worked my way up to the big time and got a Visa.  I was in hock up to my eyeballs with a car loan I couldn't afford.  By the time I was 21, I owed just about everyone and everybody.  I even had to stay away from my parent's house because people had shown up there to repossess my car, and I didn't want to be there when they came back. 

God did two things that helped me see the light when it came to my finances.  He pretty much let me hit rock bottom.  And then he gave me a good woman, who had much better sense than me.

Merideth and I have essentially adopted three financial goals.  First, we have a giving goal.  Every year, we decide what we plan to give to our church and to other ministries and charities that we support.  We also have a savings goal.  Again, each year we decide what we would like to save and/or invest.  And last, but almost certainly not least, we have a get out of debt/stay out of debt goal.  The first two goals always seem to be changing because it is our belief that both of them should be increasing each year.  We both firmly believe that we should be both giving and saving more every year. 

It's the get out of debt/stay out of debt goal however that never changes.  We discovered long ago that debt changes your standard of living on a lot of levels.  You can work and save your way to a higher standard of living or you can borrow your way there with a signature.  And here's something else... if you don't get control of your debt your standard of living will change for the worse and quickly. 

I heard this quote about these two ways to financial stability--debt or save--that goes something like this: "One is fast, one is slow.  One brings peace, the other brings woe."  Quaint, but cold-blooded truth.

For those of us who call ourselves Christians, we sort of have this bar that has been raised for us when it comes to our finances.  We've talked about it before in this series...  "You reveal your relationship with God through the way you handle your finances."  And God wasn't keen on debt.  In fact, all throughout Scripture we see the act of getting into debt displayed in a fairly awful light.  

In Deuteronomy God made several conditional promises with the people of Israel.  There's a big list. But in the middle of the list is this whole discourse on lending money vs. borrowing it.  You see, the ancient Hebrew people saw that one sign of God's blessing was the ability to lend money and not have to borrow it.  Borrowing was evidence that things were going poorly. 

Deuteronomy 28:12
 12 The LORD will open the heavens, the storehouse of his bounty, to send rain on your land in season and to bless all the work of your hands. You will lend to many nations but will borrow from none.

Too bad we've lost sight of that in our culture.  We sort of say, "Wow! Things are going so well for you, you can behave like a person for whom things are not going well."   I mentioned layaway earlier.  I was in K-Mart the other day and happened to see a sign for the "Layaway" desk.  When I was a kid, I went to K-Mart with some money that I'd earned and put a Star Wars toy on layaway.  To be more specific, it was Darth Vader's Tie Fighter with battle action wings and a battery powered laser light with laser sound.  I couldn't afford to buy it all at once so I put down some money and paid a little every week until it was paid off. 

Here's the thing.  The reason why God was so concerned with debt then and now is because he knew that we would insist on learning the hard way.  In Proverbs 22:7 we get this little hard to swallow pill:

7 The rich rule over the poor,
       and the borrower is servant to the lender.

Consumer debt is the same as paying somebody else to be your master.  We're not "selling" ourselves into slavery, we are "buying" our way in.  Debt is of concern to God because debt is not often the result of need as much as it is a lack of self control.  It's a character issue, not a money issue.  Check this from Proverbs:

 28 Like a city whose walls are broken down
       is a man who lacks self-control.

Nice.  When you lack self control, someone will invade your city and conquer it.  Sounds like something that Visa would do.

Here's something else... Debt also impacts your ability to be generous.  I talk to a lot of people who say they would give more if they had more.  The problem is that you can't give to people in need if you owe on things you don't need.  God doesn't twist your arm to give.  God nudges.  Visa nudges you to pay every month with their little bills.  Guess what?  Visa wins.   Generosity requires margin.  If you have debt, you don't have any margin.  And the reason why so many of us don't have margin is because we bought our way into slavery.  Here's another hard to handle nugget from Proverbs:

 20 In the house of the wise are stores of choice food and oil,
       but a foolish man devours all he has.

Essentially... Fools follow a different master.   

If you are going to be balanced financially, you have to get out debt.  And getting out of debt requires discipline and accountability.   One of the first things that Merideth and I had to do was to repent of the way that we had been buying ourselves into slavery.  It required a broken heart on our part.  It wasn't easy to admit because none of us likes to admit that we have become a slave to our stuff and put our desire for more above our desire for God.  We also decided to get some outside help.  Our outside help looked like Dave Ramsey.  We read Dave Ramsey's books, listened to his podcasts, watched his television show and even taken his DVD-based course.  Because of our outside help my wife and I have been able to pay off an unbelievable amount of debt and work on our other two goals: giving and saving. 

You can't be balanced when you're enslaved to debt.  You can't honor God when your enslaved to debt.

No matter how hopeless things may seem, you need to have a plan, surrender your stuff and your life to God and get accountable.  And don't try to brush this off by saying, "Well, it's just a little bit of debt..."  What if I gave you a Snickers bar and told you, "Hey, there's just a little poison in it. Otherwise it's good to eat."  Would you eat it? 

I want this for you.  I want you to know what it's like to be rid of debt.  I want you to have the margin in your life to be able to be the generous and open person that God has created you to be.  I want this for you.  

If you are ready to begin digging your way out of debt, we have some tools for you.  If you click HERE, you will be sent to the Balanced sermon page on my church's website.  At the bottom of the page are links to download a variety of tools.  You can download a form to help you with your "Get out of Debt" plan, a form to help you track spending and one to help you with a giving and savings plan for the year.  There is also an Excel spreadsheet for you to get control over your finances and work toward becoming balanced.  

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