Last week we started a series on fears, a lot of them spinning out from the events of 9-11. As a nation, we're living in a different situation, different times, not new, but different. We've known the fear of war and terror which was our first subject last week - fear of terror and war-because we've been there before. How many of you remember the air raid practices and preparations as school children of World War II? How many remember the fear of nuclear annihilation in all of the drills getting underneath the tables and chairs? So it's nothing new. How do we respond to them? How do we cope with them? Well the answer is, and last week we talked about it, faith. Faith plays a big role, an important role. It played a greater role in our culture in the '60's. It always played a great role in the Middle Eastern church, and that's how they are able to survive there.
Today we are talking about another stress that has appeared, again it's not new, but it's different recently. That's the fear of financial insecurity. It is no accident that the terrorists attacked the World Trade Center. It was their intention to destabilize the U.S. economy, and actually we were in an economic downturn even before then. We have been, the last four years, in economically unstable times, and if your emotions follow the economy or the stock market, it has been an up and down ride almost daily. It goes up, and daily it goes down. That has been how our emotions have run. In the last three years, three million jobs have been lost - many of our own members. Recently we've probably lost 50 or 60 members simply because of relocations due to job loss and the need to find work. How do you cope with that? How do we cope with that as a people? How do we cope with that as a church? Again, it's not unique. We have been here before, haven't we? Some of you are old enough to remember Black Thursday, October 24, 1929. Some of you have experienced or probably all of you have experienced financial pressure, haven't you, financial, stressful times?
My first experience with financial stress was when I was probably five or six years old. I remember opening the basement door and hearing my father pound the furnace, "I don't have the money!" And I remember people taking truckloads of furniture out of the house. I remember distinctly the mini bike, and saying, "Why are they taking our mini bike, Daddy?" It's a difficult thing to go through. I saw my father go through bankruptcy three times. I've seen him waken from a dead sleep because of the pressure of finances, and I've experienced that myself. We've all experienced them. Sometimes our troubles, our financial pressures, are caused by ourselves - our mistakes that we make, and sometimes they're just no fault of anyone. They just happen. Being a construction family, it hinges on the economic growth, and when there's economic downturn sometimes the construction market goes down and things are lean. That's kind of part of life. How do you deal with life? How do you deal with that kind of pressure? If you let it, it can make you very cranky. It can cause you to do some very dumb things, like neglect your family and work some obscene hours. It can cause you to lose sleep, lose your health. It can even cause you, and has caused some people, to take their own lives, which is a permanent solution to a very temporary problem. That is indeed not the answer. Well what is the answer?
Well, one thing that's clearly not an answer, is more. More is never an answer to financial stress, and yet everyone concludes when they're having financial problems, that all they need is more. All they need is a new job or better job that pays more. Larry Burkett who was probably one of the leading financial advisers in our nation, and just recently passed away, has counseled thousands of people, people from every economic strata. What he noticed is this, that those who made "30", thought the answer to their problems was just ten thousand more, and those who made $40,000 thought all they needed was another $20,000. He had lawyers who made $100,000 who thought the answers to their problems were $25,000 more. Heart surgeons who believed the answer to their problems was another $100,000 or a few more hundred thousand dollars than they were making. What he discovered is: it's not true. We always spend what we make, and as a result financial stress always has this way of following us. Has that been your experience? The more you make - has it solved your financial problems or the issue of financial stress or instability? Well, the answer is, no.
Well, what's the answer? We're going to look at Philippians 4:11-13, 18-19, and I'm going to use also, 6-7. It's not an exhaustive list, it won't be an exhaustive message because there are so many things that could be said, so I included a Scripture list and also a resource list for further reading if you're going through economic problems, you need to get counseling on it or you may need some additional resources. I encourage you to look at those and read those. Here's what it says (reads text). (Prayer).
Well, what's the answer? I'm going to put it in very simple one-word statements. First, key to financial peace or coping with financial instability is contentment - learning to be content. What contentment is, is simply being happy with whatever God provides you, little or much; simply being happy with what God provides you. It's interesting that Paul says it's something he learned. It's not automatic. It doesn't come naturally because the natural inclination of us all is to want more, to have better, to increase. Paul says he had to learn to overcome this human tendency to covetousness, to desire, to wanting what we do not have. If you pursue that longing, if you pursue that craving, it's an endless pursuit. You will crave it for the rest of your life, and your life will become very devoid of meaning, and you will always feel, for your entire life, pressure caused by finances. There's a better way, and the better way Paul says is to learn to be content.
Well, what does he know about money and everything, he's a preacher?! Well, it's interesting. You look at Paul's life. What do you find out about him? Well, you know that he is born into a Jewish family. His mother is Jewish. His father is Greek. It says that he is born a Roman citizen, meaning his family, at one point, paid for or gained Roman citizenship, which was extremely costly, so he came from a wealthy family. You know he's also coming from a wealthy family because he's a scholar. He went to the best institutions and read a lot of books. Only those from rich families were able to do that then. He became part of the Pharisees' tradition of scholarship, and what we know about the Pharisees' tradition is that they were very well paid. In the rich sections of Jerusalem, all those houses were owned by Pharisees and Saducees, religious leaders of the day. So, it was an extremely well-paid position, but you come to Acts 9 when Paul encounters Christ and with what he discovers, he gives it all up for the sake of the gospel, and the gospel ministry. In Corinthians when he encounters Aquila and Priscilla, you notice that he is now making tents. He had to take up another profession. The budget wasn't being met. He needed some more income or needed some income, period. So he supplements his income by tent making. You come to this text and you come to the end of Acts and you find that Paul's wealth is gone. He's been part of the court system. He has had the endless pursuit of appeals to save his life. What we know about that time is that the Roman court system was extremely expensive. You come to Philippians, and he is living off of the good will and charity of others. His wealth is gone. How would you feel if that was your life? Everything's gone. And yet he said , and I know it had to have been hard because he said, "I had to learn this." But he learned to just say "It's o.k., it's o.k. I've learned to live within God's limits." He learned that if God supplied money for a Jaguar, he drove a Jaguar, but now he's driving a used Yugo. He used to eat at La Bourgeois Café, now he's eating prison food. He shopped at Lord and Taylor's for the best of suits, and now he's shopping at Goodwill, and yet through it all, he says, "I've learned to be content." "I've learned that that's not what life is all about." "I've learned there's something more important." "I know that God is far more important and brings much greater meaning, and I'm at peace with it." Paul, you notice, is happy. He's a very content man because he has learned to live within the limits of God's provision, and if you want to deal with stress caused by finances, that's the secret.
Learning to live within the limitations of God's provision may take, for many of us, a lifestyle adjustment. Doesn't it? It takes a lifestyle adjustment. In fact, every great financial advisor, and there are a lot of good ones, Ray Linder, Mary Hunt, Joanne McCovey, would agree. Mary Hunt, at one point, was over $40,000 in debt, just in credit cards, and things were just out of control, and they lived with incredible pressure. Read her story. It's a tremendous story. What she discovered was that she needed a lifestyle adjustment, and a tip that all of them give, is learn to live on seventy percent of your take-home income. If you are in high debt, particularly in credit, stop using credit cards, because you are spending future money. You are not living on God's present provision for your life. It's not easy. It takes some creativity. It takes some patience. Two areas of savings that were discovered are in entertainment and housing. If your entertainment bill is over six percent of your monthly income, then you need to make some changes. Try eating at home (usually, people spend it on restaurants). Cook from scratch more. If you're in a house and your monthly payment is over 32% of your monthly income, then you will never experience freedom from financial stress unless you downsize. You've got to get into a house which fits your income. How many rooms do I really need? Do I really need two dining rooms? Do I need a family room, a living room and a finished basement? Do I really need three bathrooms? You've got to ask those hard questions, and learn to live within God's provisions. Sheryl Crow sings a wonderful song. She really defines what contentment is. She is kind of a secular artist, and this is what she says, "I don't have digital. I don't have diddly-squat," it's not great English but, "I don't have diddly-squat, it's not having what you want, it's wanting what you've got. I'm gonna soak up the sun, gonna tell everyone to lighten up." The key to freedom from financial stress is just that - not longing to have what you want, but wanting what you actually have. It's something that God provides, and lighten up. Lighten up on your debt. Lighten up on yourself. Don't be so driven. Enjoy life. Life is more than the substance of things.
Secondly, Paul mentions, there is something it takes to live a lifestyle that's adjusted this way, to live contentedly. It takes tremendous trust which is the very underpinning of contentment. It is the basis of Christianity; it's what we do when we gain our salvation. We basically trust God. "God, I've run my life the way it is, it's not working well. I submit my life totally to you. I accept your provision for Jesus in my life. I thank you for forgiving my sins. I cling to the gospel for the promise of Heaven." That's basic Christianity. That's the basic commitment we make, and we give everything to Him. Well, part of that is our finances. Have you given God your finances? Have you said, "You know what, God, I know that money is not it. Money is something we use and helps us get by, but it's not the meaning of life. It's not what's most important. You are. You are, God. You alone are God, and I trust You. I submitted my life to You, and I trust You, and I give you my finances. I give You my future. I give You the meaning for my life. I give You my contentment. I give You it all. Lord, teach me to focus and trust You with everything." Have you done that? Paul was able to do that.
Financial worries, though, are the direct opposite of that because when you are feeling financial pressure, where is your focus? Is your focus on God? No. Your focus and our focus is on money; is that really the proper focus? If you're focusing on money all the time, then indeed, stress builds up and you forget about God. Jesus even warned us about this. You cannot serve God and money because if your focus begins to shift towards money, you begin to forget God. God gets replaced by money. Jesus even warned if you try to serve both, you will give your greater allegiance to one and it usually is money, because that's the power of wealth. Deuteronomy 8, 1 Timothy 6, Proverbs 30:7-9, all tell us this basic same thing. Here's what Proverbs says, (reads text) . That's the power of money, if it's your focus it will ultimately replace God and you will be forever stressed about it. Money is a terrifying god to serve! Why? Because it's capricious. It's fickle. It goes up and down. It's here and it's gone. Where is the dot.com wealth today? Think about it. Where is the dot.com wealth? Where has the stock market been? Up and down, up and down. If that's your focus, that's your emotional roller coaster, then. That's why you're feeling up and down, up and down, because the market is not constant. It's always changing. It always fluctuates, which is exactly what God says about money. "Cast but a glance at riches, and they are gone. They sprout wings, and they fly off to the sky like an eagle, therefore, do not wager yourself out to get rich. Show some wisdom of restraint." And that's money. If you put your confidence in money, and your self-esteem and self-worth is based upon your success financially, what happens when the market goes up and down, or you lose your job, what happens? Well, your self-esteem goes up and down, up and down. It's never constant. You feel awful, and if you are going through financial hard times right now, you feel like a failure! And you're not, because that's not the proper basis for who you are. You are more than what you do nine to five. The basis for who you are, your personal self-esteem, is based on two constants. One, you are created by God in His image and as a result you have intrinsic worth; and two, God loves you. Romans 8:35-39 reminds us, this was our memory verse for this past week (reads text). If your focus is on this life, troubles can separate you from God. But if your focus is on God, who is constant, what you're sure of, no matter what happens, up or down, lose my home, or become unemployed, it doesn't matter. I know there is one constant in my life: there is a God and He loves me. The problems are temporary things. The economy goes up and down. Jobs come and go, God doesn't. I'll make it. I'm not a failure. This too will pass, and Jesus reminds us of that very thing, and He encourages us in Luke 12, listen (reads text). Where's your treasure? Where's your heart? If you want to experience peace even during financial downturns, then put your hope in God. God has promised in verse 19, "and my God will meet all your needs according to His riches, in Christ Jesus." If you want to soak up something, soak up that. Soak up the sun. Not the S-U-N, but the S-O-N. Rest in His promises.
Now, "Pastor that sounds real good, but I have fits of panic and worry, and it climbs on me from time to time, and I just can't overcome it." Well, again Paul gives us a very practical help when you're going through that stress that wakes you up at night, that takes away your taste buds, when you experience that, PRAY . "Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and petition with thanksgiving, present your requests to God and the peace of God which transcends all understanding will guard your heart (and the words guard your heart means guard your heart like a military sentry) and your mind in Christ Jesus." In your bulletin take out the bulletin journal and turn to where it says, "Make the unafraid prayer your own." This is the basic model, a help for all of us as we go through these financially difficult times, when you feel the stress, I encourage you to pray. You can use your own prayer, but if you don't know what to say this is a good prayer to use. It has two blanks to fill in:
"Lord, I know that when I feel afraid, you want to calm my heart. Yet at this moment, I'm not at peace about _________________. The enemy wants me to be consumed by this fear. But your Word reminds me: (fill in Romans 8:35-39, for example) . Thank you that I can face my fears unafraid, knowing you are always with me. Amen."
Pray things like Luke 12. Life is not about things. (Reads text). I encourage you to take that and pray that, and take that scripture passage, scripture lesson and use a different scripture each time. Re-focus and see whether or not indeed you become quiet and at peace. Now, it won't happen magically. A magic wand is not going to appear and just wave all your problems away, but with time and patience, things will improve. You will be able to cope with the pressure, and if you're unemployed right now or if underemployed, it's important to accept it. Then humble yourselves, and take whatever work comes for the time being. Knowing that something is better than nothing. Have a support system. Notice Paul continued to utilize his support system which was the church. I encourage you to share your problems with others. Everyone has gone through the same exact thing you have gone through. You can't deal with that pressure alone, and we're here. The church is here. Let us bear that burden with you, and then be willing to receive help. Notice that Paul humbled himself enough to receive help. Don't rob your fellow parishioners from living out their faith, and then wait and relax and let God's joy come upon you. Like the song says, "I'm gonna soak up the sun, gonna tell everyone to lighten up." Lighten up, lighten up, enjoy what God has already provided, and His promise that He will indeed provide and take care of us and all of our needs. Rest in that. (Prayer).
Financial Resource List
(By Trusted Authors)
By Larry Burkett:
The Complete Financial Guide for Young Couples
Any book by Larry is good! Also go on line and see what services his ministry, "Crown Financial Ministries," provides. You can even call a 1-800 number and get free advice on money matters . www.crown.org
By Mary Hunt:
The Financially Confident Woman
Debt-Proofing Your Marriage
Mary Hunt understands financial stress and instability. Mary and her husband racked up $40,000 in credit card debts. They barely made the minimal monthly payments. Though both worked they had little to show for their wealth and the constant stress was unbearable. Discover how she went from debt to debt-free living. www.cheapskatemonthly.com .
By Ray Linder:
Seven Secrets to Reduce Financial Worry
What Do I Do With My Money?
By Jonni McCovy
The Frugal Family: How to Live on One Income
Coping with Financial Insecurity Scripture List
||Proverbs 3:9, 21-26
||I Peter 5:6-8
||I Timothy 6:6-10
Read the Bible Online: