Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Momentum in Our Finances Part 3

(I am teaching three sessions at a local Christian Conference called Momentum on March 19.  The first session deals with our finances and using them for God's Kingdom.  I have broken the talk up into 5 different sections.  This is part number 3.)

In these uncertain economic times, when prices get higher and our bank accounts get lower, it is important to trust God.  Only by trusting God can we experience momentum in our finances.  What do I mean by that?  When we trust God we discover the freedom to use our financial resources for the glory of God's Kingdom.  What does it look like to trust God with our finances?  Let me give you two thoughts.

The first thought is: We are called to be stewards. We are the recipients of a number of great blessings from God. Paul wrote:
In his grace, God has given us different gifts for doing certain things well. So if God has given you the ability to prophesy, speak out with as much faith as God has given you. If your gift is serving others, serve them well. If you are a teacher, teach well. If your gift is to encourage others, be encouraging. If it is giving, give generously. If God has given you leadership ability, take the responsibility seriously. And if you have a gift for showing kindness to others, do it gladly. (Romans 12:6-8; NLT)

The apostle Paul tells us that God has given each of us gifts and our responsibility is to use those gifts to the best of our ability. Peter has this same thought in 1 Peter 4:10-11:
God has given each of you a gift from his great variety of spiritual gifts. Use them well to serve one another. Do you have the gift of speaking? Then speak as though God himself were speaking through you. Do you have the gift of helping others? Do it with all the strength and energy that God supplies. Then everything you do will bring glory to God through Jesus Christ. All glory and power to him forever and ever! Amen. (NLT)

In essence this is what stewardship is all about. Stewardship is the careful and responsible management of something entrusted to one’s care, and that is exactly what the two apostles tell us to do with the gifts that we are given, which includes our money.

The key to this is remembering that the things in our possession are ultimately not ours, but they are on loan from God, for everything is His. It is up to us to use what we have been given for His purposes. Now stop and consider for a moment what that means, not only for your money, but all your possessions. Yes, some of these things are necessary for life, but that doesn’t give us the freedom to be wasteful or sinful with what we have. The bottom line is that many of us struggle with our finances because we forget that we are just stewards of God’s resources.

That is why the #1 thing we must do when it comes to being good stewards of God’s financial resources is to live by a budget. What happens when we don’t live by a budget, and I know this from personal experience, is that our money slips through our fingers in small but non-essential purchases. A budget gives us the ability to direct our money to go where we want it to go, in a prayerful and thoughtful way, rather than letting it go through impulse or immediate gratification.

If we are going to be good stewards of God’s resources not only do we need to live by a budget, but we also need to avoid debt. The major contributor to our present economic crisis is debt. We are under the false impression that a healthy economy requires many consumers, and that even if people go into debt in order to consume it is a good thing because the money that will flow from the consumption will cause job creation.

One of the reasons we know this to be false is because a lifestyle of credit and debt is unsustainable. We cannot continue to spend tomorrow’s money today without having to face the consequences of those decisions. Debt is what happens when we see ourselves as consumers rather than stewards. As God’s people we are called to avoid debt. Consider this from Proverbs: The rich rules over the poor, and the borrower is the slave of the lender (Proverbs 22:7; ESV). In other words when we are in debt, when we have used money that was not in our possession, our time and money belongs to the person who lent us the money, and usually the privilege of borrowing comes with a fee (interest). How much of your monthly budget goes to pay-off past obligations that you are now responsible for?

Debt restricts how we can use the financial resources God sends our way. No wonder the apostle Paul wrote: Owe nothing to anyone—except for your obligation to love one another. If you love your neighbor, you will fulfill the requirements of God’s law (Romans 13:8; NLT). Now we might want to justify ourselves and say that we need to have credit in our society, but that just isn’t the case. Yes, much of our society is now built on the assumption of people using credit, but we do not have to live that way. In fact, what God wants us to understand is that good stewards refuse to go into debt, let alone allow the debt/credit cycle be a way of life.

Just as an aside, since this reality isn't something we consider, is that credit also inflates prices.  In other words the easy availability of credit makes things more expensive then they need to be. The reason it does this is because easy credit creates artificial demand. That is in part what happened to the housing market, easy credit was extended to people which enabled more people to buy houses, which created what seemed to be this huge market for houses, so existing house prices skyrocketed in value and new homes were built to satisfy this apparent demand. The reality was that there wasn’t enough real money to support that demand, and thus you had the housing market bubble burst. The best thing to do is buy with your savings, which is the essence of free market capitalism.

God has given us the gift of wealth and we are to be good managers of that wealth. That means we are to use it for His purposes first and foremost and it also means that we should not be wasteful of it. Our money ultimately isn’t ours, but it is a loan from God. May we manage it well.

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