Proverbs 21:5, 20; Mark 12:41-44
As we continue our sermon series based on our text Enough, we look at a familiar Bible story that holds messages of both faith and generosity. Our culture today is very different than the culture of Jesus’ time when Jesus witnessed this poor widow coming to the temple and literally giving all she had to God. In many ways this story makes us uncomfortable. Many have viewed this widow as downright foolish. How could she give her last 2 coins to the church when that would leave her with absolutely nothing?
Perhaps part of our discomfort for this story comes from our culture. We are surrounded by a materialistic society that rewards us for pursuing wealth in every way – it is the very root of our value system in society. The more we gain of materialistic wealth, the greater our status, our standing in society, our well-being, and ultimately our overall happiness, right? Yet we have seen that our pursuit of wealth doesn’t necessarily bring insurmountable joy.
Last week we talked about two ‘diseases’ that are affecting a majority of our society members – the diseases of Affluenza and Credit-itis. This week we are focusing on wisdom concerning our finances. How can we develop wise practices that honor God and help us to love our neighbor? Whether we are close to filing for bankruptcy or living in comfort, we can be either wise of foolish with our finances. When suffering from these diseases of Affluenza and Credit-itis, we can be caught up in the values the world places on gaining material wealth to satisfy us now. Our text notes that there is a little of the prodigal son in all of us. At some point we very well may just toss up our hands, say ‘what’s the point?’ and overextend ourselves yet again.
Did you ever wonder where you money goes? I know when our children were little, in particular, some weeks I would have given just about anything for another $20! It seemed to me that as soon as we broke a $20 bill it was gone because there were all these hands outstretched for picture money and fundraisers and kids’ activities. Saving money was not even on our radar – survival was.
So how do we follow the teachings of Jesus concerning the handling of our finances? When we look at the scene going on in the Temple, Jesus is witnessing everyone who is coming in to pay their tithes. The tithe dates back to the Old Testament and the laws for the Hebrew people to follow. But Jesus brings a reality to this practice. For those who have no trouble giving back to God because of their plenty, the true value of those gifts cannot even compare to those who give generously. When we forgo purchasing more stuff that we really don’t need and instead give our first portion to God, we are giving generously. When we decide that following God’s calling is more important than jumping on the next rung of the corporate ladder, we are giving generously.
Our text notes six basic principles for healthy money management. First, give to God first. This seems a little strange doesn’t it? When you are scraping for every dollar, how is it helpful to you personally to give to God first? I have shared with you that Mark and I have not always been tithers. We struggled financially for a long time. When we would sit down to do the bills, there simply wasn’t anything left to give to God. We were trying to give to God our leftovers and there never were any to give.
When we first decided to start giving to the church again, we started small. We didn’t start off with 10% of our income which is considered the tithe, we started with more like 1% but we decided to give that money first to God instead of last. I simply put off bill-writing until Monday so there would be money available to give to God. What I found interesting was we didn’t seem to be running out of money as fast as before. Through some strange ‘new math’ our dollars that remained ended up being enough to sustain us. It was a small start for us that over time we were able to increase. Principle 1 – give to God first. [10 apples?]
Principle 2 is to create a budget and track your expenses. Have you ever gotten to the end of a week and wonder where all your money went? Have you ever looked at your W-2 statement and were convinced the income was wrong? Where did the money go? The dreaded ‘B’ word is a necessary evil. It allows you to control your money. It allows you to track a record of where the money goes and how much you are actually spending each month. In your bulletin is a bare-bones budget with suggestions on how much of your money should be limited in each category. These are just guidelines but perhaps helpful as you begin to get a handle on spending. Remember we are fighting against Affluenza and Credit-itis – consider the budget as a healthy dose of penicillin.
The third principle is to simplify your life. This involves living below your means. Many of us are very accustomed to living above our means. I recall a conversation in our household. My husband was joking that we ‘needed’ ice cream – not wanted, but needed. I made the point of saying that no one needs a ½ gallon of ice cream. My son Russ came back with a quick reply: “You’re right! We need the whole gallon!” We will spend next week’s sermon delving deeper into this so I will hold further discussion until then.
The fourth principle is to establish an emergency fund. This starts with $1,000 put aside for EMERGENCIES. Christmas is not an emergency! Mom’s birthday is not an emergency! This is for the unexpected car repair or home repair bill that drops in your lap. Dave Ramsey of FPU recommends selling some of your stuff to get your emergency fund financed. He jokes that you should be selling so much stuff the kids think they are next! Even Fluffy may have a price tag on her! Emergencies are the number one reason we end up in credit debt in the first place, so if you can save to have a cushion when disaster strikes, all the better.
The fifth principle is to pay off your credit cards and use cash or debit cards exclusively. This is a big one. Our first step in the process has to be to stop utilizing credit cards completely. It is a cold turkey process – similar to handling an addiction. Wisdom comes from realizing how deeply we have fallen into debt and how we have to take a stand against the loud voices in society telling us to stay there. Some will say that it is easier to use credit cards for tracking purposes. Of those who have made this point, I have found they are also ones to pay off their credit cards monthly. This is similar to using a debit card and I would venture to say you have a healthy understanding of credit card usage. Wisdom with finances comes with putting God first in our lives. Wisdom comes with planning and saving and pursuing goals that help us to love God and love our neighbor.
Finally, the sixth principle is to practice long-term savings and investing habits. The Bible talks about planning for the future. We are encouraged to think things through and not get caught us in the “I want it all and I want it now” philosophy. But with our planning comes our trust in God and our desire to be generous with our funds. It is truly a change of the heart.
We as a church have had to put these principles in place as well. We had to put a budget into place and better track our spending. We had to be wise about investing our funds so as to not be caught burying our talent in the ground but utilizing what God has given us to better serve God and our neighbors. We had to step out in faith as the widow in this story and trust God to walk with us during the difficult times. John Wesley, the founder of Methodism, put it this way: “Make all you can. Save all you can. Give all you can.”
For a time, I had actually stepped away from my faith and was not giving to God at all of anything – my money, my time, or my talents. My reasoning was pretty logical. I was raised in the Pentecostal Church where I went to church 3 times per week. I felt I had banked enough ‘church’ to take a few years of sabbatical. Yet through that time I felt something was off. I think deep down I knew what it was – God was calling me back to a closer relationship in every way. God will provide for our needs. Jesus commends this widow for her faith in giving all she had to God and trusting God to provide for her.
Some have been listening today and noting that you are not at all concerned with your finances. You have a good control of your spending. You know where you money is going. You have saved for a long time and know the importance of planning for the long haul. I would encourage you as well as all of us to seek God’s guidance toward developing your generous nature. Many are financially well off but will not see generosity as an asset. Yet we are called by God to love our neighbor. Perhaps your generosity will come with your giving. Perhaps your generosity will come in the form of time spent with others. Perhaps it will come from sharing your talents of organization and discipline to those who are struggling. Perhaps generosity will become a part of who you are so that you can be a blessing to others in every way. Make all you can. Save all you can. Give all you can. Amen.