If you follow golf, the politics of taxes or life in California, then you may have heard this week that Phil Mickelson got into some trouble for saying that the taxes in CA are now so high that he might consider leaving the state. While some people agreed with him and said he should move to FL or TX where there is no state income tax, others said that he should just be thankful for what he has financially and pay his fair share. I think Phil just wishes he had kept his mouth shut, but he didn’t and there is a reason he didn’t. He was stressed. The lead stressor in life today for all of us is money. It doesn’t matter if we have a lot of money or a little, financial concerns are the number one cause of stress for all of us. Financial issues are also the number cause of divorce and in those relationships it isn’t always the lack of money that creates the strain but a difference in attitudes towards money and how to spend it that creates the tension and division.
But it is not just in our own lives and families that financial concerns top the list of stressors, it is also in our nation. Most polls today show that the #1 concern we have for our nation is the financial crisis we face. Whether it is the mortgage crisis and home values or taxes, debt and spending – as a nation we are stressed and anxious about our financial future. After the fiscal crisis of 2009, people rallied around two main causes of our financial meltdown. To sum it up, one side said it was the greed of Wall Street and the fact that there were no financial controls on what was taking place in the stock market that created the problems, but the other side said it was a political agenda which created regulations which forced banks to lend money to people who had such bad credit that they would never be able to pay off what they borrowed. While there is probably some truth on both sides, neither side addressed the real cause of the problem. The cause of our financial problems whether it is at the national level or the person level, the cause is not a fiscal problem – it’s not a money problem – it’s a spiritual problem and it is a spiritual problem that has plagued us for a long time.
In the 4th Century there was a Christian teacher and theologian (Evagrius Ponticus) who compiled a list of 8 evil thoughts that 200 years later in 590 AD, Pope Gregory I turned into what we know as the 7 deadly sins. These sins are lust, gluttony, greed, sloth, wrath, envy and pride. Now the original Greek word for lust used in this list was luxuria where we get the word luxury which can also mean reckless extravagance and indulging in more than what we really need in life. Gluttony can mean the same thing. We think of it terms of just food and we often picture a glutton as someone sitting down at a table and just shoveling rich food into their mouths, but gluttony can also mean an over indulgence and over consumption of anything.
So luxuria, gluttony and greed are the first 3 of the 7 deadly sins… do you notice something about them? They all have something to do with money and wealth and possessions. They all have to do with this desire we have for more possessions, more food and more money. So the root cause of our financial problems is not primarily a fiscal issue, it’s not a money issue, it is a spiritual issue. We simply desire more and more of everything. As the Bible says, it is the love of money that is the root of all kinds of evil. It’s not money that’s the problem it is our love of money. It’s our desire for more money. It is our lust and gluttony and greed that are the problems.
Jesus sums up this spiritual issue in Matthew 6:21. When our treasure is on earth and found in our home values, IRA’s, bank accounts and investments – then that is where our heart is which means those are the things that we love and trust in and as long as these earthly treasures are secure – everything is fine, but when they are threatened, when, as Jesus said, they are in danger of moths consuming and rust destroying, then our lives begin to spin out of control. That is what began to happen in 2008.
Up until that time we had lived with 3 basic financial assumptions. The first was that our incomes were always going to go up. Every year we were almost guaranteed a raise, if nothing else we were assured of a cost of living raise. The second assumption was that the stock market would always go up. There might be highs and lows and even some painful corrections at times, but we assumed the value of our investments would always rise. The third assumption we made was that the value of our homes would always increase and always be secure. Real estate was the one place we could invest our money where we could be sure that moth would not eat and rust would not destroy, it was the safest of all investments, until about 2008. Now real estate and home values are as shaky and risky as anything else.
So for many years we placed our faith in these 3 basic assumptions, but in 2008 when the value of housing started to fall and the stock market started to fall and people either lost their jobs or didn’t receive any kind of raises but actually had to take pay cuts in order to keep their jobs, things started to crumble. The things we trusted in started to come apart. Again, the problem wasn’t financial as much as it was spiritual, we had placed our faith and trust in the basic assumption that our incomes and investments would always go up so it was ok to desire them more and more.
In many ways it is this desire for more that gets us into trouble. It was the desire for more that got Adam and Eve in trouble. Think about it, they were told they could have everything in the garden – everything, except the fruit from one tree, and what was it that they began to desire? It was the fruit from that one tree. They weren’t content with what they could have, they wanted more, they wanted it all. In many ways it is that desire that leads us into trouble. When our desire is for more in this world it leads us to make foolish financial decisions. We buy things that we can’t afford and we live beyond our means which means that we are living on tomorrow’s money today and that does just one thing, it makes us a slave to our money. Whether it is as a nation or as a family – when we live on tomorrow’s money today, when we mortgage our future for the things we want today – we became a slave to money, which creates stress and begins to spin our lives out of control because as Jesus said, we can’t serve two masters.
We were created to serve God, we were created to desire God and live a life in relationship with God above all things, but when we replace our desire for God with a desire for things, we are no longer serving and loving God, we are serving and loving money and that becomes the focus and priority of our lives.
So what is the antidote to this out of control living? What’s the answer? The answer is the same one we heard on the very first week of this series. When our lives are too busy we have to just stop. We have to stop and admit that our lives are out of control and that we need to live differently and we call this repentance. Repentance means to turn, it means we stop the direction we are going and we stop doing what we are doing and we confess that the way is wrong and not the way God wants us to live. We stop and begin to make some changes so that we can go in a new direction. The antidote to the stress and confusion that our financial problems create isn’t to sit down and make a budget or cut up our credit cards or refinance our homes – which might all need to happen by the way – but that is not the answer, the real answer is to repent. The real antidote to our out of control financial lives is to free ourselves from the spiritual desire we have for more in this world and cultivate a deeper desire and hunger for God.
If we go back to Matthew 6 we see that Jesus said this very thing. Look at Matthew 6:33. Seek first God and the kingdom of God. Seek first God’s will, God’s direction and God’s desire for our lives. If we get this relationship right, if God and his will become the priority in our lives, everything else begins to fall into place. When we begin to live according to God’s word and will for us, then the issues we struggle with and worry about will begin to work themselves out, and this includes our finances. So the question becomes, how do we practically place God before our money? How do we begin to seek God’s kingdom first, desire God more than the things of this world and trust God more than we trust our money? The Bible has one clear answer, and honestly, it is an answer we talk about a lot, but makes most of us uncomfortable. The answer is tithing and giving 10% to God.
I realized something this week, this issue seems to make us all squirm in our seats a little bit which shows me that this is a spiritual issue. It makes us uncomfortable because many times it is our money in which we trust. Do you know that Jesus talked more about financial issues and faith and trust in the things of this world more than he talked about anything else and that’s because he knew it was a deep spiritual issue for all of us. So I want to talk about tithing for just a moment, but please understand that I am not talking about it as a financial practice as much as a spiritual practice. I am not encouraging us to tithe in order to meet the church budget, I am encouraging us all to think about tithing as a spiritual discipline that will help us place more faith and trust in God which in turn can free us from being a slave to our finances and maybe bring solutions to our financial problems.
Tithing is the practice of giving God one tenth of what God has given to us. In the Bible, this tithe or offering was to be of the first and best of what people had been given. So for those who grew crops they would give a tenth of the fruit from their first harvest and they gave their first fruits because those were always the best. I think they also gave their first fruits in order to make sure that they actually gave God something. If they waited until the end of the harvest, not only would the produce be bad, but there may not be enough. For those who tended flocks of sheep and goats and cattle they would give the best of the flock, the unblemished animals to God. The offerings they gave weren’t the damaged animals that weren’t any use, it was their best. By giving God their first and best, the people were making a spiritual statement to themselves, to God and to the world. They were saying “I love God and I trust God and am seeking God’s will in my life more than anything else”. Giving the first and best tenth of what they had also freed people from the stranglehold of greed because it said, “I do not need this to survive – what I need to survive is the power and presence and blessing of God”.
Giving to God today is the same thing – it is a spiritual discipline. We give primarily to free us from the hold that money has in our lives. We give to God to free ourselves from the first 3 of those 7 deadly sins. We give a tenth to God to say to God, I love you and I trust you more than the things of this world. When we don’t tithe, when we rationalize to ourselves that I can’t give that much because I won’t be able to survive financially in this world then what we are saying is that God is not first in our lives and that we don’t trust God to provide for us.
I have to say this again, if we don’t tithe because we don’t think we will be able to survive financially in this world, then what we are saying is that God is not first in our lives and that we don’t trust God to provide for us. When we rationalize all the reasons why we can’t give a tenth of our income and resources to God, what we are saying is that we don’t trust God to care for us or provide for us. Tithing and giving our first and best to God is a spiritual issue it is not a financial issue and it is one we have to get serious about. And let me be clear that tithing is something that is difficult for people at both ends of the financial spectrum.
When people aren’t making a lot of money each week, the thought of tithing is difficult. For example, when you only make minimum wage on a 40 hour a week job, your take home pay is $290 which hardly seems like enough to live on so how could we possibly give $29 dollars to God. Think about it, that’s a $20 bill and a $10 bill each week and it seems impossible on such a small income that we could give this much and still survive, so many people just won’t do it. They honestly think they can’t. But the same struggle affects people at the other end of the income bracket. For someone making 100,000 a year, a weekly tithe would be close to $200. That would be 2 $100 bills every week. That’s a lot of money to give away every week and many think it is just impossible to do it.
So whether it is $30 or $200, tithing is a struggle for people at all income levels, which tells us very clearly that this is not a financial issue it is a spiritual issue and as long as we trust in our money more than we trust in God – we are a slave to our money. What frees us from this bondage is actually giving to God. What frees us from slavery and deepens our faith and trust in God is actually doing what God calls us to do and giving to God the way God calls us to give. In this case, less really is more. Less money in our pockets means more faith and trust in God and that is one of the first steps in bringing our lives back into focus.
If stepping into tithing seems impossible, then I would invite you to take this year to do it. Figure out what % of your income you are currently giving to God and if it is not at least 10%, then commit to increase your giving by 1% each month. If you do, then by Christmas you will be tithing and I guarantee – no actually God guarantees that if you do it you will be stronger in your faith and your needs will be cared for. That is what Jesus says in Matt 6:33.
When we place God first by entering into this faith journey of giving our first and best to God, then all the things that the people around us worry about, our finances, will be cared for. It won’t mean we will have all we desire, it won’t mean that all our financial burdens will go away or that we won’t have to make some difficult decisions, but if we will trust God more than our money – God will provide for us and the stress of our finances will begin to go away.
Now let me be clear and say that tithing is really just the spiritual foundation on which we are to build – there are many other sound biblical and financial practices that we can use to help bring order and control to our lives. We can make a budget and spending plan to see where our money is going and making sure that it going where we want it to go. If we make a budget we then need to make sure we stick to it. We can start to pay cash for things so we begin to see just how much we are spending. I don’t know about you when I use a credit card it is easy to spend more than I might otherwise. We can go back to the old ways and actually save up for things we want instead of buying it now and paying for it over time- with interest. We can also make sure we aren’t buying just to make ourselves feel better. Shopping is not good therapy when we are feeling stressed – in fact it usually just leads to more stress.
John Wesley, the founder of the Methodist movement also gave us some sound financial advice when he said we should “earn all we can, give all we can and save all we can”. Financial planners today continue to tell us to save all we can. In fact many advise us to pay ourselves first and then spend what’s left. Something else that can help us begin to live on less would be to go through our homes and begin to give away things that we no longer want or need. The process of letting go can actually bring more health and strength and it can begin to free us of the hold that goods and possessions have on us.
In fact, Jesus told a parable about this in Luke 12. He told the story about the foolish man who didn’t let go of anything but continued to amass a fortune in this world. He built bigger barns and storehouses to hold all of us his belongs because that was the focus of his life until it was too late. One night God called him home and said to him (Luke 12:20). Maybe it’s time for us to let go of things and not cling to them, to let go of our stuff and our money in order to gain more faith and trust and blessing of God.
When we are actually able to free ourselves from the hold that money and possessions have over us, something wonderful will begin to happen, we will begin to
• See more clearly the true blessings in life
• Listen more carefully to God and others
• Think more deeply about the things that matter the most
• Savor the fullness of life itself
• Serve and love God effectively with all our heart, soul, mind and strength.
When we get this right, so much of life we come under God’s control.
Antidotes for an Out of Control Life ~ Less is MORE
1. As you prepare your 2012 tax returns, do a complete audit of where your money goes. How much do you spend on: Housing? Transportation? Insurance? Investments? Debt? Clothing? Entertainment? God?
As you evaluate your spending, are the percentages in line with your faith, goals and priorities? If they aren’t – repent. Stop the way you are living and spending and begin to go in a new direction.
2. Commit to tithing over the remainder of 2013. If you need to build to this, commit today to giving 1% more each month until you reach your goal. If you are currently tithing, what would it look like to give God 12%, 15% or 20%?
3. Use financial tools and resources to help bring balance.
www.daveramsey.com/tools/budget-lite for help with budgets
www.cccsnepa.org for credit counseling and working through financial problems, or call them at 814-238-3668 and ask for Ginger Cain (a member of Faith Church).
4. Practice living on less. Here is a family activity: take an inventory of your closets. How many toys, shoes, coats and books do you have? How many good clothes do you have that you don’t wear anymore? Could others benefit from these items? If so, give them away and ask God to bless those who will receive them and to bless you as you learn that Less Is MORE.