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Message for 9-29-13 FINDING FINANCIAL FREEDOM

“FINDING FINANCIAL FREEDOM”

1 Timothy 6:6-10

 

            Money is a major source of stress for a lot of people nowadays. 

            Americans reportedly owe a total of $11.5 trillion in personal debt.  The average American household owes $15,000 in credit card debt alone, which is only 6% of what we owe. 71% of what we owe is on our homes, 7% is auto loans, 9% is student loans.  Lack of money to meet the demands of our way of life is an enslaving burden.  Many of us today long for financial freedom.  We long to be set free from what the demand for money is doing to our lives.

            The insatiable drive to make more money is not just a disease of today.  It was alive and well in ancient Ephesus, the city of solid marble where Timothy lived.  Money madness had even infected the church, where some had gotten it in their minds that the Christian faith was a good way to make money.  Paul answers his money-mad opponents with a clever response.  He says, “You know, godliness IS a means of gain – IF it teaches you to be content with what you have.”

            You can look from Fortune magazine to the Wall Street Journal, but it’s hard to find any better financial advice than: to be content with what we have.  The word “contentment” used here by Paul is the exact same goal the ancient Stoic philosophers were shooting for.  It’s a word that means “having need of nothing.”  “Contentment” is the opposite of another NT word that means “greed”, the constant desire for more.

            Paul writes elsewhere to his friends at Philippi that he has already achieved what the Stoics were shooting for through his faith in Christ.  He says, “I have learned in whatever state I am to be content.  I know how to be abased, and I know how to abound.  In any and all circumstances I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and want.  I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.”

            Paul says it’s this constant desire for more that is the ruin of countless people’s lives.  He writes, “But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation, into a trap, into many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and misery… It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced their hearts with many pangs.”  There are so many stories of folks who once owned a farm or a successful business free and clear, but whose desire for more led to tragic results.

            Borrowing money to finance our desire for more is the #1 cause of our personal financial woes.  I’m not talking about borrowing to start a business or career (you’ve got to live somehow).  I’m not talking about borrowing to buy a basic home (you’ve got to sleep somewhere).  The sad fact is that people borrow all the time for what they do not need.  They borrow to pursue a lifestyle they could not otherwise afford.  Is it worth it?

            The late Larry Burkett, the most respected Christian financial advisor on the market, offered some good advice on borrowing money: 1. Don’t borrow when you have the cash to pay.  2. Pay off outstanding debts before making more major purchases.  3. If you can, don’t take out a loan for more than your collateral is worth. (This was back when it was rare that lenders would let you do that.  This was long before “underwater loans” became an epidemic.)  Burkett warned, Don’t borrow more than you can afford to lose.  4. Avoid long-term debt, unless you want to pay double or triple what your purchase is worth.  Dave Ramsey gives basically the same advice in his seminar “Financial Peace University.”

I cannot calculate how many thousands of dollars my family has saved by paying cash for everything we buy.  Yes, we’ve been given a lot through the years, but we have never bought anything we didn’t have the money for.  If we didn’t have the money to spend, we did without it.  We have never bought a TV set.  We lived without one for our first 2 years of marriage.  For the next 5 years, we had one with a 5-inch screen.  We choose to do without cable TV and cell phones because we don’t need them.

It makes me uncomfortable to preach about borrowing because I’ve never been there. We have never been in a situation where borrowing would have been a necessity. I’ve never braved the risk. The closest I’ve come to debt was in my last year of seminary.  Our local church gave us $2,000 with strings attached.  If I served 5 years as a pastor, the debt was paid in full.  If not, it became a loan to be repaid at 12% interest.   But I know that we are all 1 medical catastrophe away from being wiped out, no matter how much we have in the bank.  From that perspective, we are all totally in the hands of God.

I’ve known a number of friends through the years whose spending habits were different from ours.  From what I’ve seen, they find themselves under constant pressure to earn more income, which is not always in their power to do.  Often it takes 2 people working night and day just to live in a house as nice as Mom and Dad had.  People find themselves sentenced to 30 years working for the mortgage company.

The Roman philosopher Seneca once said, “A great fortune is a great slavery.”  What that means to me (if you turn that around) is that the less we have, the less we’re enslaved by.  Less vehicles in your garage means less to repair and insure.  A smaller house means less to paint and clean and less interest to pay.  Less land means less to mow and less taxes to pay.  It may sound crazy, but if you look at it this way, less can be more.

The simple lifestyle is not only cheaper, it’s also the straightest route to sanity.  Why?  We live in an age where time has become more valuable than money.  People will trade away serious bucks in order to buy themselves more time.  Less time feeding the money monster – less time paying for our desire for more – means more time to truly live, more time to think, more time to love our families, more time to pursue God.

Jesus says in Luke 12:15, “Watch out, and beware of all desire for more, for a person’s life does not consist in the abundance of their possessions.”  Happiness can’t be measured by what comes from a store.  Hebrews 13:4 says, “Keep your life free from love of money, and be content with what you have.”

Learning to be content with what we have takes practice.  One of the ways we can conquer our desire for more is by playing a little game whenever we go to the store, when we walk down the aisles and say, “I can be happy without that.”  It gives me such a sense of freedom to walk into a store and feel no need to buy anything!

See how many appealing purchases you can talk yourself into living without.  Train yourself to say: I can be happy without that new dress – that new computer – that new pickup truck – that new piece of furniture – that new book or movie or video game.

Our purpose in this exercise is not to train ourselves to spend nothing.  It’s to overcome our tendency to spend on impulse.  We want to squash that relentless urge to acquire.  Back in seminary I was addicted to buying books.  To cut down on my impulse buying, I came up with a method I’ve been using for over 30 years.  I would make a wish list of items I wanted to buy, then I would keep them on that list for 3-6 months.  If I still wanted an item at the end of that time, maybe I would buy it.  I found that waiting several months gave me time to come to my senses about what I truly needed.  Waiting gave me time to overcome that impulsive urge to acquire that’s behind so many of our purchases.

Learning how to say “Enough” is a lot easier when we’re filling our stomachs than when it comes to filling our material desires.  When it comes to money, the more we have, the more we crave.  It’s an addiction, and practically all of us are hooked (including me).  Our addiction to money blinds us to the fact that money can’t buy happiness.  Perhaps we know that in our heads, but our hearts remain unconvinced.  Why else do we still experience that constant desire for more?  Deep down in our hearts, we still believe that money can buy happiness.  Like it or not, we cannot satisfy the hunger in our souls with stuff that rusts, rots, and depreciates.  Only Christ can fill that empty hole in our hearts.  When we pursue Jesus Christ the way we’ve been pursuing our material desires, only then will we begin to experience freedom from the desire for more.

We’ve talked about rethinking what we really need to be happy.  We’ve talked about squashing our instant urge to acquire.  But perhaps the toughest medicine to help us break our desire for more is to give away what we have.  It sounds crazy, but true riches are obtained only by sharing.  The problem with earthly goods is, we can’t take them with us.  All we can take with us from this life is the reward for all the good we have done with what God has given us.  The real good life can be experienced only by giving.

The best financial advice in the world is: Learn to be content with what you have.  We have to draw the lifestyle line somewhere.  We have to be able to say, “Enough!”  Only then can we experience financial freedom.  Only then can we be free to spend our lives in more important ways.

Let us pray.  Lord, help us learn how to say “Enough!”  Help us learn to extinguish that insatiable desire for more, and be content with what we have.  We ask for Jesus’ sake.  Amen.

 

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