"Stressed Out" part 6:
The Danger of Debt
by Greg Hanson
Sunrise Wesleyan Church
June 3, 2007


Play “If I Had a Million Dollars” by the Barenaked Ladies
(use video from http://www.furnation.com/fluffandsuch/vids/FS-Million_Dollars_CABLE.mov)

It’s nice to dream, isn’t it? Wouldn’t it be nice to have a million dollars? Or, at least you’d think it would be. You’d think it would solve all your problems. Yeah, we all know that “Money can’t buy happiness”, but wouldn’t it be fun to try? As Woody Allen said…

“Money is better than poverty, if only for financial reasons.”
~ Woody Allen

Yeah, it’d be nice to have enough money to pay all the bills, save for the future, and still have plenty to live in luxury now. Wouldn’t that be nice? But the reality is, many of us struggle to make ends meet. We live paycheque to paycheque. We don’t put anything in savings, we can’t pay our bills, and we’re doing all we can to just scrape by.

Is that true for you? If it is, then you’re not alone. Let me give you some statistics…

• In 2003, for the first time ever, the average Canadian household owed more than its annual take-home pay.
• We carry 74 million credit cards – three for every Canadian over the age of 18.
• Each time you use a credit card, you charge an average of $102.00, which is up from about $50 just 20 years ago.
• Between 1997 and 2001, Canadian credit card debt increased 90%.
• We’re piling on debt twice as fast as our income is growing.
• Credit counselling agencies say they're busier than ever.
• Students are often graduating with debts of $25,000 or more.
• By 2004, the average Canadian household carried a debt of 69,450.00.
• And while all this is happening, savings rates are at record lows. In 1985, Canadians were putting 15.8% of their take-home pay into savings. Ten years later, that had dropped to 9.2%. Today, the average Canadian is saving just 1.4%.

And it’s pretty much the same south of the border.

• The average American carries eight credit cards and 20% of them are maxed out.
• On average, they owe $8562 on their credit cards alone, and they’re paying about $1000 on interest each year.


And these financial problems seep into every are of life. One Gallup poll revealed that 64% of all married couples argue over money issues. At 54%, it’s the #1 cause of divorce.
(Contributed to Sermon Central by: Mike Harris)

The related stress can cause health issues, it can rob you of peace of mind, and it can tempt you to do things that are less than ethical just to try to keep up.

We’ve spent the last number of weeks talking about stress and some of the factors that cause stress. And since money, and debt in particular, is such a huge source of stress for so many, we’re going to spend two weeks talking about it.

This week, we’re going to talk mainly about why debt is dumb. I don’t know if I really have to convince you of that or not, but that’s what we’re going to do. We’re going to talk about why you need to say “No” to debt. And then next week, we’ll talk about some practical ways for you to deal with debt and get out of debt. Okay?


Why To Say “No” to Debt:


1. Debt enslaves you to your creditor

There's an Old Testament Proverb about this:

Proverbs 22:7 (CEV)
…those who borrow are slaves of moneylenders.

Isn’t that true? Those of you who are, or ever have been, in debt – wouldn’t you say that’s true?

Whenever you sign up for debt of any kind, you surrender a slice of your freedom. People you owe money to say “jump,” and you have to ask “how high.” They demand, “Pay me first, and I don't give a rip what's going on in the rest of your life.” People threaten you and say, “If you pay me late, I'll lay claim on everything you have. If you don't pay me enough or if you don't pay me on time, I'll ruin you.”

There's no freedom in this kind of living.

Let’s take a little quiz here. Let's assume you are in debt with a credit card balance of $10,000. That’s not at all uncommon. And let’s say your credit card has an interest rate of 18-percent. With me so far? Let's also assume that you’re just going to pay the minimum monthly payment, which is typically around three percent of the outstanding balance, or $10 (whichever is greater).

So you have a debt of $10,000, you have an interest rate of 18%, and you’re going to make the minimum monthly payments. How long is it going to take you to pay it off?

A. Four years
B. Seven and a half years
C. Twelve years
D. Fifteen years
E. None of the above

What do you say? Just whisper to your neighbour what you think.

The correct answer is… “E: None of the above”. It will actually take you close to 23 years to pay it off, and you will pay a total of $9800 in interest. So you’ve pretty much doubled the cost and taken a quarter of a century to pay it off, and that assumes you don’t pay anything else to the card in the meantime!

All of that time, you owe your creditor money. You’re working to earn money for someone else. And as long as you owe them money, that’s the way it’s going to be. You will in effect be their slave.

“Once you're in debt, interest will be your companion every minute of the day or night, and it's working against you. It has no love, no sympathy. It is as hard and soulless as a granite cliff, and you cannot dismiss it. Whenever you get in its way or you cross its course or fail to meet its demands, it crushes you. It just crushes you.”
~ J. Rubin Clark

Some of you know this all too well. It’s not exactly fun to be enslaved to your creditor.


2. Debt increases your work pressures

Let me ask you… if you’re deep in debt, do you ever worry about what might happen if you were to for any reason lose your job? What if you suddenly got sick and couldn’t pay those credit bills? What recourse would you have? How would you survive? How would your family get by? How humiliating would it be?

VIDEO – DEBT “WHO CARES” from www.seewhocares.com

Debt makes you worry about things like that happening. When you are nostril deep in debt, any ripple of disruption to your earnings can seem life-threatening. And that just creates enormous earning pressure. You have to keep your job, you have to keep making money… just to pay those bills. You can’t take time off work, you can’t go on a vacation, and if there's any talk about layoffs then you're just in a consistent panic.

Even when you don’t have any debt, you can be concerned about losing your job. But if you do have debt, that worry is magnified.

There's not much freedom in that, is there?


3. Debt undermines your joy

You tell me: if you’re out for dinner with family or friends, and you’re in debt, how enjoyable is that dinner? I mean, how do you feel knowing that the bill’s coming and you don’t have enough to cover it? You’re just going to have to put it on credit. Or you’re going to pay for it using cash that should have been used to pay for something else that’s on credit. Doesn’t that just ruin your day thinking about things like that?

I mean, do you find yourself thinking, "I shouldn't be doing this. We shouldn't be buying this. We shouldn't be going here. Not in the financial condition we're in. We're too far in debt to do this." Do you find yourself thinking that way? It just undermines your joy, doesn’t it?

The problem is, we think we’re going to find joy in the things we’re going into debt for. How backward is that? But it’s true. And marketers will push that on you. Just watch the commercials on TV. Most of them aren’t pushing the product; they’re pushing the joy you’ll have because of the product. They try to convince you that unless you spend your money on what they’re selling, you can’t be happy.

John Ortberg wrote about this in reference the Happy Meals at McDonalds.

When we take our children to the shrine of the Golden Arches, they always lust for the meal that comes with a cheap little prize, a combination christened, in a moment of marketing genius, the Happy Meal. You’re not just buying fries, McNuggets, and a dinosaur stamp; you’re buying happiness. Their advertisements have convinced my children they have a little McDonald-shaped vacuum in their souls: "Our hearts are restless till they find their rest in a happy meal."

I try to buy off the kids sometimes. I tell them to order only the food and I’ll give them a quarter to buy a little toy on their own. But the cry goes up, "I want a Happy Meal." All over the restaurant, people crane their necks to look at the tight-fisted, penny-pinching cheapskate of a parent who would deny a child the meal of great joy.

The problem with the Happy Meal is that the happy wears off, and they need a new fix. No child discovers lasting happiness in just one: "Remember that Happy Meal? What great joy I found there!"

Happy Meals bring happiness only to McDonalds. You ever wonder why Ronald McDonald wears that grin? Twenty billion Happy Meals, that’s why.

When you get older, you don’t get any smarter; your happy meals just get more expensive.
Citation: John Ortberg, Dangers, Toils & Snares: Resisting the Hidden Temptations of Ministry (Multnomah, 1994), pp.99-100

Listen, you’re not going to find joy in any product. Jesus said…

Luke 12:15 (NLT)
“Beware! Guard against every kind of greed. Life is not measured by how much you own.”

So don’t buy into the lie that you need to own certain things in order to be happy.


4. Debt robs you of giving opportunities

Listen, I know most of you pretty well. I know that you are a giving people. Or at least you want to be. You hear about needs and you want to do everything you can to help. Problem is, you can’t do very much.

Think about that famous story of the Good Samaritan. It’s the story Jesus told about a Jewish guy who was beaten up and robbed and left for dead on the side of the road. Eventually, two religious leaders walk by; they don't stop to help. They’re busy and so they just keep on going. But then a man from Samaria comes along. The Samaritans and Jews were enemies. But that doesn’t matter; this man stops anyway, and he picks the guy up and tends to his wounds.

And that’s the part of the story we normally think of. This Samaritan stopped to help a Jewish man, even though they normally wouldn’t associate with each other, and he takes care of him. And so the main lesson we take from that is that we ought to have that kind of compassion, too.

But let’s take a closer look this morning. If we read the story again and look at the story carefully, we ought to applaud another thing about the good Samaritan. What is it? His money management. Here, let me show you…

Luke 10:33-35 (NLT)
“Then a despised Samaritan came along, and when he saw the man, he felt compassion for him. Going over to him, the Samaritan soothed his wounds with olive oil and wine and bandaged them. Then he put the man on his own donkey and took him to an inn, where he took care of him. The next day he handed the innkeeper two silver coins, telling him, ‘Take care of this man. If his bill runs higher than this, I’ll pay you the next time I’m here.’”

When they got to the inn, the Samaritan had to pay for the bandages and he had to pay for the medical expenses and he paid for the lodging overnight. How could he pay all that? Well, he just reached into his pocket, and it was there to give.

He had that money to use at his discretion. If he was carrying a load of debt and everything he earned was going toward paying interest charges and servicing his debt, then he wouldn’t have had the money to help out like he wanted to. But apparently, he was a good enough steward of his money that he had the money available to help.

So bring that back to today. What happens when you're loaded down with debt, and then there's a wonderful opportunity for you to help someone…. Maybe a loved one, maybe to help the poor, maybe to help the church, maybe to help the cause of Christ in the world… What happens when you want to help, but you don’t have the money? You know, your heart says, "I would love to help out and do that," and your bank account says, "It's not there to give."

That's a miserable tension, especially in the life of a Christ-follower whose heart is just overflowing with compassion. It’s a sad then when you feel the desire to give compassionately, but you can't because you're too deep in debt. Your debt can rob you of giving opportunities.


5. Debt will unmask some character flaws

Now, I know that some debt is caused by accidents or injury or calamities or emergencies that are unavoidable. I know that. I understand that. But that’s not the case with most debt, not the kind most of us carry.

In fact, if you really look at what's going on behind the scenes of debt, what causes people to go into debt, you’ll often see that debt is really just a symptom of deeper problems. Character problems.

It might be that deep down what got you into debt is a lack of patience. You know, where you really wanted something, and you weren’t willing to wait until you could afford it. You just had to have it now. Patience is a character thing.

Or maybe it’s a lack of contentment, also known as greed. Hebrews 13:5 says…

Hebrews 13:5 (NLT)
Don’t love money; be satisfied with what you have.

But some of us are never satisfied. We've never learned how to say that one magic word that will help keep you out of debt. What word is that? “Enough.” Just say, “Enough. I have enough. I can get along without that. I’m content… I’m satisfied with what I have. I can’t afford that and I don’t need that.”

Or maybe it's a lack of trust in God's goodness.

Philippians 4:19 (NLT)
And this same God who takes care of me will supply all your needs from his glorious riches, which have been given to us in Christ Jesus.

Or how about what Chris read for us earlier…

Matthew 6:33 (NLT)
“Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and live righteously, and he will give you everything you need.”

Or maybe the character flaw that your debt reveals is simply that you lack self-discipline. You just couldn’t help yourself. You had to buy it.

If you find yourself constantly going into debt… why? What is it that causes you to do it? What character flaw do you have that takes you down that road? You’ve got to identify it, and you’ve got to trust God to help you fix it.


6. Debt taints your Christian witness.

One of the quickest ways to alienate someone who's investing in Christianity is for a Christ-follower to fail to pay his or her bills.

Back a few months ago, we went through that whole “Just Walk Across the Room” series here. And you’ll remember that the book and the DVDs that we used were by Bill Hybels who pastors a church in the suburbs of Chicago.

Well, he ran into a situation where the way someone handled their debt completely turned someone off of God. They ended up not wanting anything to do with Jesus. This is what Bill Hybels says…

Well, he tells the story of how he was trying to reach out to a car dealer in the area around his church. Over the span of a very long time, he had built a connection. And he invited the man to come to church and the guy was seriously considering it.

But then one day, Bill got a phone call in his office. It was the car dealer on the other end. And he told Bill firmly, “I’m not coming.” And Bill asked him why. “Well, there’s a member of your church who got involved in a bad car deal over here at the dealership. Not only did he not meet his financial obligations, but he wouldn’t even come clean about it.” And then he said, “I just don’t want to be associated with people like that or a faith like that.”

One person mishandled his debt, and it may have cost that car dealer his eternity. That’s a pretty big price to pay.

So let me say to you, don't ever jeopardize your Christian witness to a watching world over money. It's not worth it compared to someone's heart, someone's soul, someone's eternity. Because what happens is this; when you’re in debt, you get to a certain point where you start compromising, you start making late payments, you start missing payments and backing stuff up, you start not coming clean. You start to hide it and rationalize it, and you end up cheating someone. And it's not good.


So there are lots of reasons to avoid going into debt. Debt is dumb. You want to avoid it. But what if you’re already there? What if you’re already nose-deep in debt? Well, there are some answers for that, too. But we’re going to have to wait until next week to get into them.




Copyright © Greg Hanson, 2007 SunriseOnline.ca