When Money is Tight & Times are Tough part 3
Gain a Biblical Perspective on Wealth
by Greg Hanson
Sunrise Wesleyan Church
November 2, 2008

For the past couple of weeks we’ve been talking about what to do when money is tight and times are tough. And the reason we’ve been doing this is because our world has been going through a financial crisis recently, particularly over the course of the past month.

Right here in Canada, the TSX is down 30% this year, and 17% during just the past month. Trade, construction, and manufacturing have all been in decline, real-estate activity has been down, and the loonie fell to it’s lowest level in four years. Now, this past week, there’s been a little bit of a rebound. And hopefully that will continue. But most of the experts say that’s not likely. They predict that we’re heading for a recession if we’re not already in one, and we’ve got a rough couple of years ahead of us.

That’s here in Canada, where our economy is actually fairly stable compared to other countries. In the U.S., on some flights the pilot will come on the intercom as they often do to talk about estimated time of arrival or what the weather’s going to be like or it’s a call to put on seatbelts. But now pilots are coming on and saying, “We’re at the close of business day. Let me give you a market update.” Have you ever hear that on a plane before? The market may crash but the plane will land safely so by comparison we ought to look really good. These are turbulent times.

Banks and investment firms are getting swallowed up or are going down after sometimes 150 years. You all heard about the U.S. government pledging a $700 billion bailout plan and then another $250 billion to try to keep banks solvent.

And it goes beyond Canada and the U.S. This crisis is global. In the last 12 months, $12.4 trillion of global stock market wealth has evaporated. $12 billion that was around a year ago, gone today.

Even Iceland, a country that’s usually fairly isolated, has had to nationalize two of its largest banks and is hoping for a loan from Russia to keep the economy going. You see signs of desperation everywhere.

I read that the former CEO of AIG… which had been the 18th largest company in the world until its collapse in September… their former CEO Maurice Greenberg, saw the value of his holdings drop $15 billion in one day. He went from multibillionaire to a millionaire in one day. Now that’s a bad day.

Now, he’s still a millionaire. But there are a lot of people, people like you and me, who are also going through loss. A lot of people carefully planning for the future have had their future interrupted. A lot of people a few months ago were looking forward to retirement, and now they’re facing a new reality and that finish line’s a lot further off. A lot of people who a few months ago thought they knew how they’d put their kids through college don't know how they’re going to do it today.

And what I think we see right now is a whole lot of uncertainty. People wondering, not just concerned about how bad things are right now, but wondering what’s going to happen next? How long will this go on? How low will it go? Where is the future headed?

So at this time of financial uncertainty, I thought it’d be good for us to look at what the smartest man in the world about money has to say. Who am I talking about? Here’s a hint: this is a Church. It’s Jesus.

Now, a lot of people don’t think of Jesus that way. But the truth is, Jesus is the smartest man in the world about money, and he had more to say about money and money management than pretty much any other topic.

So we’re going to talk about what Jesus might say to us this morning in light of what’s going on in our world. And I think Jesus would want to start by shattering a few myths. So we’re going to look at a few myths about money that you and I need to avoid, and then we’re going to get to a few action steps that would be really good for us to take.

Money Myths:

A.    The Financial Security Myth

I think Jesus might to expose the myth that money can ever make anybody secure. Because so many people actually believe it can.

Think about it. When things are going well, and all the markets are going up, we start to live as if we have the right to expect that the economy is going to continue to expand annually by at least 7%. We live as though we have the right to expect our bodies to get younger, smoother, stronger, and slimmer as we age. We live as though we have the right to expect houses to drop in price when we want to buy one, and then increase in value 30% every year. We live as if a large enough savings account, a low enough mortgage, and a safe enough portfolio can make us secure. But they can't.

Now, the truth is we’re never really in control of our finances. However, most times, we live as though we are. And when a crisis comes, like what’s going on right now, the reason everybody panics isn't that bad things are happening, because bad things always happen. Bad things happen every day. No, the reason that everybody panics in a crisis is that the myth of security is exposed, and all of a sudden we all realize our vulnerability. And that’s a painful thing to realize.

Now the pain is not good, but the realization of the truth… that can be really good. To come to understand that we’re really not in control, that’s a liberating realization.

Jesus told a story about a man who was living in this myth of financial security. Derek read it for us earlier. A rich man had an incredibly profitable year. He made so much money that he had to invent new ways to spend it! He had more than he could ever use. So he sat back and looked at his wealth, and he said to himself, “I’m set for life. Freedom 55 came early for me. So now I can just take it easy, and just eat, drink, and be merry.” But what does Jesus say happened next?

Luke 12:16-21 (NLT)
“A rich man had a fertile farm that produced fine crops. He said to himself, ‘What should I do? I don’t have room for all my crops.’ Then he said, ‘I know! I’ll tear down my barns and build bigger ones. Then I’ll have room enough to store all my wheat and other goods. And I’ll sit back and say to myself, “My friend, you have enough stored away for years to come. Now take it easy! Eat, drink, and be merry!”’
“But God said to him, ‘You fool! You will die this very night. Then who will get everything you worked for?’
“Yes, a person is a fool to store up earthly wealth but not have a rich relationship with God.”

So Jesus says, “Not only are you not in control of your money, but you’re not even control of your life!”

Here, let me give you the best investment advice you will ever receive. And you are not likely to hear it from Warren Buffet, or from Donald Trump, or from Bill Gates. Here it is: You’re going to die. You are going to die, rich or poor. And all the money in the world cannot change that. So you need to place your greatest investment and your greatest security in something far greater than the here and now. Jesus said…

Matthew 6:19-21 (NLT)
“Don’t store up treasures here on earth, where moths eat them and rust destroys them, and where thieves break in and steal. Store your treasures in heaven, where moths and rust cannot destroy, and thieves do not break in and steal. Wherever your treasure is, there the desires of your heart will also be.”

Here in this world, housing values will go up and down. Bank accounts rise and fall. Financial conditions ebb and flow. I can't build my life on that stuff. So what’s more solid? What’s more secure? What’s more permanent? I think Jesus would tell us to build our lives on what never changes, and what never changes is the character and the power of our God. What never changes is the promise of an eternity with Him in Heaven.

You know, particularly because I’ve been speaking on this subject for the past few weeks, I’ve been flipping to the news stations and checking out the tickers with market updates and I’ve been looking at charts online. And I think a lot of people have been doing that… looking to see what’s up, what’s down, what’s unchanged. That’s a ticker for the financial concerns of this world.

But what if there was a ticker for the kingdom of God? How would ticker read. God’s character today: Unchanged. God’s patience today: Unchanged. God’s commitment to justice today: Unchanged. God’s heart of mercy today: Unchanged. God’s love for you: Unchanged. God’s moral compass: Unchanged. The certainty of Heaven for followers of Christ: Unchanged.

Over the past month and during this past year, the market has dropped. But nothing in Heaven has changed today. God is still sovereign. Jesus still sits on the throne. He is our rock. He is the anchor in the storm. He is our hope.

And by the way, the kingdom of God will never need a bail out plan from the government. It’s doing real well. So don't buy the myth that money can make you secure. Get your security someplace else. Get it from your relationship with God.

B.    The “More Will Make You Happy” Myth

Let me just ask you a question. Do you think we live in a part of the world that tempts people to want to get rich? Has that been a dominant temptation in our society here in North America… to want to get more and more?

Yeah, it kind of has been, hasn’t it? I think our society as a whole has immersed itself in this idea that the path to true happiness and satisfaction lies in more, more, more, more, more.

This is fascinating. I was reading this week that there’s a guy named Thomas Pinnau, and he’s an executive with the Mars candy company who has a very interesting title. His title is ‘Vice President of Indulgence.’ No kidding! Wouldn't you like to have that on your business card? Vice President of Indulgence, and he’s charged with coming up with ideas like the creation of what are called “M&M Premiums” that you can buy for up to $100, for a batch of M&M’s. For example, you can get designer M&M’s with your own face on them, so you can consume yourself if you want to. (http://www.iht.com/articles/2008/09/14/opinion/edcohen.php)

And there are other incredible things you can buy in this world. You can buy Tasmanian water that sells for $25 per bottle, because supposedly it was bottled in a place near where the World Health Organization says has the cleanest air in the world.

Or in Europe you can buy what is called Renova Black. Does anybody here know what Renova Black is? I’m not making this up. It is designer toilet paper. Renova Black. You can buy it. You can get three rolls for about $20.

Along the East Coast of the U.S., there are builders of luxury-track homes known as McMansions… these fabulous places that spare no expense… and these builders have landed on this as their sale pitch, and they put it in newspaper ads, and they’re quite proud about it, “We sell what nobody needs.” Isn't that wonderful? “We sell what nobody needs.” Of course, the human condition is, we need what nobody sells.

But that’s the kind of world we live in… where you can buy designer toilet paper. Where we indulge ourselves with so many options because we’ve bought into the myth that more will make us happy.

But then Jesus comes along and He says stuff to us like…

Matthew 6:24 (NLT)
“No one can serve two masters… You cannot serve both God and money.”

You see, there are two things that have led us to where we’re at in this crisis, and both of them have to do with us serving money, being obsessed with money, loving money.

The first is greed. People bought more house than they could afford, they put everything on credit and sank into debt, while at the same time big businesses and corporations leveraged everything and started borrowing as much as $30 for every dollar they owned. Why? Because of greed.

And then the bubble popped, and that’s when the second factor took over… fear. Greed got us in a bad situation, and fear merely compounded the problem. Now lenders don't want to lend, builders don't want to build, hirers don't want to hire. And people are afraid of what they’re going to lose and where they’re going to end up.

Greed and fear. And they’re both driven by this myth that more will make you happy.

C.    The Ownership Myth

VIDEO – from “Finding Nemo”, the seagulls saying “Mine, mine, mine, mine…”

That’s the favourite word of seagulls and two year olds around the world. “Mine.” Nate hasn’t reached that age yet, and he can’t even say the word, but I can already see the attitude setting in. Like the other day when I took the phone out of his mouth, he insisted that it was his. Or when I pulled my laptop out of his grasp, he got upset about that. He’s staking his claim now to any remote control or any other electronic device in the house.

But isn't that goofy? A nine-month-old kid thinking anything belongs to them. Imagine if Nate could somehow take us to court and claim, “This is my stuff,” it would be laughable. He’d be thrown out of court, but it just goes so deep inside of us.

There’s an area of psychology that specializes in working with children of wealth… children who grew up in wealthy families and feel entitled to their stuff and have all of the kind of emotions and emptiness around it. There is actually a name for that condition. They call it affluenza.

One guy I read about, who has done a lot of research in this area, was talking about how his kids felt like they were entitled to everything. And his description of it was kind of interesting. He said it was like they were born on third base and think they hit a triple.

“Mine.” What do you think God does when we say, “Mine.” Well, here is what the Scripture teaches…

Psalm 24:1 (NLT)
The earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it. The world and all its people belong to him.

The world is the Lord’s. All who live in it are the Lord’s. In Psalm 50, God says…

Psalm 50:10 (NLT)
“For all the animals of the forest are mine, and I own the cattle on a thousand hills.”

Haggai 2:8 (NLT)
“The silver is mine, and the gold is mine,” says the Lord of Heaven’s Armies.

When it comes to the Earth, all creation, all its resources, all commodities, all wealth, all creatures, all human beings, who is the owner? God. Who is not the owner? Me and you.

I’ll put it this way: How many of you have ever driven a rental car? Second question, how many of you ever took that rental car to the car wash to get it washed? Why not? Why didn't you take the rental car to a car wash? Because it wasn’t yours. So you’re not paying to get it washed. You’re not going to obsess over it. It’s not yours.

Here’s the deal about your money, here is the Jesus truth: Your money is not your money so don't worry about it. Don’t obsess over it. Don't clutch onto it. Don't let it create your sense of identity. Don't ever think that your net worth is your worth to God. Don't get all proud about it when it piles up. Don't get all anxious about it when it dwindles down, because your money is not your money. I think that is what Jesus would say. I can be liberated from the myth that I own anything because God owns everything. He is the owner; I’m a steward. I am to use it for Him when He entrusts me with it. It’s not mine.

So those are a few myths that I think Jesus might want to demolish. Now before we finish up today, I think there are also a few admonitions Jesus might have for us… steps for us to take… things that we can do to get kind of reoriented in the midst of an anxiety-producing financial crisis. One of them is this…

When In a Crisis, Remember to…

1.    Meditate on what the Bible says

There’s an old saying that “you are what you eat.” I believe is is also true, perhaps even more so, that “you are what you think.”

What do you think about? If all you think about is the poor state of the economy and what businesses are going under and how many of your investments you’ve lost, what’s that going to do to you?

But what if you decided to meditate on something much more positive, something much more uplifting… what if you meditated on what the Bible says about money and about security and about God… what’s that going to do for you? I think we’d all be better for it.

Philippians 4:8-9 (NLT)
Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise… Then the God of peace will be with you.

Contrast that with watching the news these days. You see news and then there’s ads, then news and then ads. And when I watch the news, it’s all fear, fear, fear, fear, and I watch the ads, it’s all greed, greed, greed, greed. And you know, it’s a good thing to watch news and know what’s happening in the world. But it’s important to also fill our minds with better stuff.

Here’s an example of the better stuff: Paul’s words to the church in Philippi. Let’s read these words out loud together, and think about them as we read them…

Philippians 4:19 (NIV)
And my God will meet all your needs according to His glorious riches in Christ Jesus.

So when I say to meditate on what the Bible says, what I mean is to take a statement like this one, a really rich one, and then just sit on it for a while.

Paul says, “My God.” Did Paul have any needs? Well, at the time he writes this Paul is sitting in prison. He has recently survived a shipwreck. Paul doesn’t have anything. He doesn’t have any RRSPs or investment portfolio. He doesn't have a checking account, no savings account, no real estate, no possessions. He doesn't have anything. He has been beaten. He is waiting to die. So you have to ask yourself, is Paul crazy… or was Paul in touch with a deeper spiritual reality that eludes us? Paul says, “My God,” and then I realize that this not just Paul’s God, that’s my God. Even in my time of brokenness, even in my time of crisis, that’s the God who loves me. That’s the God who loves you. And He’s not just THE God, He’s MY God. And He can be your God, too.

Paul says, “And My God will meet some of your needs...”  Is that what the text said? No, it says “all your needs.” Paul is sitting in prison. Obviously, Paul has a different concept of needs. “All your needs.” What’s Paul talking about? What do we really need? Well, what we really need, and the reason we go crazy trying to get stuff, is we need to be loved and to be loving. We need joy. We need richness… not of having, but richness of being. We need hope, we need forgiveness. And yes, we do have some material needs. But really, they’re minimal. What we need is to be rich in love, rich in character, rich in goodness, rich in relationships.

“My God will meet all your needs according to...” your bank account? How much is left in the stock market? No. “...according to the riches of His glory in Christ Jesus.” How many riches is that? That’s a lot of riches.

And I think about it and I realize, “I’m rich!” I think about all the riches God has given me...my life, forgiveness, the hope of Heaven, courage beyond death, people that I love, I get to be part of this wonderful church, He’s given meaning and purpose to life, I enjoy the presence of the Holy Spirit… I’m rich!

And see, the Dow Jones has no power over any of that. Wild swings in the TSX don’t affect those things. I think Jesus would say, “Just immerse your mind in something better.”

Then, I think Jesus would say this would be a real good season to think about, to help out, to pray for someone with greater needs than your own.

2.    Care for those with greater needs than yours

Question: Is this the first economic downturn in the 2000 years of Christianity, or has the Church faced one or two tough times before now? Let’s see… Poverty, famine, persecution, epidemic, martyrdom, imprisonment... Not only have followers of Jesus faced difficult times; it has been difficult times that have defined the Church. It has been in the hardest, most difficult, most tough times that Jesus’ Church has shined the brightest in this shaky, dark world. (In January we’re going to start to explore how God has used the Church as a beacon of hope through the darkest times in history.)

So people… even fully devoted followers of Jesus… have seen rougher times than this. And even in those times, Jesus tells His followers…

Luke 12:31-33 (NLT)
“Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and he will give you everything you need.
“So don’t be afraid, little flock. For it gives your Father great happiness to give you the Kingdom.
“Sell your possessions and give to those in need. This will store up treasure for you in heaven! And the purses of heaven never get old or develop holes. Your treasure will be safe; no thief can steal it and no moth can destroy it.”

He says, “Sell your possessions and give to those in need.” Why? Because here’s the situation: When the economy goes down, the rich are inconvenienced. But the poor are crushed. And the Bible makes it abundantly clear that God is passionately concerned about the poor. He has a heart for the poor and He expects His people will also have the heart for the poor.

Do you realize that we live in a world where 2 billion people right now are living on $2 a day? That’s two billion people that God loves. And He expects you and me to love them, too.

So do I have heart like Jesus’ heart? Do I care like God cares for people who are losing a home? Or do I just as soon say,  “Probably their fault...” Do I care for those who have lost their job, or do I figure they must not have been doing a very good job anyway? Do I care about the retiree who just lost a good percentage of their savings, or do I sit back and wait for the government to do something?

Do I forget that the education I got and the opportunities that I received and the thousand other gifts that came my way were all gifts? Do I think, “I made good choices. I made right decisions. I am morally superior. Therefore, I don't have to be concerned for the poor.” Or do I adopt the same attitude that Jesus had and begin to pray for the poor and care for them and help them out and even serve them? And we’re just talking about here… We aren't even talking here about parts of India or Ethiopia or Haiti or places like that.

What a sad thing if we just cocoon and care about ourselves. What a terrible example we would set for the world, for them to see a bunch of relatively affluent Christians whose primary concern is the setback to our own affluence.

On the other hand, what an opportunity. What an opportunity for the world to see a church that actually trusts Jesus so fully that our concern is stronger for those beyond ourselves, for those who are most in need, than it is for ourselves.

What is your heart like for the poor? Have you even thought about them, or have you been pre-occupied with yourself? Even if you’ve been struggling yourself, there are people worse off than you. Have you prayed for them? Have you considered what you can do?

Listen, we have a couple great opportunities right now for you to exercise some compassion. We have the shoeboxes, and every family here can fill at least one box. And they’ll go to children around the world, many living on less than $2 a day.

Plus there’s the soup kitchen that we’re helping out at in a couple weeks. I expect every family here could provide at least one dish, plus you could take the time and serve those who are in need. That’s not something you should do if you have time; it’s something you should make time for.

What an opportunity for the Church of Jesus to shine as it has always done throughout history, especially in the hardest times. I think Jesus would tell us that.

3.    Cling to God and you won’t need to be afraid

John 6:16-21 (NLT)
That evening Jesus’ disciples went down to the shore to wait for him. But as darkness fell and Jesus still hadn’t come back, they got into the boat and headed across the lake toward Capernaum. Soon a gale swept down upon them, and the sea grew very rough. They had rowed three or four miles when suddenly they saw Jesus walking on the water toward the boat. They were terrified, but he called out to them, “Don’t be afraid. I am here!” Then they were eager to let him in the boat, and immediately they arrived at their destination!

So here you have the disciples. They’re out on a boat and a terrible storm hits. So they’re running around in a panic, afraid for their lives, thinking they might go down with the ship.

And then along comes Jesus, as He always wants to do when His followers are afraid. And what does He say? “Don’t be afraid. I am here.”

He says, “Don't be afraid. Don't be afraid of the storm. Don’t be afraid of the mess you find yourself in. I’m with you. Fear not.”

Did you know that is the most common command in the Bible, 366 times it is given, one for every day of the year including one for leap year... “Don't be afraid. Fear not.” God says, “I’m with you. You cling to Me, and I’ll get you through this.”

You’ve heard me quote this verse before… it’s one of my favourite passages when it comes to weathering a crisis…

Isaiah 43:1-3 (NLT)
“Do not be afraid, for I have ransomed you. I have called you by name; you are mine. When you go through deep waters, I will be with you. When you go through rivers of difficulty, you will not drown. When you walk through the fire of oppression, you will not be burned up; the flames will not consume you. For I am the Lord, your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior.

Whatever your need, and whatever your anxiety about your finances and your worry about the future, whatever kind of crisis you find yourself in, financial or otherwise, remember that God is with you, and you don’t need to fear. He’ll get you through it. And I know “My God will supply all your needs according to the riches of His glory in Christ Jesus.” Amen.

[Adapted primarily from "Where Is God in Financial Meltdown?" by John Ortberg]



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