given on Sunday, August 7, 2011
Financially Frozen in Fear
Following the news this week has certainly been difficult. First things are doing well, then the whole economic system of the entire world is threatened. What in the world are we to do?
Interestingly enough, I have spent some time reading Dave Ramsey’s book, Financial Peace, and his theories and advice have given me many different thoughts. I do not think there is any way I could even sort them out completely, but I know they are percolating there in my brain’s financial core. Too bad it is such a bitter flavor that I cannot enjoy the “coffee” brewing in my head.
The Bishop has tasked us with the theme of “Extravagant Generosity” for this year, but that is not one of the top ten topics I feel comfortable dealing with as I am sure you agree. Finances around the church are a taboo subject, one no one wants to think about especially when the whole economy is dangling on a thin string (pardon the cliché).
Why tackle finances then? I suppose I might answer that the Bishop is my boss and I do what he asks me to do. Or maybe I could say I am answering God’s direction. But it really comes down to a much more practical, personal issue—my personal economy.
The last year has been challenging to say the least. The prices keep soaring—not just rising, but soaring—whether it is the cost of bread or a gallon of gas. The wages either are frozen or even dropped. I am thankful I still have gainful employment, but many do not. Try as I might, the budget squeeze keeps getting tighter.
The same thing is happening in a different perspective, too. The school districts are hit. The government finally realized it was hit. The private businesses are hit. No matter what, the financial security we always seek to find is shattered. What do we do? How do we manage personally in this economical storm and how do we continue to carry out ministry?
This quandary sent me on a scavenger hunt, so to speak. I began by reading Ramsey’s book, which is almost finished. Then I spent reflection time while multitasking through the month. Finally, sadly, I turned to the Bible. In the concordance, the term money is full of references from the Old and the New Testament.
As we all know, the Bible is where I should have started, but I also thought I was pretty familiar with its advice. Turns out that I do have a fairly strong understanding of “extravagant generosity” and the purpose of focusing on it, but I do not think I can truly express it well in my own words. Therefore, I have included a handout for you based on the scripture and the Life Application Study Bible footnotes.
Look closely at this handout (attached). The scriptures begin in the Old Testament and continue through the New. Now, admittedly, these selected verses represent only a small selection of the ones listed in the concordance, and some may not seem to connect together well. (I encourage each of you to do your own search during the next week, as we will continue this discussion for one more session.) But look at the study notes that are aligned with the verses. Sometimes these notes provide the clearest direction.
[Provide a few moments for each to scan over the notes.]
In the Old Testament, one most review the notes along the circumstances of the Israelites. The Twelve Tribes are living a nomadic life for years. They are dependent on the land, totally dependent. They develop communities, trade opens up, and money begins to exchange hands. Following God’s law, the Jewish people give to God, make sacrifices, and prosper.
The three sets of verses represent entirely different time frames and circumstances. Yet, the financial advice follows the same pattern: give to God what is his, give to the needy, and use what you need—not want—to live comfortably.
Reviewing the wide range of verses listed in the concordance, allows us to travel throughout human history and see what happens to people who follow God’s laws and those who do not follow them.
Even going through the New Testament verses, the same lessons are repeated. Probably the selection from Mark, which is the focus scripture for today, is the most telling one. The phrase “Jesus looked at him and loved him.” (NIV) or “Jesus looked him hard in the eye—and loved him.” (MSG) are so similar. Whether we want to hear what God tells us or not, we know that he loves us.
From this story, we may discover we, too, respond as did the young man—the man’s face clouded, or fell as in the second translation—when he hear God tell us what to do. Hearing such extreme directions on giving can freeze us up. We know what we should do, but we fear how that will change our way of living. We fear the unknown. We fear that what we need is not going to allow us to have what we want.
Where does this leave us? It leaves us in a society that is sending all types of messages about spending and saving-or not saving. It leaves us in a culture of owning stuff. It creates a quandary for us. How do we follow God when we are living in our cultural surroundings? How do we serve God’s financial formula in an uncertain economy?
Only one answer: pray! Whether we are still in the work force or whether we are in retirement, we have a mission: to love one another, to make disciples of Christ, to serve.
Our ministry is frozen if we do not serve. During the next several weeks, we are in a phase of transition. We move from summer to fall. We move from the growing season to harvest. Is our church following that same pattern, or is the hot weather and drought of summer, figuratively, causing us to dry up and whither away? Are we going to have a harvest?
These questions are not easy. We are frozen in fear and unfortunately finances are a contributing factor. This is not a plea for funding, rather it is a plea for serving. In order to reap, we have to serve. To serve, we have to give—of ourselves and sometimes of our money.
To thaw out, lets use these next few weeks with the transition back to school, to the seasonal changes with the fair and harvest, and with the Serve 2011 theme. We are here to serve one another in Christian love. We are here to provide a meal for those who give to our youth. We are here to welcome family and friends back to the community for a fair. We are here to serve as God’s hands and feet in a culture frozen in affluence yet full of need.
Dear Loving Father,
We seek your guidance as we make the transition from summer to fall.
We know you ask us to give of ourselves and our resources,
Yet we seem frozen in time and space not sure how to move forward.
Help us to see those who are hungry, those who are thirsty, those who are lonely;
And fill us with the Holy Spirit as we find ways to meet those needs.
We will strive to be extravagantly generous as we decide how to serve.
We will offer radical hospitality when we open our doors to the community.
We will take risks as we define our mission and step forward to serve.
May our hearts dissolve the boundaries which have held us so tightly.
May our hands do the tasks that demonstrate our love and compassion.
May our minds discover how faith grows when the Holy Spirit goes into action.