given on Sunday, August 14, 2011: This is the second part of the discussion on how finances can keep a church–or individuals–from ministry.
Let me begin by defining what I call “financially frozen.” The difficult economic news has left many individuals financially frozen. Whether on a budget plan, a savings plan, a retirement plan, or any form of fixed income, finances have a way of freezing us into any type of action, often leaving us frozen in fear.
We are afraid of whether we can pay our bills or will have enough money for a major purchase or even enough for the undefined retirement or golden years. The very same type of fear occurs in our churches or any other organization that does not have a plan or a budget to guide them.
There. The key to becoming thawed out—a plan. This is a crucial step that Dave Ramsey discusses in his book, Financial Peace. Without a plan, one does not understand the big picture for his or her own finances, nor does a church understand what happens with our offerings. A plan is needed to keep each one of us from becoming frozen into place.
Jesus had a plan for us and it is identified in the story of the young, wealthy man who approached him in our scripture last week from Mark 10:21:
Jesus looked him hard in the eye—and loved him! He said, “There’s one thing left: Go sell whatever you own and give it to the poor. All your wealth will then be heavenly wealth. And come follow me.” (the Msg)
The big picture is to create in Christians a lifestyle that met their needs, but one that took their additional wealth to help meet the needs of those who do not have enough.
John Wesley also wanted Christians to follow that principle and in discussing his core term, use of money, the Wesley Study Bible note states, “. . . any wealth beyond what is necessary for ethical business and modest living belongs to the poor.” (p. 1233)
Understanding the God created the earth and all that is in it, why have we lost that basic appreciation of the bounty God has provided us? Why is our culture so driven to get more and more stuff? Is it because we have lost a sense of what our needs are or when our needs are really enough?
God’s big picture was a Garden of Eden in which his children could live harmoniously. Food and shelter was provided. The need for more was not even a thought—until the temptation. Once God’s law, the boundaries as we might refer to them now, was tested and broken, the needs expanded and the wants moved in.
Throughout the Old Testament we have references on how God’s people were to follow the law. The law became extremely restrictive in who took care of who—such as a widow was to be cared for by the oldest son. Family was to take care of those who suffered a loss or a tragedy. And even within the community, if one family could not meet the basic needs, then the others were to meet those needs.
The New Testament verses continue to develop the big picture, but this time the boundaries are even broader. Once the basic needs of your household were met, then you were to love your neighbor as yourself and meet the needs of others—regardless of who they are—with what extras you have.
In Luke 12:33, Jesus outlines some guidelines for us to follow:
Be generous. Give to the poor. Get yourselves a bank that can’t go bankrupt, a bank in heaven far from bank robbers, safe from embezzlers, a bank you can bank on. It’s obvious, isn’t it? The place where your treasure is, is the place you will most want to be, and end up being. (the Msg)
That may seem like practical advice, but do we do it. In fact in Rasmey’s book, he reminds us that we may have to use banks, but the banks are a business making money from the money we are housing with them. The key is to use the money in the most financially responsible manner in order to meet our needs.
The Life Application Bible study notes provides additional questions for us as we try to identify our own big picture:
Money seen as an end in itself quickly traps us and cuts us off from both God and the needy. The key to using money wisely is to see how much we can use for God’s purposes, not how much we can accumulate for ourselves. Does God’s love touch your wallet? Does your money free you to help others? If so, you are storing up lasting treasures in heaven. If your financial goals and possessions hinder you from giving generously, loving others, or serving God, sell what you must to bring your life into perspective.
The big picture: Is it a big house with all the most current amenities? Is it the fastest car? Is it the latest style to begin the school year? The way we define “need” versus “want” gives us a pretty honest image of who we are.
The church’s big picture must also be defined. The details of the church’s big picture are the practices: hospitality, worship, faith development, mission, and generosity. If we step back and honestly critique our big picture, we can see where our picture is faded.
Back to the plan. If we are to improve our big picture, follow God’s directions, and meet our needs, we need to layout a plan. Our plan can meet our needs, but it really needs to look beyond needs and determine how to meet our community’s needs.
Every one of us needs a personal plan, but as a Christian community, we need a Christian plan of ministry. We need to determine what the needs are and then design a means to meet those needs. Once we begin meeting needs of others, more will join adding more depth to the big picture.
To frame up our big picture, consider what Proverbs 6:1-5 has to offer us as instruction:
If you’ve gone into hock with your neighbor
or locked yourself into a deal with a stranger,
If you’ve impulsively promised the shirt off your back
and now find yourself shivering out in the cold,
Friend, don’t waste a minute, get yourself out of that mess.
You’re in that man’s clutches!
Go, put on a long face; act desperate.
There’s no time to lose.
Run like a deer from the hunter,
Fly like a bird from the trapper!
On a first reading, this proverb may not seem to fit. But, establishing a plan must be done conservatively. To complete the big picture, we must start with small steps, we must simply do it.
The Life Application study notes explain more thoroughly:
These verses are not a plea against generosity, but against overextending one’s financial resources and acting in irresponsible ways that could lead to poverty. It is important to maintain a balance between generosity and good stewardship. God wants us to help our friends and the needy, but he does not promise to cover the costs of every unwise commitment we make. We should also act responsibly so that our family does not suffer.
The scriptures help define the big picture but also how to reach it. We, as our community’s Christian family, need to see the big picture and then develop the plan to reach it—in a responsible manner.