Friday, December 2, 2011

Become a Giver

It was about 10 years ago that I finally admitted to myself that I'm not very good with money.  In the division of labor in our home, the month to month maintenance of deposits and debits falls to me.  I have to be honest.  I absolutely loath doing the bills every months.  As a result, the receipts pile up higher and higher until I've turned a mountain into Mt Everest!  Watching over this wears me out.  I worry about it constantly.  It really bothers me that others seem to do it so well.  And no amount of Jesus' teaching to NOT worry about tomorrow seems to aleviate my anxitey.

About five years ago, I decided it was time to put all that anxiety to rest.  After years of fooling myself and trying to fool others, and years of constantly going two steps forward and two steps back, I became honest with myself and asked for help.  Though the bills still don't light my fire, I have found some real freedom in getting the financial portion of  our lives together. Jesus teaches that if we get the financial portion of our lives in order, then a lot of the other portions of our lives and faith will grow and mature deeply and significantly.

In today's climate, the stewardship of our financial resources is a pertinent subject for anyone.  It's pertinent, because let's face it, fear and uncertainty fill the economic air we breath.  Unemployment hovers at a stifling rate.  Fear that the world markets could collapse tomorrow linger ever so near.  We hear about Europe.  Things are so tenuous there that what solutions they are proposing to bailout Europe's economy could falter in an instant if Greece's collapses.  Occupy Wall Street, a movement of the so-called 99% who are fed up with the abuses of the 1%, is gaining momentum and growing more violent.  Interestingly, in my opinion, it's kind of telling on Americans that those who consider themselves to be the 99% are really the 1% when we think globally.

So, whether it's the European markets, the total collapse of the economy in Greece, the U.S unemployment rate, or just personal deficits, a pervasive anxiety strangles many of us.  What I have gotten present to in the last few years is that the way through is the simple and practical habits of money management mixed with the discipline of delayed gratitfication and a healthy dose of the circumstances of the poorest of the poor.  Really, the stewardship of our financial resources is a simple spiritual practice of managing our God given gifts and resources, so that we might live into the heart of our commitments to love God and love our neighbor.

The turning point for me came when I took the 13 week course called Financial Peace University, a course developed by Dave Ramsey.  We offer it every year starting in January.  It's a course that offers participants hope and practical, manageable steps.  Here are five steps that are offered in the course.  I offer them as motivation for you to think and pray about your giving and find healthy patterns financially and spiritually.

STEP 1:  Start an Emergency Fund
Starting out, everyone should have a beginning emergency fund of $1,000.  If you don't have that in the bank, then that's the first step.  What does this do to help?  It means that we don't have to rely on Visa and Mastercard for emergencies.  Proverbs says, Wise people have stores of choice food and oil, but foolish people devour everything they have.  Find a way to put $1,000 in savings that's accessible so that when the car breaks down, you can pay for it. 

STEP 2:  Live on a Budget
Step two is to develop and live with a budget.  Dave Ramsey says, "A budget is simply telling your money where it is going to go instead of wondering where it went."  Just hearing that for the first time helped me.  Jesus said, Don't build a tower without first counting the cost, lest you get half way up and you are unable to finish and all who see you begin to mock you.  The good news is that having a budget takes the stress out of managing money, stress that has an impact in other areas of your lives.

STEP 3:  Get out of Debt!
The third step is to get out of debt.  The Bible says, The borrower is slave to the lender.  Experience the freedom of not owing anyone anything!  Dawn and I over the course of 3 years have paid off about $20K in debt.  We have a half car payment left.  This will only leave us owing on our house.  Now, we are moving on to a fully-funded emergency fund of 3-6 months of our salary in savings.  Do you know how liberating that is!!  Some of you do, and some of you could , if you change some of your behaviors and simply be disciplined.

STEP 4:  Invest Wisely
The fourth step is to invest wisely.  Proverbs says, Spread your portion to seven, Yes, to eight, because disaster may come upon the land.  Sounds like a land we are living in at present.  Gas prices up.  401Ks look more like 201Ks.  The best way to protect yourselves is to diversify, which simply means "Spread your portion to seven, Yes, to eight."  Three to six months of your salary needs to be in a savings account.  If you are fortunate enough to own your own home, then you have some of your investment in equity.  Fifteen percent of your income should go to retirement.  As you work through these steps, you find that there will be other money available to invest.  Invest wisely.

STEP 5:  Become a Giver
Becoming a giver is the goal of being a good stewardship of God's gracious resources.  To be in a place where your wealth can be an opportunity to expand the kingdom of God in ways where justice is done.  Wherever the poor are lifted up, wherever people are liberated from the forms of life that enslave them, wherever the broken-hearted are healed, wherever the captive is set free, there one finds the kingdom of God.  That's the goal!

I believe that everyone should be committed to giving some amount regularly and consistently over time.  Start somewhere.  What's true is that if you can live on 100 dollars a year, you can live on 90 dollars a year.  May the Lord bless you as you prayerful consider your giving!
PS:  This Sunday, December 4 and next Sunday, December 11, we are asking the members and friends of FCC Houston to declare their plan for giving in 2012.  This will be the amount that you plan to give to sustain the ministry of the church to bring people and ourselves into a vital relationship with Jesus.  It will be a declaration that is between you and God that we will ask you to share with us in a commitment card that you'll turn in as we engage a budgeting process for the church.
PSS:  This link provides some basic tools and materials to help you prepare.