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  • Adam Schell

Following the Way | God & Your Finances

So, to start the New Year at Melbourne Heights, we have been talking about how we can follow Jesus all year long. But we’re not doing this the way that we typically do. Typically, when we talk about following Jesus at church we talk about following Jesus in the churchy areas of our lives. So we’ll talk about following Jesus when it comes to worship, or Small Groups, or reading your Bible, or saying your prayers. But what we’ve been reminding you of throughout this sermon series is that Jesus isn’t just the Lord over the churchy stuff. Jesus is Lord over every area of our lives.

Jesus is Lord over every area of our lives.

So we want to talk about how we can follow Jesus in every area of our lives. And we’re doing that by taking a closer look at the main areas of our lives that we all tend to focus on at the beginning of a new year. And we’ve seen that the areas of our lives that we tend to focus on at the beginning of a new year are our health--which we talked about last week, our free time--which we’ll talk about next week, and our finances--which we’re talking about today.

That’s right, today we are talking about everybody’s favorite topic in church...and that’s money. Okay, I’m just kidding, nobody really likes when we talk about money in church and that’s because the church doesn’t have a great reputation when it comes to money.

Let’s face it, just about every one of us has run across a video on late-night TV or when we’re scrolling through YouTube of some revival service where the preacher--who always seems to be wearing a gaudy suit with his hair slicked back--promises that if you’ll become a “ministry partner” and make a donation of a mere $19.99 that he’ll send you a special appreciation gift of a genuine splinter from the actual cross on which Jesus was crucified. And you don’t have to wonder if this splinter is really just a piece of IKEA furniture run through a wood chipper because it comes with a certificate of authenticity signed by the apostle Paul and notarized by Moses.

Well, maybe you haven’t seen a so-called minister that is quite that brazen. But you don’t have to look very hard to find a preacher out there somewhere who promises that if you sow your financial seed into his or her ministry that God will let you reap a seven, or ten, or hundredfold yield for what you’ve sown. But the reality is that the only one who is getting rich off of that lie is the guy in the video who’s selling it.

So, here’s the deal, today we are going to talk about money. But I won’t do it in any of the stereotypical ways that we associate with the church. So I won’t promise to send you a splinter from the cross. I won’t talk about the financial harvest that God wants you to reap. And I won’t ask you to sow your financial seed into the ministry of Melbourne Heights. Today, we won’t even put up the slide that shows you where to go on our website to financially support our church.

And that’s because this sermon isn’t about our church’s finances. This sermon is about your finances. And, if you’re like most Americans, your financial picture isn’t a very pretty one. Let me give you some statistics to show you what I mean.

In November of last year, it was reported that consumer debt in the United States surpassed $14.27 trillion. Now, consumer debt consists of personal debts that are owed as a result of purchasing goods that are used for individual or household consumption. So consumer debt includes things like credit card debt, student loans, car payments, and your mortgage. And we, as Americans, have over $14 trillion worth of it--that’s trillion, with a “t”.

And I know that number is way too big for any of us to really comprehend, so let’s break it down a little bit. Americans owe $14 trillion and there are roughly 330 million Americans. So for us to have over $14 trillion in consumer debt, that means the average American has over $40,000 of debt. And that’s per person. So the typical family of three would be $120,000 in debt, or the typical family of five would be over $200,000 in debt.

And what does that debt actually look like? Well, the average credit card balance in America a little over $1,600. But here’s the kicker...the average American has four credit cards. So the average American has over $6,000 worth of credit card debt. And that’s just credit cards.

Let’s take a second to talk about how much money we owe on our cars. Out of the $14 trillion worth of consumer debt we have, car loans make up $1.34 trillion of it. And here’s what that looks like for the average person. For the average person who bought a new car the last time they were on a car lot, their typical monthly payment is $568 and, if they bought a used car, then the average payment is $397. That’s every month...and the typical term for an auto loan is 63 months. That means that the average American is paying between $400 and $600 for their car every month for more than 5 years.

And by the time we make the payments on our credit cards, our cars, our student loans, and our houses each month, most of us don’t have much money left to save. That means that half of all Americans are living paycheck to paycheck...and that number doesn’t change too drastically based on income either. 1 out of every 3 people earning between $50,000 and $100,000 each year and 25% of people who earn over $150,000 a year report that they are still living paycheck to paycheck.

What that means is that if the average American had an emergency that cost them over $1,000--like making a trip to the ER or having their car breakdown--59% of us would have to borrow that money from a credit card company, a bank, or a friend.

But financial experts recommend that we all have enough money saved up in an emergency fund to cover 3 to 6 months’ worth of our expenses. And, the Bureau of Labor Statistics tells us that the average household spends roughly $3,500 per month on the essentials--like housing, food, healthcare, and transportation. So the typical American family should have an emergency fund of $21,000...but 59% don’t even have $1,000 in savings.

Now, I know that I just threw a whole bunch of numbers and statistics out at you. And I’m sure it was more than a little overwhelming. But I did it for a reason. I want you to understand that we, as Americans, don’t have the best relationship with money. And that’s all come to a head because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Remember, most Americans are living paycheck to paycheck. So when 36.5 million people lost their jobs in the spring, many of them didn’t have anything to fall back on. And even though our economy has begun to bounce back over the last few months, over 20 million Americans are still drawing unemployment benefits. So without the government stepping in and increasing those benefits and sending out stimulus checks, a lot of people would be flat broke or, even worse, bankrupt.

But that’s not what God wants for your finances. Now, don’t get me wrong here, I am not telling you that God wants to make you rich. I think one of America’s most prominent speakers and pastors, Rick Warren explains it pretty well. In an article for Time magazine, he’s said, “This idea that God wants everybody to be wealthy?…There is a word for that: baloney. It's creating a false idol. You don't measure your self-worth by your net worth. I can show you millions of faithful followers of Christ who live in poverty. Why isn't everyone in the church a millionaire?”

So God may not want to make you rich...but God also doesn’t want you to be broke.

God may not want to make you rich...but God also doesn’t want you to be broke.

God wants you to be able to provide for yourself and for your family. The apostle Paul, who was the foremost missionary and theologian of the first century, makes this clear for us in a letter that he writes to a young pastor, named Timothy, that Paul is mentoring.

Now, when Paul writes this letter, there are a lot of ministers in a town called Ephesus who have come up with their own rules about following Jesus. So Paul writes to Timothy to try to straighten things out. Paul wants Timothy to know what it really looks like to follow Jesus. And in 1 Timothy 5:8, this is what Paul tells Timothy. He writes:

5:8 [I]f someone doesn’t provide for their own family, and especially for a member of their household, they have denied the faith. They are worse than those who have no faith.

1 Timothy 5:8 (Common English Bible)

So, it’s clear from this verse, that God expects us as followers of Jesus to be able to provide for our families. But I want you to notice what Paul doesn’t say in this passage. Paul doesn’t say that God is like our own personal ATM. Paul doesn’t say that God is going to rain money down on us. Instead, what Paul is alluding to in this passage is that we have to be responsible with our money so that we can take care of our families.

So that’s what I really want to talk about today. I want to talk about how each of us can be responsible with our money. But before we talk about how each of us can be responsible with money, I have a confession for you. And that’s that I haven’t always been responsible with my money. As a matter of fact, at the beginning of 2015, my family was up to our eyeballs in debt. We had just bought a home a couple of years we had a great big 30-year mortgage hanging over our head. We had also bought two brand new cars within the last three we still owed around $30,000 on them. And we were slowly paying down the balance on a Home Depot credit card that we opened up so we could put new flooring down in the house that we had just bought.

And that meant that every month, we had to write a check to our bank for over a thousand dollars for our mortgage payment. That meant that every month, we were paying Toyota around $750 for our two cars. That meant that every month, we were throwing any extra money we found at that Home Depot card...just trying to make it go away.

That amounted to about $2,000 a month coming out of our pockets before we bought any groceries. That amounted to about $2,000 a month coming out of our pockets before we put any gas in a car. That amounted to about $2,000 a month coming out of our pockets before we bought our daughter a single toy or a new outfit. That amounted to about $2,000 coming out of our pockets before we spent another dime.

So that means that my family was living paycheck to paycheck like half of all Americans. But in 2015, we decided to get serious about our finances. And within two months we had paid off our Home Depot card. Within nine months we had paid off my car. And just over a year later, we had paid off my wife’s car. All totaled, we paid off over $30,000 in consumer debt in just over a year.

And because of that, we have been able to build up an emergency fund. Because of that, we have been able to start building up our retirement accounts. Because of that, we have been able to start a college fund for our daughter. And because of that, we won’t be paying a mortgage for 30 years...that mortgage will be paid off long before 2043 rolls around.

And here’s the thing, I’m not telling you all of this because I want to brag about myself or my family. I’m telling you this because I want you to know that no matter what your finances look like today, you can take responsibility for them and you can change your relationship with money. I mean, I’m a minister and my wife is a it’s not like we have a huge, extravagant income. And when we started to change our relationship with money, we were in worse shape than the average American family. Like I said earlier, the average American is $40,000 in debt. So my little family of three should’ve been $120,000 in debt...but we were closer to $200,000.

So let me tell you the biggest secret to our success. Let me tell you the most important thing that you can do to take responsibility for your finances and to change your relationship with money. And it all comes down to one word: budget. And I know that some of you think that I just told you to go rent a car...and that’s why a lot of us are in trouble financially.

But a budget is essentially a plan that you make for your money. And the idea of budgeting is Biblical. When Jesus talks with the crowd around him about what it means to be one of his disciples, Jesus uses a budgeting example. In Luke 14:28-30, Jesus says:

28 “Suppose one of you wants to build a tower. Won’t you first sit down and estimate the cost to see if you have enough money to complete it? 29 For if you lay the foundation and are not able to finish it, everyone who sees it will ridicule you, 30 saying, ‘This person began to build and wasn’t able to finish.’

Luke 14:28-30 (New International Version)

Building a tower takes a lot of work and a lot of resources. And so does building a healthy financial life. And whether you want to build a literal tower or just make sure that you can take care of yourself and your family, you need to have a plan for your money. You need to have a budget. Let me say that again:

You need to have a budget.

Now, I’ll be honest with you, there are a lot of different approaches to making a budget. So, when it comes to budgeting, you need to find what approach works best for you because a budget will never work if you don’t actually use it. So don’t be afraid to spend some time googling “How to make a budget” and then try out a few approaches until you find the one that’s right for you.

But for me, the approach I prefer is called a “Zero-based Budget.” And the goal of a zero-based budget is that when you subtract your expenses from your income each month that it will equal zero...but that doesn’t mean that you have zero dollars in your bank account either.

So let me give you an example to show you what I mean. When you’re making a zero-based budget, the first thing you need to do is write down your income.

Budgeting Step 1: Write Down Your Income

So, for our example, let’s pretend that you bring home $3,000 a month. That’s your income, $3,000.

Now the next thing you need to do is write down your expenses, starting with the essentials.

Budgeting Step 2: Write Down Your Expenses (starting with the essentials)

The essentials are shelter, food, utilities, and transportation. So let’s say that you spend $1,000 a month on rent or your mortgage. Let’s say you spend $500 a month on groceries or eating out. Let’s say that you spend $200 a month on your electric and water bill, and another $200 on your cell phone and internet service. And let’s say you spend $100 a month on gas.

So, when you add all of those expenses up, you get $2,000. So when you subtract $2,000 from $3,000, you still have $1,000 that you need to budget for. So now’s the point where you need to think ahead a little bit. Because you have some expenses that are occasional expenses instead of monthly expenses. You’re going to have to pay for your vehicle registration, your property taxes, and maybe even HOA fees. So if you’re vehicle registration runs $200, and your property taxes are $800, and your HOA fees cost another $200. Then you need to set aside another $100 bucks a month to make sure you can cover these expenses.

So, in this example, you still have $900 left. So the next thing you need to do is set your financial priorities.

Budgeting Step 3: Set Your Financial Priorities

Now, the Bible makes it clear that one of our financial priorities should be giving. That’s why it tells us in Hebrew 13:16:

16 Don’t forget to do good and to share what you have because God is pleased with these kinds of sacrifices.

And it’s also why the Bible talks so much about taking care of the orphan, the widow, and the prisoner. God wants us to use our finances to help other people. So, as you make your budget, I encourage you to make giving a priority.

But giving isn’t the only priority. If you’re in debt, you need to get out of debt as quickly as you possibly can so you need to throw a good chunk of that $900 at paying off your debt. But make sure that you still have a little money set aside to have some fun with because budgeting is a lot like dieting. If you can’t have a donut or an ice cream cone from time to time you probably won’t stick to your diet. And if you can’t have some fun with your money, you won’t stick to a budget.

But once you’re out of debt, your financial priorities change. When you’re debt-free, you can start focusing on saving money, building your retirement accounts, helping pay for your kid’s college, and giving even more.

So, let’s go back to our example. With the $900 left, let’s make giving a priority and follow the Biblical principle of tithing, and give $300 to help others (whether that’s through our church, another non-profit, or something else. Out of the $600 we have left, we might want to make sure we have a couple hundred bucks to cover our entertainment, clothing, and miscellaneous expenses. And we’re going to throw the other $400 at paying down our debt.

And, when you do the math, you’ll find that your monthly income is $3,000 and your monthly expenses are $3,000. So you now have a zero-based budget.

Now, I know that I covered a lot of information there. So if you missed any of it or if you need a little clarification, there are a couple things you can do. First, you can just rewind this video and rewatch it. But, if you need a little more help, reach out to me. Call our church office, send us a message on Facebook, or just leave a message in the comments thread to let me know you need a little more help. If you do, I promise I’ll work with you until you’ve got it figured out.

And once you have it figured out, once you take control of your money, I’ve got to tell you it’s an incredible feeling. The financial expert and radio personality Dave Ramsey describes it well when he calls it financial peace. Having control of your money will give you a sense of peace that I cannot explain. But I can tell you it’s the kind of peace God wants you to have in your life.

But it’s up to you. You’re the one who has to do it. But if you’re willing to commit and work on it, you can change your relationship with money.

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