Several years ago, there were some families in a church I served that decided that it was time to get weird. They decided that they didn’t want to be “normal” anymore. Today in North America, “normal” means: 1. We believe we’ll always have a car payment. 2. We have no money in the bank for emergencies. 3. We have a student loan that’s been around so long we think it’s a pet. 4. We’re up to our eyeballs in debt. The bottom line is that “normal” means “broke.” And they didn’t want to live that way anymore.
And guess what? It’s working. They went from hundreds of thousands of dollars in debt to little to no debt, savings for immediate emergencies and future planning, and the ability to give when their heart says give.
Ok, so this is not an infomercial! This is a pastor who sits with family after family and listens as the narrative of their life is consumed by worry or anger about money. This is a pastor who knows after reading the Bible thoroughly on several occasions that money is addressed regularly by God. This is a pastor who doesn’t want to ask for your money before I address your heart’s struggle about money. This is a pastor who truly, loves to tithe but struggles with debt and I’m ready to live differently and I want to invite you to walk with me. This is a pastor who believes that we have no idea what we are capable of if we just tried it God’s way. This is a pastor that believes that if each of the individual members of the church were walking in financial peace, then the church would also walk in financial peace. We wouldn’t have finance meetings about where the money is coming from…we would have finance meetings about where the money is going.
So for the next several weeks I am submitting myself to the instruction of a biblical financial teacher named Dave Ramsay. I think there are other great teachers out there. I think no one program answers all the questions. But I believe this to be practical, accessible, and successful in teaching God’s people how to steward God’s gifts.
Dave teaches that there are five characteristics of a church walking in financial peace, and over the next five weeks, we’re going to explore each one in detail. We’ll see that a church operating with financial peace: i. Trusts God completely ii. Saves money consistently iii. Recognizes God’s ownership iv. Embraces its God-given mission v. Commits to lifelong generosity.
Today, we’re going to start with that first principle: A financially wise church trusts God completely. And that trust is based on the issue of contentment.
WE LIKE STUFF
Contentment is a tough word in today’s consumer-driven culture. We’re living in the most marketed-to culture in history.
The average American sees over 3,000 commercial messages a day.
A child born today will likely see over one million commercials before age 20.
The purpose of all this marketing is to drive home two important points: “You need what we’re selling.” 2. “And you need it now!”
Comedian Brian Regan makes this point about Pop-Tarts®. Have you noticed that Pop-Tarts® now have microwave instructions? Seriously. The box says, “Microwave on high for three seconds.” Good grief. How long does it take to toast a Pop-Tart®? A minute? Who doesn’t have one minute in the morning to toast a Pop-Tart®? If you have to cut your breakfast preparation down from one minute to three seconds, you might need to loosen up your schedule a little bit. You’re booking yourself too tight.
But that’s just who we are, right? We want our stuff, and we want it now!
III. WHAT IS CONTENTMENT?
In the book Authentic Faith, author Gary Thomas says, “Contentment is nothing more than ‘soul rest.’ It is satisfaction, peace, assurance and a sense of well-being that is cultivated by pursuing the right things. Instead of more power, more money, more pleasure, and more control … we seek an abundance of grace and peace.” Let me say it again: Contentment is soul rest. So, let me ask you: Is your soul at rest?
This sermon, this series of sermons isn’t about asking you to write bigger checks to The Bridge. In 14 years of pastoring, I have consistently voiced to church finance committees (often receiving their disapproval): It’s just money. God doesn’t need my money, your money, their money to build God’s Church. God’s Church is built on the blood of Jesus Christ and the testimony of God’s people. But God does want your heart. And if your heart is being held hostage by worry or fear or anger about money, God wants to release your heart.
For many, their souls are not at rest. Instead, they are restless. They are restless thinking about the raise they didn’t get. They are restless thinking about the new computer they want to buy. They are restless thinking about a new car or new house that seems out of reach. They are restless thinking about the neighbor’s new raise, new computer, new car, or new house. So here is where we are going to begin our focus on money. Now, as we read this passage, I would like for you to count the number of times the word money is written in the text.
It’s not in there. You can assume if you’d like that “little” and “plenty” refer to money, but I would contend that it refers to so much more. Let me say it a different way. Our problem with money is not money. And you may think that if you had more money, you’d have less problems. Can I just pull a trump card on that one? (some of you will get that later)
Rather, this passage cut to the issue of soul rest or peace. Paul wrote the book of Philippians while sitting in prison. He had no freedoms, no privacy, and no assurance that he’d ever be released. And before you think, things were different then, let me assure you, you are right. They were much worse. Paul’s conditions in prison were literally life threatening. That makes his comments on contentment even more powerful. This is a man who once had everything in the world—power, prestige, respect, and possessions—but now he’s stuck in prison. The Philippian church had sent Paul a messenger and a care package, and in chapter 4 of the book, Paul stops to thank them. However, he cannot thank them without stating clearly that God has already given him everything he needs. It is as if Paul is saying, “Thank you for sending this to me. That was indeed a blessing. However, I want you to understand—you who are free and well-off—that contentment isn’t about the stuff I have with me. Contentment is a condition of the heart, and in Christ, all my wants, needs, and desires have already been met.”
And what does that kind of contentment do to someone? It leads you to amazing levels of faith and assurance. We’ve all heard the often-quoted passage, “I can do everything through him who gives me strength.” For how many of you is that your favorite verse? Did you know that Paul speaks that regarding learning to live with an attitude of generosity in an environment of scarcity. “I can do ANYTHING through God who gives me strength.” So what were you thinking earlier when you imagined having no debt? Even in the pit of prison, Paul wasn’t concerned with what he did or did not have. He certainly was not concerned with what anyone else did or did not have. If he lost absolutely everything and still had Jesus, that would be enough.
THREE CHARACTERISTICS OF CONTENTMENT
Contentment means trusting God, not money. 2 Contentment means thanking God for what we already have. 3. Contentment means giving generously in all circumstances.
Contentment means giving generously in all circumstances.
Giving changes our mindsets, even when we have very little to give.
Giving a tithe serves as a reminder of ownership. It is a concrete recognition of the fact that God owns it all. (Psalm 24:1)
Giving a tithe demonstrates your contentment with what you have. You see, you cannot give if you aren’t convinced that what God’s given you is enough to meet your needs.
Giving is an act of obedience. It enables us to participate in relationship with God in a meaningful way. The emphasis must remain on God. The focus should remain on what we can give, not what we can get.
When we are responsible with what we have, I believe God honors that and entrusts us with more while protecting what we have. That should never be a motive for giving, but it should be a faith-based expectation. God honors your faithful giving.
The world is not teaching contentment. Contentment is an active choice. We can choose to be content, regardless of our circumstances. Contentment makes us available for what God has in store for us. We can freely say “yes!” when He calls us to go, give, serve or do.
Your invitation is to live with a humble joy and contentment with what God has given you today. What has He given you? With what has He entrusted you? If you don’t think you have much to offer God, you need to take a closer look at your life. He’s given you family, friends, opportunities, talents, skills, abilities, time…himself—He’s given you everything. This isn’t a question of whether or not you have something to offer. This is a question about what is keeping you from offering what you have to Him. What is your stuff keeping you from doing for God today? Trusting God will help you become content and experience true peace