December 10, 2012

Advent Conspiracy: Spend Less

This week Lottery Fever struck again! Not as bad as last time, but enough. For just a buck or two or 50 you can buy a whole night of dreaming about what you will do with all those losing tickets!

Chance of Winning the Lottery 1 in 175 million!

Here are some things more likely to happen to you than winning the lottery:

Picking a perfect NCAA Tournament Bracket 13,460,000 to 1
Birthing Identical Quadruplets: 13,000,000 to 1
Becoming an astronaut: 12,100,000 to 1
Becoming President: 10,000,000 to 1
Dying from being left-handed: 4,400,000 to 1
Becoming a movie star: 1,505,000 to 1
Drowning in a bathtub: 840,000 to 1
Getting a Royal Flush in your first hand of poker: 649,740 to 1
Dying in an asteroid apocalypse: 12,500 to 1
Finding a four leaf clover: 10,000 to 1
Losing an appendage to a chainsaw:  4,464 to 1
Writing a New York Times Bestseller: 220 to 1
An amateur golfer making a hole in one on a par-3 hole: 1 in 12,500.
A golfer hitting a hole in one on consecutive par-3 holes: 1 in about 156 million.
Being struck by lightning over an 80-year lifetime: 1 in 10,000.
Being attacked by a shark: 1 in 11.5 million
Dating a supermodel:  88,000 to 1

If you are a guy that last one makes you feel a little bit like Lloyd Christmas from Dumb and Dumber as he asks Lauren Holly’s character for a date.

We spend a lot of time thinking about money in our culture. We have budgets to balance, fiscal cliffs to fall off, taxes to argue about, houses to buy, cars to repair, medical bills to pay...As Liza Minelli sings, “Money makes the world go round!”

People seem to struggle more and more to meet their financial obligations each year, and yet Americans seem to spend more and more each year on “extras.” A record 247 million shoppers visited stores and websites in the post-Thanksgiving Black Friday weekend this year, up 9% from last year. Total spending over the four-day weekend reached a record $59.1 billion, a 13% increase from $52.4 billion last year with individual shoppers shelled out more money per person average than last year.

Crown Financial Ministries estimates there are about 2,350 verses that reference how God’s followers deal with money and their possessions. That means 15% of the Bible deals with financial matters and how we relate to them, that is more than any other single topic including Heaven, Hell, faith, prayer, and Bacon!

Why does God spend so much time talking about money and possessions? Because there is very important spiritual principle at work...our orientation toward money and possessions is a reflection of our obedience, our ability to worship, and how we acknowledge Him as the source of all we have.

Over the next few weeks we are working our way through a new series called “Advent Conspiracy.” The basic idea is to re-establish the significance and meaning of Christmas in our lives as Jesus’ followers. We are not in a culture war. We are not taking back Christmas from those pagans who stole it. We are simply working to reclaim the celebration of Christ’s coming in our own lives and homes.

We are focusing on practicing four simple, but powerful, counter-cultural concepts – worship fully, spend less, give more, and love all. They are not easy. Following God has never been easy, but they are rewarding.

At the end of this series, on Sunday, December 23 we will take up a special offering, in addition to our regular tithes and offering, and give it all away. The challenge is for us spend less this Christmas season on those that have too much already so we can give more to others who truly need it.

So as part of our series we are looking at what it means to Spend Less.

1 Timothy 6:6-10, 17-19,
“But godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it. But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that. Those who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs.” 
Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment. Command them to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share. In this way they will lay up treasure for themselves as a firm foundation for the coming age, so that they may take hold of the life that is truly life.
Public speaking classes usually tell you to save your main idea for the end, but I think, in this case it helps to put it right out here at the beginning.

The main idea and challenge of this passage is summed up in verse 6, “But godliness with contentment is great gain.” Gordon Fee writes in his commentary on the verse, “For Paul, contentment comes from the empowering Christ gives to live above both plenty and poverty.” Whether someone has riches or ruin is not the issue. To be wealthy is not a sin. To be broke is not a virtue. Because our hearts can be filled with greed and discontent no matter how much is in our bank account.

In Philippians 4:11-13, Paul illustrates his own pursuit of this principle, “I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through him who gives me strength.”

Them Paul gives us the idea of contentment in its simplest form. Verse 8 says, “if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that.”

So why would Paul want us to know this?

Because there is a conflict between contentment and the desire for more.

In 1 Timothy, Paul leads up to this point by talking about some spiritual charlatans who are using the Gospel as way to extend their financial Kingdom rather than God’s Kingdom. He says, “[they] have been robbed of the truth and...think that godliness is a means to financial gain.”

While most of us aren’t attempting to get rich off the Gospel...Paul’s point is still very applicable. When we attempt to combine a desire to follow God with a pursuit for more...we run into a conflict of interests.

Did you know that 70% of our economy is consumer based? What that means is that for the American Economy to function it needs people to buy things. At the very heart of consumerism is dissatisfaction and discontentment. The very nature of our system is set up to create conflict especially when we read things like verse 6.

Getting more is a focus on me. I want...I need...I’m going to get...I have to have. The Gospel continually turn us love meet the needs of care about others... When a me-centered approach meets an others-centered approach there will be conflict.

And that conflict is rooted in the fact that a me-centered approach seems way more natural. But the others-centered approach is actually more fulfilling.

One author writes, “We are constantly searching for the one thing that will satisfy us. Yet each time we trust the promises of our possessions, more barriers are raised between our true selves and God’s plain command to love [Him] above all things. It’s not that we necessarily want more – it’s that what we want is something we can’t buy.”

Have you found that to be true in your own life? That a me-centered approach comes into conflict with the others-centered life God is calling us to live? All that stuff we buy never actually completes us or satisfies?

It never really makes us any happier? As soon as we buy that one thing we just have to have...there is the next thing we just have to have. We are a lot like children only with bigger purchases.

Pursuing godliness with contentment will bring us into direct conflict with the world we live will challenge us at the very core of our being.

The second reason Paul wants us to pursue contentment is

Because our discontent has a dark side.

So much pain, suffering, grief, and evil in our world can be directly attributed to the human desire for more...

How much evil have innocent people suffered at the hands of leaders who desire more power? More wealth? More land? More subjects?

How much pain has been caused because a spouse was not content with the woman or man they pledged to marry?

How many children have been left essentially parentless because of a father or mother’s desire for more money and accomplishment in their careers?

Our passage says, “Those who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil.”

Money, and what money buys, is the root of all kinds of evil.

The perfectly wonderful grandma will claw out your eyes if you grab the DVD she wants in the mad rush of Black Friday.

The Christian man of integrity will fudge those numbers or overlook a problematic product when his boss demands threatens to take away his job.

So much pain and suffering and evil in our world is caused by the desire for more.

This dark side has two results:

“Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs.”

1. Some...have wandered from the faith.
When conflict happens between the Kingdom of God and the Kingdom of More...some wander away from the faith.

That is just how the business world we abandon our principles and adopt “good” business practices...and wander away from the faith.

Our economy will fail if we don’t buy stuff...How long can an economy of unlimited consumption really last in a world of finite resources?

We desire more stuff and when we begin to desire something more than we desire God...we drift away. When it becomes more about me and what I can get...that conflict causes separation.

2. Some...have pierced themselves with many griefs.
This seems almost self-explanatory. But as the Notorious B.I.G says, “Mo money, mo problems!”

I was talking with one of my students this week who is getting ready to purchase her first car...and I became that old guy who rains on the parade. Because once you buy that quickly realize all the money it takes to keep that car. Gas, insurance, repairs, tires, alignment, oil changes...

On a grander scale...the more we want...the more we seek to fulfill every want and whim...the bigger our griefs become.

We live in a world that almost forces us to take more than we really need or even want...and it can feel like jail cell. We are trapped. You have to buy this and then buy that, and something else comes along and you have to buy that too. And it compounds grief upon grief.

You have to buy a car in order to get around...but then you have all the added grief and expense of that.

You need a nice house and all this stuff, but then you need electricity to run it all, heat to keep it warm, an alarm to protect it, and insurance to buy it again if it is ever stolen. Grief upon grief.

We never start out discontent. It never seems like it is that big of a deal to get a new TV or that DVD or take part in Black Friday...and it really isn’t in some ways. The challenge is for us to continually look at our lives in light of the Gospel.

Do we really need something else?

Might God want me to use my money a way that would expand His Kingdom?

Do I control my money or does my money control me?

The best way to combat all these from the very start is focus on being people of contentment. Let me give three quick things to help us become more content:

1. Turn over ownership of everything to God.
“For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it.” We really don’t own anything anyway. We build it so we give it to the person who follows us. And ultimately God owns it all anyway.

2. Be thankful for the basics.
“But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that.” A few years ago, Dayton had a horrible wind storm that damaged a lot of houses and tore down power lines. Lori, Bri, and I were without power for a week. Crews were working night and day to repair things...doing everything humanly possible to get things taken care of. I remember reading one of the comments on the DP&L site. The lady basically said, “Don’t they realize that electricity is a necessity and not a luxury?” Guess she needs to travel more because a good portion of our world still lives without the necessity of electricity.

If we bought nothing else except food and clothing for the rest of our lives...we would still be an extremely blessed people.

3. Give generously to others.
Verse 18 says, “Command them to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share.” It’s so easy to forget that God’s blessing are never solely for our own benefit...but so we can be a blessing to others. We are given so we can give. We are blessd so we can bless. The more we hoard and keep...the more we are unable to receive what is truly valuable and worthwhile.

What would happen in our world if we asked the could I spend less so I could give more...more to those who are mission work around the changing the quality of life for those who have very little...we could make a difference that would change the world.

Our challenge over the next few weeks is to spend less so we can give more. To buy one less take a few steps back, and then to give that money to others who really need it.

We are actually making a slight course change. We were planning to work with an organization that builds wells. And we will still be helping to build a well, but we are going to keep things a little more connected.

Almost once a year Cyndi goes to Honduras on a mission trip. Just a few months ago, we as a church helped her go down to work with a church in San Pedro Sula. She also sponsors a little girl down there. This week she asked if we would be willing to use some of the money brought in to help the village where she worked...because they do not have access to clean water. They need a well.

So we are going to keep things a little closer to home because we are already invested in Cyndi and in this village through Cyndi. They are looking to raise a total of $14,000 between all the members of the group that went we will be donating to help build a well that will help people we have already helped!

We take for granted the clean-ish water that comes from our tap. Here is an opportunity for us to make a big difference.

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