This week we begin a new series we are calling, ‘The Good Life’ and, boy, does the phrase ‘The Good Life’ sure mean different things to different people. The first thing that comes to my mind when someone says, ‘They are living the good life!’ is an uber-wealthy someone, living the life of leisure on their yacht on the French Riviera. And yet, what I’ve discovered is that philosophers have been debating what ‘the good life’ is for centuries… and some philosophers do agree with my initial picture of the good life; they say that ‘the good life’ is simply living a life of pleasure… Other thinkers, though, disagree completely and believe that if you are successfully living your life by high moral principles, then you are living ‘the good life.’ Still others say that ‘the good life’ is being able to check all the boxes of achievement: a good education: check; a decent amount of prosperity: check; good friends: check; the respect of others: check; good health: check. If you’re checking all the right boxes, then you’re living the good life. Still others say, ‘No, the good life is living a life of meaning… changing other’s lives for the better is ‘the good life.’ These debates go on and on. But I believe, and I am confident the Bible backs me up on this, for those of us who are followers of Jesus, finding the ‘the good life’ begins with finding contentment… being content, being satisfied with where you find yourself… content with who you are, with what you have and content with what you are doing with what you have been given. Now, what I’ve found is that people are searching for contentment in a lot of areas of their lives… they want contentment their relationships and their sense of self-worth and their place in the world. But possibly the one area where more people are desperately longing for contentment is in their financial lives. I know this is true just from my own anecdotal experience as a pastor, but, listen to these statistics from a CNBC and Varo Bank poll that prove the point: 30% of Americans are stressed continually over their finances; and fully 85% of us are stressed out over our finances at some time. And here is why: 66% of adults and 71% of millennials don’t have a 3-month emergency fund. In fact, 46% of all adults have no savings at all and less than half of us could cover a $1000.00 emergency. Close to half of American 18-24-year-olds have less than $1000.00 saved and here is the kicker… the other half has nothing saved. This is why 43% of Americans say that unexpected expenses are their biggest worry and 70% of Americans have had to dip into what savings they do have in the last 2 years to make it to the next paycheck. One-in-five Americans are living paycheck to paycheck. 50% of adults do not have a will and only 40% of us have any sort of financial plan that lets us know where our money is going. These are terrible national statistics and I can’t help but believe that these statistics probably reflect much of our congregation to a great degree. And we pastors care about our congregation; we care about your lives… every part of your lives. We also know how devastating financial stress can be to every other aspect of your life and the life of your family… and so, this series; a series about finding ‘the good life’ financially. And to be clear, this is not a series about giving. Not at all. We want to help those of you who may find yourselves in the ‘continually stressed financially’ category find peace and contentment. And we also want to help those of you who aren’t continually stressed by money issues make the wisest financial choices as you move ahead in life. Again, we are doing this because we care about your life and your family’s life… it’s that simple. So, before we dive in let’s Pray.
You may have heard of Ron Blue. He is a well-known, much-trusted, Christian, financial guru. And when Ron Blue talks about personal finances he starts with an image of an iceberg. And we agree with him when he says that our financial lives are like an iceberg: our actions… how we actually live out our financial lives, in other words, our spending habits, our saving habits and our generosity toward others, these are all above the waterline. But what is influencing these financial actions are the beliefs that we hold way down deep under the surface. And Ron Blue is very specific about what beliefs are impacting our actions: he says that what a person believes about stewardship, contentment, faith and wisdom will determine how they spend, how they save and how they give. Now, we are going to talk about what the Bible has to say about each of these ‘beliefs’ over the next few weeks, but this week we are going to talk about what I believe is the bedrock of all financial beliefs and that is Stewardship… and stewardship begins two givens: one, believing that God owns everything, and two, that I am a steward, the caretaker, of the resources He (God) shares with me. This is the place where all discussions about financial things has to start… because my attitude towards who owns what determines everything else. And for me, this business of stewardship… of God owning everything and me being a steward of God’s resources has always been somewhat of a difficult concept to completely come to terms with. Yes, I’ve heard about the importance of being a good steward of God’s resources all my life. But, to be honest, when I was younger stewardship was generally presented to me in a way that made it look like God was up in heaven with a big club just waiting to see if I was being enough of a tightwad in my life, so I would have more money to give to the church. Now, I know that sounds ridiculous, but I’m just being honest. I even had some trouble coming to terms with believing that God owns it all… as in literally everything. Yes, I’d heard Psalm 24:1 quoted all the time: The earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it. The world and all its people belong to him. For he laid the earth’s foundation on the seas and built it on the ocean depths. Yet, here is where I think I had a disconnect: it wasn’t hard for me to think of the natural world, the plants and the animals and the sea and the stars as God’s. That was easy. Nature was God’s. What was difficult believing was that the money that I’d earned and the material things I’d bought with my hard-earned cash, also belonged to God. Elephants and oak trees, of course; my bonus and my bike, not so much. But God has said pretty directly that it all belongs to him… I don’t think Psalm 24 can be understood in any other way. So, there was a time not that long ago that I realized that I needed to be certain that I had come to terms with first, ‘God owning it all’ and second, my role as someone who is called to wisely take care of God’s resources. So, I decided to set out on a journey through the Bible to come to a better understanding the statement, ‘God owns it all!’ And it didn’t take long for me to find that God’s ultimate statement of his claim to, as Psalm 24 says, ‘to owning everything’ and my role as a steward. In fact, what I found was that the Bible actually starts out telling us all about this. Now, I know that most times we think of Genesis 1 and 2 as chapters that tell us about the creation of the world, and I believe with all my heart that they do. But I am just as certain that these 2 chapters were also purposed specifically to let us know who owns everything! What I am about to say demands that we take off our 21st Century American hats and think like ancient near eastern people for a minute. What I realized was this: while Chapters 1 and 2 of Genesis are a very clear description of the creation of the world, they are also a picture of God creating all that was ‘ownable,’ all that had great value in the ancient world. Money did not yet exist and being wealthy was defined as possessing enough of the necessities of life to not have to stress out about tomorrow. Turn with me for a moment to chapter 1 of Genesis (page???) and look at verses 1 and 2 for a moment. ‘In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.[a] 2The earth was formless and empty, and darkness covered the deep waters. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the surface of the waters.’ Genesis starts off telling us that the world was empty and then what we see is God making the land in verse 9 and then he starts filling the land with the very things that ancient people would have seen as signs of great wealth: Good land that grows food… land filled with fruit trees… and then in verse 24 we read ‘Then God said, “Let the earth produce every sort of animal, each producing offspring of the same kind—livestock, small animals that scurry along the ground, and wild animals.” And that is what happened. God made all sorts of wild animals, livestock, and small animals, each able to produce offspring of the same kind. And God saw that it was good.’ God creates livestock (literally ‘behemah’ means any animals that can be herded: cattle, sheep, goats, even camels) and he fills the land with wild animals. Genesis 1 would have said to ancient people that God had made everything that they believed would make a person wealthy and if he’d made it all then it all belongs to him; this would have been obvious to ancient people. I don’t think it is any coincidence either that when the Old Testament turns to talking about someone being wealthy, we read about their livestock and their land… the same things that God created in Genesis 1. But Genesis 1 and 2 would also have told the ancient readers that God was perfectly willing to let us ‘reign’ over his newly created wealth. Look at verse 28. Then God said, “Let us make human beings in our image, to be like us. They will reign over the fish in the sea, the birds in the sky, the livestock, all the wild animals on the earth, and the small animals that scurry along the ground.” A close look at the first two chapters of Genesis tell us that God’s initial intension was for us to ‘steward’ everything that God had created. And contrary to what I heard when I was younger, this wasn’t intended to be an odious, ‘tight-wadish’ responsibility… it was to be a high honor. You see, in the ancient world, one of the highest positions a person could ever be given was to be the steward over a king’s possessions. In fact, the Bible shows us God working to make people like Joseph and Daniel rise to the high position of steward and it is always pictured as a great honor. Ancient people knew immediately that being named a king’s steward was about as amazing an appointment as a person could receive. And right at the beginning of the Bible God lets us, you and me, know that we have been given the gift of being the stewards over God’s wealth. Now, I know that times have changed. Most of us don’t calculate our wealth by a headcount of our sheep and when it comes to material wealth, we don’t tend to think in terms of freshly-mined and newly forged golden nose rings. We have a completely different way of thinking about what is valuable. But if think about our world carefully… and honestly, we’ll have to admit that everything that we call valuable, even in our very different world, still arises in some way out of God’s initial creative action. Everything.
We could talk a long time about how the first two chapters of Genesis declare that God is the author and the owner of all that is… and how he has honored each one of us by placing us in the position of stewards of his rich, plentiful household. But for today, the more important discussion is ‘How are we doing when it comes to this stewardship?’ I suppose the first question is this: Are you convinced that God owns everything? If so, has this conviction changed the way you approach all that he has given to you? Truth is, the ways we spend and use his ‘riches’ will tell the world how we really feel about all of this. Now, I am not a financial advisor. I am a pastor. But even so, I still know the unending pull of our culture is to make wanton consumers out of all of us. The world around us makes no attempt to help us spend less than we earn or to avoid debt or to set financial goals that include margin. In fact, it works to make it as easy as is possible for us to do just the opposite. And it also encourages us to be discontented… to want the new, the up-to-date, the currently fashionable. Our culture champions entitlement and it tells us that we have a right to anything that we want because we are so deserving. Plus, our culture also demands that we consume in ways that look effortless to everyone around us… in other words, we are expected to maintain the aura of unlimited means no matter what the truth might be. And it also claims that through consumption we can find fulfillment and contentment. And all of this is a direct affront to what God has to say about what he would call ‘the good life.’ He tells us the good financial life, a life of financial contentment, can only happen when we take our roles as stewards seriously and are carefully thinking about how we are caring for all that God puts into our hands.
Here are some questions that are rolling around in my mind related to all of this: Am I seriously thinking about how much is enough? Is my life reflecting God’s values or the world’s values? How often do I stop and consider the fact that everything that I have is a graciousness from God? How seriously am I really thinking about the responsibility that comes with being a steward for the King of the Universe?
Now my initial intension was to get personal and give you all a window into the times and ways I have struggled with these issues, but what I decided was that it is probably best to simply let you know that I am human and then get right to the practical things that are intended to give all of us hope… hope that we can live the good life… hope that we can be content… hope that we can find ways to be good stewards of the bounty of the kingdom of God.
So… I am human. And with that out of the way… what we have to offer to all of you is easily the single most comprehensive offering of financial help we have ever created here at Grace. It has been the work of many people… staff and volunteers… And what we have created is for everyone, whether you are a part of the 30% who are always stressed about money or you are a family that has done all the right things with all the right perspectives… No matter where you may be on the financial meter, totally stressed out or absolutely content we have some very practical resources for you. So…
If you don’t know where to start when it comes to getting your financial house in order the first thing I recommend you do is go to this page on our website: https://gracechurch.us/thegoodlife/. There you will find a myriad of resources that will help you begin your journey to financial confidence and contentment.
But if you feel you need some practical, face-to-face guidance to help you get you or your family unstuck financial, we recommend strongly that you sign up for one of our peer-to-peer, financial coaching session. These sessions are free, they are private, and they are confidential. The system we have created will put you in contact with 2 fellow Grace people, people with big hearts and good financial knowledge, who will sit down with you, treat you as a friend and speak hope into your life in this area of high stress. These men and women are trained to assist you as you work through your practices with money and they will walk with you on your journey to financial freedom. To sign up for this opportunity go to: gracechurch.us/peercoaching/.
Our second offering is purposed to meet another need that we know exists… I mentioned earlier that half of the people in America have no will and that 60% of us have no plan whatsoever for preparing for the future or protection the things that mean the most to us. Well, Grace has partnered with Financial Planning Ministries to help you get these kinds of things in order. This partnership is purposed to help you learn about issues concerning the estate-planning process without anyone trying to sell you anything. Financial Planning Ministries offers our people seminars on estate planning and these seminars include the creation of wills and living trusts. These seminars will also help you ensure that your end-of-life medical decisions will be followed, that the guardianship of your minor children is taken care of, and that your desires for the distribution of your valuables will be fulfilled. And they offer all of this at no cost. It’s free! I’ve been to one of their seminars and I can tell you straight up it was crazy helpful. And did I mention it’s free? We have 2 seminars coming soon: one at our 146th campus on Saturday October 5th from 10:00-11:30 and another at our Fishers campus on Saturday October 5th from 1:00-2:30. You can sign up for these free opportunities by going to the page on the website I mentioned earlier: https://gracechurch.us/thegoodlife
Our third offering is for those of you who are in a different financial situation and you are looking for ways to maximize the impact of your giving. We believe that God wired us with a desire to give and help others, but HOW to give is something that must be learned. And so, for those of you who would like to learn more about WAYS to give we are offering an opportunity we are calling The Generous Destiny Workshop. It is a seminar designed specifically to help you discover some surprising ways that you can compound your generosity, all while realizing some fairly significant financial benefits. This seminar will be led by a group of very skilled financial coaches: Greg James, who is the President of the National Christian Foundation of Indiana, Layne Hoekema, who is a Private Wealth Advisor for the Ronald Blue Trust, and Brent Dunn, who is the Senior Advisor and owner of Crosspoint Wealth Advisors, LLC.What these men have told us is that most professional advisors have very limited personal experience with non-cash giving tools and techniques and we want to make sure that you know about these tools. This seminar is an opportunity to taste the life-changing nature of strategically designed generosity. It will be offered on Friday, October the 25th, and you can sign up for this opportunity by going to gracechurch.us/thegoodlife/.
And finally, we have a 6 session LifeGroup study Curriculum called ‘God Owns it All’ that tackles the one money question we should all be asking: How much is enough? The answer to this question is found in God's Word. This curriculum is a product of Ron Blue, the man I mentioned earlier when talking about the iceberg image and in his study he presents financial principles that are not only affirmed by the authority of Scripture, but they have been tested in the marketplace. This study will introduce you to God’s biblically-based principles, principles that will equip you to approach money management and financial planning with freedom, generosity, contentment, and confidence. The purpose of this study is to help you get your finances in order, simplify your financial decision making and help you experience contentment. We have long believed that financial management is a part of discipleship and this study will help you and your group members understand the principles that lead to a deeper following of Jesus. Again, it’s called ‘God Owns It All: finding contentment and confidence in your finances’ by Ron Blue and you can get this study through the bookstore or online.
Again, we are offering all of this because we care… we care about you and your family. And we want you to know the joy of contentment and freedom from financial stress. God created a very good world for us, and he filled it with an overabundance of goodness… and then he gave each of us the greatest of honors… the task of being the steward of his riches. My prayer is that we will all soon experience the joy that comes from carrying out this honor well… and that we all know the wonderful sense of God’s Spirit whispering to us, ‘Well done, my good and faithful servant.’