Losing the Shackles

Losing the Shackles

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This sermon is the first in a 5-part stewardship series entitled “Enough.” This series is based on the short stewardship study by the same title authored by Adam Hamilton. The sermon series theme is Discovering joy through simplicity and generosity. The series Scripture verse is 1 Timothy 6:17 — “Command those who are rich in this present world not to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God.”

Sermon #2: “Giving On Purpose”
Sermon #3: “Which ‘Tent’ Will You Live In?”
Sermon #4
Sermon #5 (Rev. Bob Roth, Consecration Sunday)

Sermon Scripture: Proverbs 30:7-9
Sermon Theme: Financial and Spiritual Freedom
Sermon Main Point: Pursuing good, God-honoring financial practices is a major component in experiencing financial and spiritual freedom.

Freedom is a word that has significant meaning for us. If there’s a word that defines our national identity, it’s probably “freedom,” or its synonym, “liberty.” Freedom is a national core value for Americans.

It’s also a core value for Christians and people of other faith traditions. However, our faith-based perception of freedom goes deeper than having the right to speak our mind or even worship as we so choose. And that’s because we believe that it’s quite possible to be enslaved to certain belief and life systems even as we boast about our civic freedoms.

Let me quickly define “freedom” as it pertains to what I’m talking about. For the sake of this sermon, I’m defining freedom as “the state of being at liberty rather than in confinement or under restraint.” In this case, the opposite of freedom would be restraint, captivity, imprisonment, even slavery in the broadest sense. Freedom, then, for our purposes this morning, is about NOT being subject to some form of restraint or captivity.

To get even more specific, this morning I’m talking about spiritual and financial freedom. I’m talking about being free from spiritual and financial captivity. And here’s something we need to remember: whether you make $1 a year or $1 million a year, it’s quite possible to be spiritually and financially enslaved. In fact, those two often go together; spiritual enslavement and financial enslavement often go hand-in-hand. So my hope for this morning is to help us to begin to dismantle whatever it may be that’s keeping any of us from truly experiencing spiritual and financial freedom.

To that end, let’s begin losing those shackles with the only weapon  that has any power in this endeavor: prayer… Father, this morning we’re going to be talking about and considering things that are difficult to hear and even difficult to process. Whenever we talk about money, and giving, and how we spend and use our money, it’s easy to tune out, or get irritated. We do value freedom; we value the right to spend our money the way we see fit…to save it or give it away in the manner of our own choosing. We don’t appreciate it when others tell us what we should and shouldn’t do with our own hard-earned money. Having acknowledged this, our prayer this morning is simply this: that this morning you would begin to crack upon the doors of our hearts and minds so that we might hear YOU speaking to us…that we might be able to hear the truth of your Word in regard to our relationship with our money. And that that truth would move us to consciously make decisions about we use our money which will both honor you and move us in the direction of true freedom. In the name of the One who has set us free from all that would enslave us, Jesus Christ our Lord, we pray. Amen.

Several years ago the Royal Bank of Scotland sent an offer for a Gold MasterCard to Monty Slater. The card came with a $20,000 line of credit—quite impressive for his first credit card. Especially given the fact that Monty is a Shih Tzu dog! I’m not making this up. You can read about it on the BBC website.

This may be humorous, but as Adam Hamilton points out in his short stewardship study entitled “Enough,” it does illustrate a sobering truth: we live in a world that encourages us to live beyond our means. In our modern day culture, we are enticed to have it now and pay for it later. Whether we like it or not, It’s the way we live these days. When was the last time any of you bought something on layaway? Do stores even offer that option anymore?

What’s the most obvious problem with the have-it-now-and-pay-later approach to spending?….[Financial indebtedness] Credit card debt in our country is astronomical, and it gets deeper every year. Certainly, there are those among us who are able to pay the balance of their credit card bills each month, but I think that’s the exception rather than the rule. The majority of Americans have been caught in a destructive web of debt, the kind which requires rather drastic measures to get out of. Being in financial debt has the potential of leading to financial captivity.

If any of us are interested in moving out of debt, a good place to start is by answering this quesion: where does this have-it-now-and-pay-later approach to spending come from? One person I read suggests that it’s the by-product of the “American Dream.”

Here’s how Adam HamHHamilton describes the American Dream: “For most people, the American Dream has to do with a subconscious desire for achieving success and satisfying the desire for material possessions. It’s the opportunity to pursue more than what we have, to gain more than what we have, and to meet success. And we tend to measure out success by the stuff that we possess.” The American Dream. The goal of getting ahead, getting more, getting all we want, and getting it now.

There’s a scene in the movie, Scarface, which typifies the American Dream. In the film, Al Pacino plays a Cuban who came to the U.S. in 1980 when Castro allowed thousands of Cuban’s to join their families already in the States. His first job is as a dishwasher in a food truck. The scene shows him bent over a sink of hot water washing dishes. At one point he turns around and angrily says to his friend who’s serving food, “I didn’t come to the United States to break my back washing dishes.” I know that millions of people have come to our country with the dream of getting ahead. It’s the American Dream.

And this Dream has been around for a long, long time. It’s not just a recent phenomenon.

Listen quote from a non-American, and then you tell me when you think it was written. Here’s the quote: “Americans are extremely eager in the pursuit of immediate material pleasures and are always discontented with the position that they occupy…They think about nothing but ways of changing their lot and bettering it. For people in this frame of mind every new way of getting wealth more quickly, every machine which lessens work, every means of diminishing the cost of production, every invention which makes pleasures easier or greater, seems the most magnificent accomplishment of the human mind…One usually finds that the love of money is either the chief or a secondary motive at the bottom of everything the American’s do.” Any guesses as to when this keen observation was made? [French diplomat Alexis de Tocqueville in 1835]

Here’s the problem we all face. Unless you moved to this country later in life, every one of us here cut our teeth on the American Dream. It’s in our civic DNA. It’s so much a part of us that we don’t even think about it. Get ahead. Get more. Get all I want. Get it now.

Unfortunately, where does this often leave us? In financial and spiritual captivity. Financially, many of us are in debt beyond our means to easily pay it off. And—generally speaking—we’ve gotten to this place because we bought into the lie that we can’t be fully satisfied unless we have more than we already have. That’s spiritual captivity.

The American Dream might well be called the American Nightmare! Because it often leads to debt collectors and personal bankruptcy—not to mention tremendous stress. In his book Priceless, Dave Ramsey reports that “the number one cause of divorce is financial issues.” And, as Hamilton, concludes, we are suffering the consequences of our addiction to consumption and compulsive buying, and yet our desire for more is never satisfied.

If you’re honest with yourself, can you think of an example in your own life in which you’ve been thinking about buying something that you know you truly don’t need, but for some reason you still find yourself fixated on getting it?

On the surface, it may look like a financial issue. But I believe there’s a good argument to made for the notion that our overspending – at worse, our living beyond our means – is the really the byproduct of a spiritual issue. For many of us, addressing our spending habits will probably mean also taking a serious look at our heart and soul.

So, what’s the problem? In a word, sin. Brokenness that keeps us in spiritual bondage. Overeaters will talk about “stress eating.” Many will admit that they eat in excess not because they’re hungry, but because they’re stressed. Some folks who are coming to grips with their excess shopping will admit that they’re driven to buy, buy, buy not because they need whatever it is they’re buying, but because they’re trying to meet some emotional need. The problem is, overeating and excessive shopping never, ever meets that need. And the truth is, it’s our common lot. We’re all broken in some way, and it’s just a common mistake we make when we try to fix that brokenness with the things of this world, whether food, drugs, alcohol, or material things.

As we address our own spiritual brokenness, it’s important to remember that our souls were created in the image of God – Genesis 1. But because of sin, they’ve been distorted. You and I were meant to desire God, but as a human race, we’ve turned that desire toward possessions. Here’s how Hamilton describes our human condition: “We were meant to find our security in God, but we find it in amassing wealth. We were meant to love people, but instead we compete with them. We were meant to enjoy the simple pleasures of life, but we busy ourselves with pursuing money and things. We were meant to be generous and to share with those in need, but we selfishly hoard our resources for ourselves.” This is the sin nature within us and, unfortunately, there’s no getting rid of it.

But the good news is, there are things we can do which will reduce the likelihood of us become slaves to sin…and slaves to financial captivity.

The first thing is a mental adjustment. It’s recognizing it for what it is—a spiritual issue. The Evil One’s main objective and greatest delight is to undermine our effectiveness as Christ’s people, replacing our joy with misery. In John 10.10 Jesus said, “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. But I came that you may have life, and have it abundantly.” One of Satan’s most effective ways of destroying our joy is to convince us that we need to keep pursuing the American Dream—to keep up with Joneses, to borrow against our future, to enjoy more than we can afford in the present. And even if one CAN afford a lot of things, to convince us that we need more than we really need. By doing this, he makes us slaves, and keeps us from doing God’s will.

So the first step is to recognize it when it’s happening, and then to confess it to God. Be honest with yourself and with him. Stop rationalizing your desires to attain more. And then lay it at the Lord’s feet in confession, asking him to replace that desire for more stuff with a greater desire for him. I realize what I’m telling you is somewhat oversimplified. Getting out of spiritual and financial bondage isn’t a matter of applying a couple of easy principles to your life; in reality, it’s a arduous task. But the fact remains

that moving forward into spiritual and financial freedom begins with seeing and confessing whatever it is that’s keeping us in bondage.

Having acknowledged that, the next general step is to commit yourself to living out new attitudes and practices. Proverbs 30:8 is a great place to start if want to adopt a God-honoring attitude towards your relationship with your money. This is literally a prayer. “Don’t give me either poverty or wealth; give me just the food I need.” Father, give me what I need for right now, and enable me to be satisfied with that.

Make that a daily prayer, and see if God won’t begin to change your heart.

And then in regard to our practice, broadly speaking, for many of us it means committing ourselves to living within our means—not spending money we simply don’t have. It’s beyond the scope of this sermon to saying more about this. But that doesn’t take away from the fact that many of us may have to consider how we might change our patterns of spending so as to live within our means.

Here are two (of many) benefits of living within our means.

  1. When we’re faced with an emergency expenditure, like an unexpected large repair bill for the car, or having to get a new furnace in the middle of January, we won’t be even further stretched when if have to put something on credit.
  2. It allows us to be generous. Who here wouldn’t like to be more generous than we already are? My guess is that one of the main reasons we’re not is because we’re too far stretched financially as it is now.

In closing, Let the words of today’s choir anthem be your call to a life a greater simplicity and generosity.

Softly and tenderly Jesus is calling: come home.
Come home, O sinner, come home.

Come back to me, your first love. Let me be what you desire the most in this world. May it be so for all of us.

Let’s pray…

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