Mar 10, 2009

Staying Faithful in Uncertain Times

Lately my pastor, Les Hughes, has been bringing it from the pulpit. He's in a series called "When God Gets Personal," and we've been hearing great things from the congregation about the messages. The last couple of weeks he's been talking about "When God Gets Personal With My Stuff." It's been a great two weeks of messages about the resources we have and our stewardship of them. He's also been able to bring some timely advice to the body about how to react during the stress-filled economic times we are in. As church leaders, we struggle just like everyone else with making ends meet, making wise financial decisions, trying to decide what to spend and what not to spend, etc. We've also had to react to giving patterns in the church and nationwide as we restructure our budget for this year.

Did you know that the average church member that gives will give about 2% of their income this year to any and all Christian charitable causes? George Barna reported that in 2008 one out of every five households have decreased their giving to the church compared to previous years. Of those who have decreased their giving, 22% stopped giving altogether. What do these types of statistics say about the Body of Christ in America, one of the most affluent nations in the world?

I know that times are tough for a lot of people and a lot of people I know have lost jobs due to no fault of their own. I see the same depressing news you do every morning as I get ready and have found that I have a lot more interest in the stock market recently. I didn't have much set aside in my 403(b) with Guidestone, but I looked at it recently and I have lost 53% of it since January 2008.

Here are a few of my personal thoughts about this mess:
1. The root of most of this economic collapse is spiritual and moral, not financial. Greed, excess, and discontentment have created the mess we are in. Bankers loaned money to people that couldn't pay, people bought more house than they could actually afford with money they didn't have, and financial investors took risks that were too big a gamble all because of the desire to add more to our personal worth - greed. I think God will and is using this time to show the Christ-followers and true church in this country that we need to be more dependent upon him than we are on Ameritrade or Edward Jones. Greed is at the heart of many of the problems with humanity and the church. If you bought more house than you could afford, it was not just because it was a good investment. It was more likely because you are greedy and being able to say "I live in ..." makes you feel better about yourself. Paul said "Now there is great gain in godliness with contentment, 7for we brought nothing into the world, and we cannot take anything out of the world." (I Timothy 6:6-7)

Greed is a heart issue, not a financial one. How much is enough for you? How expensive a house do you need? Could you possibly live in a smaller house and use the extra money from your house payment to sponsor a child through WorldVision or take a mission trip to share the Gospel? Everywhere I look, I see greed. But I see it most evidently in my own heart. I always want more. Bigger toys, nicer cars, bigger house. I bought a new TV last year for Father's Day and still find myself browsing through Best Buy looking at the bigger ones that are cheaper than mine now. Despite what Gordon Gekko said in the movie Wall Street, Greed is not good. Have you found thorough this experience that you are a greedy person? If so, what changes are you making to correct that?

2. While many have been seriously affected by the economic downturn through job loss, most of us have not. I would venture that the majority of Christ-followers in the church today are making close to the same amount of money they did this time last year. You may be in sales and get paid on commission, or your company may have recently had to cut costs and payroll by some percentage recently. However the vast majority of us are making very close to what we made last year. At the same time, while many of us are making the same amount of money, giving to churches has decreased. Loosely translated, people are more concerned about the economy and one of the first places they tighten up is giving to the local storehouse. Bottom line, if you are making about the same amount you did a year or two ago and you are giving less or have stopped giving to your local church, you are robbing God. Check out Malachi 3:8-10. If you give less to God during tough economic times, then who are you really trusting? Do you trust God to provide for you like he does the sparrows and the lilies (Matthew 6), or are you trusting in what you can put back on your own? Do you not remember that God rewards faith? What better time to test God and your faith in him than to faithfully give? Isn't God the same God when the stock market is 6,000 points as He is when its 11,000 points?

3. Finally, the consequences of lacking faith in God during tough times is much worse than the consequences of misplaced trust in Wall Street. If you trust in financial institutions for your security, then when those institutions fail, your security is stressed or destroyed. However, God is our sure rock during unsure times. The consequences of lacking faith in God will have spiritual ramifications long after the recession has subsided.

I would encourage you to be a trendsetter and not a trend-follower. Show the world that as Christ-followers, we may not know where Wall Street is heading, but we know where Christ is. Be faithful. Test God and show the world that His kingdom advances and His church in on the front lines.


Jenny said...

Great post!

Vi and Butch said...

Matt, Thank you for this blog. You verbalize well our Christian responsibility to remain faithful in giving even in the toughest of times. It isn't always easy but it is always RIGHT. God bless you and yours family.