The Cursed and Blessed Business

If you find yourself today getting a little nervous with the content of this blog, there just might be a clear reason. Let me explain it this way. Let’s say your appendix is rupturing and you go to the doctor, and the doctor pokes you in the leg it’s not going to hurt.  Right?  If the doctor pokes you in the lower right side of your abdominal area what are you going to do?  You are going to scream bloody murder, because he’s poking you on the unhealthy spot.  If you find that you are a little bit sensitive about this topic, perhaps God is going to do a little healing on a spot that is, at this moment, a little bit unhealthy. 

Let’s start with this scripture from Leviticus 27:30, “A tithe of everything from the land, whether grain from the soil or fruit from the trees, belongs to the LORD; it is holy to the LORD.”

Who does the tithe belong to?  It belongs to God.  It doesn’t belong to us; it belongs to God.  What is a tithe?  It comes from the Hebrew word ma’aser.  Literally, this word means a tenth.  One tenth, scripture says, of everything that God trusts us with, it belongs to Him.  It is holy to the Lord.  It is His.  In fact, if we got really, really technical, we could say that a tithe isn’t really even giving.  It is simply returning to God.  

Now, how do American Christians do with this principle?  Here’s a couple of stats for you.  The average Christian does not give 10%, but the average Christian gives about 2% of their income to the work of God.  How many?  What percentage do tithe? Fewer than 3% of those who call themselves followers of Christ honor and obey God with the tithe. 

What we have here is a critical heart issue that, in many ways, is the key to all of our finances working properly, and that is honoring God with His principles of giving the tithe, returning the tithe, and even beyond that.  Let’s talk about two different kinds of businesses. 

The first would be what we will call the cursed business.   Malachi 3:8-9 says this.  God asks the question, “Will a man rob God?  Yet you rob me.  How in the world do we rob You, you ask, and God responds, ‘You rob me in tithes and offerings.’” Now, what does He say you are under? “You are under a curse — the whole nation of you — because you are robbing me.” Now, why are you under a curse?  Because you are robbing Me.  How do we rob God?  By not returning the tithes and giving offerings. 

The Hebrew word for rob is the word qaba. Very literally, this word means to defraud.  It means to rob.  It means to spoil.  It means to embezzle.  Here is a sobering way to think about it. If I don’t tithe, I am embezzling from God.  I am stealing from the Owner of the Universe, and I am making a tragically dangerous trade-off. 

Let me tell you about a bad trade, very, very bad trade.  I read this week about a guy who had a 1957 Chevy. My family, that I grew up in, owned two of them. One was actually in 1957 and the other in the mid 60’s. This guy, that I am talking about, own his about 15-20 years ago or so ago. It was about the time they came out with this new car back then called the Pinto.  You see where this is going, and he traded a 1957 Chevy for a Pinto!  Bad!   Bad trade. 

To withhold what belongs to God is a very, very bad trade.  We are trading the blessings that God wants to pour out in our lives for a measly ten percent.  Now, let me just say that I have talked to many people who are like, “Oh, my gosh, I don’t know what to do.  I am trying so hard financially.  It seems like I will take a couple of steps forward, and then bam.  It is like three or four steps back.  No matter how hard I try and work at this, I just can’t get ahead, and I am just hurting, and I am worried about finances, and there is just never, ever enough, and there is just always more month left than money.  What do I do?”  Could it be, could it be, that perhaps the business of personal finances is cursed in that we are not honoring God at level one, returning the tithe to Him? 

Hagaii 1:6, maybe you feel like this. The Bible says, “You’ve planted much, but you’ve harvested little. You eat but you never have enough. You drink, but you never have your fill.  You put on clothes, but you are not warm.  You earn wages, only to put them in a purse.”  Can you relate to this? It just seems to go away?  The cursed business. 

The second kind that we are going to talk about is the blessed business, and this is where it gets fun.  Malachi 3:11-12, for those who tithe, God says, “I will prevent the pest from devouring your crops, says the Lord Almighty.  Then all nations will call you blessed.”  All nations will say you are blessed of God. 

There was this little bitty small town that was driven by the grain industry.  Almost everybody was in the grain business, and there was this little small town church that was struggling financially, always had.  And the church asked one guy, the guy that owned the big grain silo, who was known as a man of integrity, “Would you manage the church finances?”  And the guy said, “I will on one condition.”  “What’s the condition?”  He said, “For the very next year, you don’t ask me any questions.  You don’t look at the books.  You let me manage them the way I want to, and at the end of the year, I promise you, we will be ahead of the game.”  And they, because they trusted him, said, “Sure.  Go ahead.”  One year later, the church was out of debt.  The church had had the best year of ministry ever.  All the people in the town were saying they were so blessed.  Their grain business did awesome, and they said, “How did you pull this off?”  He said, “It is very simple.  When all of you brought your stuff down to my silo, I just took ten percent of what was yours, and I gave it to God for you.  I just helped our whole church tithe.  Look at the results,” he said.  “First of all, not only did you not miss it ever, but most of you were very, very blessed.  Our church is out of debt, and look at the ministry that we have been able to accomplish.”  The blessed business. 

Here’s a thought that I hope that you don’t miss. This is the thing that most people don’t understand.  It’s the spiritual side of it.  Ninety percent with God’s blessings is far more than one hundred percent without His blessings.  This is the part that humanly doesn’t make sense.  This is the spiritual factor of God, that ninety percent with the blessings of God is far more than doing what you can do with one hundred percent of it. 

So what is your preference, the cursed business or the blessed business?

Freedom From Debt

Let’s talk a couple minutes about getting our finances under control. I know it’s not possible but it has to be addressed. A huge part of financial freedom is the elimination of overhead.  We are talking about reducing debt.  What I am about to show you is one of the most important things you could ever learn about your personal finances.  Dave Ramsey calls it the “Debt Snowball.”  Look at the bottom look at the attached diagram.  Here’s what we’ve got.  In the first column, we will see the different people or businesses that we owe.  In the second column you will find the amount that is owed.  We owe $450 to Sears, $650 to Macy’s, $1,600 to our parents, and so on.  In the third column, you will see the minimum payment, the very lowest amount that we are allowed to pay to eliminate this debt. 

What are we going to do?  What I am about to show you will change your life forever.  Here is what’s going to happen.  You’re going to find an extra $200 a month.  Now, you may say, “Where in the world will I find an extra two hundred dollars?”  Good question.  I don’t know, but you will find it.  You will get very, very creative.  If you have to take a second part-time job, you will do that.  If you will eliminate cable TV or a cell phone, or stop drinking expensive drinks, or whatever, you will find $200 a month, and what you will do with that $200 will change future generations.

Here’s how it will play out.  Let’s start with Sears.  We owe them $450.  Your minimum payment is $50.  You will pay them $50 and add to it the $200 that we just found, totaling $250, and within a matter of only a couple of months, Sears is gone.  Bye, bye, Sears.  We’ll never have to worry about that again.  Now, we are going to let the money start to snowball away the debt.  What are we going to do?  Let’s attack Macy’s.  Macy’s, we owe $30 a month.  We are going to take the $30 and add to it $250 a month.  Now, where did that $250 come from?  You remember?  We just freed up $250 a month because we paid off Sears.  We are going to take that $250 and the $30, and together, we’ve got $280, and guess what?  In just a matter of a couple of months, Macy’s is gone as well, and the snowball is getting bigger.  Let’s take our parents.  We are paying them $200 a month.  We will add to it the $280 that we freed up, because we no longer have to pay Macy’s or Sears, and now, we’ve got $480 a month going to pay off mom and dad.  Again, a matter of a few short months, and mom and dad are paid for.  Then, we are going to take this money that grows each and every month and apply it to the next debt that we owe, starting with the smallest amount of debt, so we can knock it out, and going piece by piece down to the largest.  We are going to let the debt snowball, completely wipe out everything that we owe but the house. 

Now, how will that benefit you in the long run?  Let me show you something that’s really, really fun.  If you just continue to pay minimum payments, like so many people do, it is going to take you 120 months to pay off your debt.  That’s 10 years before you pay off all this debt.  That’s assuming you don’t take on any more.  Now, watch this.  If you do the debt snowball, your payoff time is not 120 months, but instead, 21 months.  That’s a difference of 99 months of not paying any debt.  Now, buckle your seatbelt and get ready for this.  If you take $1,110 … now, where did we get $1,110?  If you will look at the debt that you just paid off, you freed up $1,110 a month in debt payments that you no longer have.  If you take that money and you invest it at 12% for that same 99 months that you would have been paying on your debt, at the end of that time period, you will have $186,569.86.  In most parts of the country, that’s a house, paid for in cash, totally debt free.  You can do it. 

Here’s Linda’s story. As a widow she was $66,000 in debt six years ago. This week she paid her last payment on the $66,000. She is debt free.

Mad About Financial Bondage

Proverbs 22:7, “The rich rule over the poor, and the borrower is servant to the lender.”  

The Hebrew word that is translated as servant is actually the word ebed. Ebed very literally means a servant.  It means a slave.  It means bondage.  If you are in debt, you are a slave.  You are in bondage.  The vast majority of Americans are in financial bondage.  We are slaves to our finances.  And there are reasons for it.

The problem is the majority of us as Americans have bought into some financial lies.  For example, how many of you hope that your children end up better off one day than you do. The challenge now-a-days is for our kids, when they become twenty-five, they try to obtain the same lifestyle that their parents took thirty years of adulthood to obtain, and they will do it with debt.  They will leverage themselves out the wazoo now to live like their parents lived after thirty years of progress. 

Other lies that we buy into besides thinking that we deserve that, is we think that there are certain things that without them, we will never be happy.  I know people today who honestly believe, without a flat screen plasma HD television, they won’t be happy.  We’ve got to have two flat screen televisions or one in every room.  People believe that they have to have certain things to be happy.  It’s a lie. 

The funny thing is, the very thing that most people want, that they believe will make them happy, think about it, wasn’t even around five years ago.  The iPad, the latest iphone 4S, the very things that we think we need to be happy didn’t even exist five years ago. 

Other lies.  There’s millions of them.  One of them is, you are always going to have a car payment.  You just have to accept that you are always going to have a car payment. The truth is, if you believe it, that will be a self-fulfilling prophecy, but it doesn’t have to be true at all.  It is one of the most foolish places ever to leverage yourself on a depreciating asset that drops twenty percent when you drive it off the lot. 

What happened is, businesses for years have been very successfully marketing debt, and they have succeeded at convincing a generation of Americans to feel good about being in bondage.  “Got another credit card in the mail.  Praise God.”  God didn’t send that credit card!  I don’t know about you, but it makes me mad.  I am honestly sick and tired of seeing great people, God’s people hurting, fighting, miserable, buying more, thinking that will bring happiness, when they are just cutting their throats even more with financial pressure.  I’m sick of it.  Makes me mad.   

The HUGE problem is that most of us are not mad .  You are not mad.  You are just thinking this is normal.  You’re not mad.  Just normal.  Just another day.  You know what normal is?  Normal is a student loan payment.  That’s normal.  Normal is credit card payments. Normal is car payments. Normal is house payments.  I’m sick and tired of normal.  I am mad that the church of Jesus Christ hurts, hurts financially.  Can’t give generously, not just at church, but everywhere.  Can’t make decisions with freedom, because it’s all financially related.  Makes me mad.  I hope you get mad.  I really do, because that the only way you will be motivated to do something about it.

(To hear the rest of the story on this subject go to this link and listen to “Minding The Business”, http://relaxedchurch.com/wmspage.cfm?parm1=57.) 

The Future

Paul’s said “forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal…(Philippians 3:13) God is telling us to forget the past and  go for the goal of the future. Look to what is ahead and go for it. Go for the goal that is ahead.

Question? How will 11 be better than 12?  The key is this; you’ve got to have a goal, a plan.  You don’t just enter 2012 and say, “I hope it’s going to be better.”  You’ve got to have a goal and a plan to make it better. 

Proverbs 17:24 “An intelligent person aims at wise actions, but a fool starts off in many directions.”  For you that may describe 2011.  You were headed off in many directions.  Notice the word, “aims”.  That means you have a goal, an objective, an aim, a target.  Have you set any goals for 2012?  Or are you just going to walk into this year and hope its better?  You’ve got to have a plan. 

God desires, more than anything else for this to be a year of Growth for you. The Bible states His desire this way “… that you may become mature Christians and may fulfill God’s will for you.” Col. 4:12b This verse tells up two extremely important things. 1. God wants us to become mature Christians. 2. The only way to fulfill God’s will for our life is by becoming mature, by growing.  “We are not meant to remain as children…but to grow up in every way into Christ.”Eph.4:14-15 Notice– “every way.”

Our 6th grandchild is coming in March, Natalie Danielle.  Once she is born we expect her to grow and mature, and if she doesn’t we conclude that there is a problem of some sort that needs to be addressed. If she misses an ounce on the growth scale there’s a call to the pediatrician to find out what the problem is, right? In the same way, God expects us to grow and mature after deciding to become a follower of His.

Here’s the big secret–it won’t happen without a plan. Growth does not happen by chance.

Alan Lakein “Planning is bringing the future into the present so that you can do something about it now.” I would suggest and encourage you to use the growth plan of Jesus as a template. There is no better growth plan than the one Jesus modeled.

“Jesus grew in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and men.” Luke 2:52 To follow the growth plan of Jesus is to formulate a growth plan that encompasses the development of the mind, body, personal relationships and relationship with God.

As you shape a growth plan for 2012 this is the best piece of advice I have for you. ASSUME RESPONSIBILITY FOR YOUR LIFE.  This is not a popular concept because in our culture we have been conditioned to believe that someone else is responsible for who you are and what you do. We are force fed this, “None of your problems are your fault.  Everything bad in your life is somebody else’s fault.  Blame the environment.  Blame the educator.  Blame your parents.  Blame anybody else, but it’s not your fault.”  It’s always somebody else’s fault.  But you’re never going to be a success in life and you’re never going to reach your goals if you have that attitude.  You must assume responsibility for your own life. Galatians 6:5 “Each person must be responsible for himself.”

 There are three kinds of people in life. 

  There are accusers.  They always blame everybody else for their problems.  Their favorite phrase is, “It’s all your fault.”  It’s never my fault.  It’s all your fault.

  There are excusers.  Excusers always have a rationale for where they are.  There’s always a reason.  I’ve discovered that whenever I want to procrastinate on something, any excuse will do.  The Bible says, “A lazy man is full of excuses.”

        Accusers and excusers – people who blame others and people who excuse themselves – are LOSERS.  So you need to be a chooser.

  Choosers say, “I choose to assume responsibility for my own growth, development and maturity.  I’m not dependent upon somebody else.  I choose the direction of my life. I am responsible to accomplish what God wants me to achieve in this new year.”  I’m choosing to accept responsibility for my life. 

“I press toward the goal,” but first you have to have goals. It begins with personal goals.

Paul instructs us to forget the past and press on toward the goal. But there is one other thing he said that we don’t need to miss, “Straining toward what is ahead.” This is an athletic term. It depicts a runner going hard for the finish line giving everything he has and then some to reach the goal. Holding nothing back.

And the message is clear, especially at the beginning of a new year. Forget what is behind, the good, the bad and the ugly. Identify the goal in front and give everything you have to reach the goal. There is nothing more important in life.

Two keys to victory:

 Heb 12:1-3 “Let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. 2 Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. 3 Consider him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.”  Does anything else need to be said about that?

Eph 6:10 “Your strength must come from the Lord’s mighty power within you.”   Resolutions or targets or plans or goals won’t last two weeks if you don’t have this verse under your belt – “the Lord’s mighty power within you” gives you the power to set goals and make plans and then to keep them. That is the key to making the most of 2012 and the rest of your life.  “The Lord’s mighty power within you.”