Sunday, January 18, 2015

Breathing Room ~ Dollars and Sense

This month we are talking about the need we all have for Breathing Room in our lives.  We have defined breathing room this way, the space between our pace of life and our limits.  The reason this breathing room is so important is because God did not create us to live life at the limits.  While we might be able to push ourselves to the limit for a period of time, if we don’t step back and rest we will self-destruct.  Last week talked about needing some breathing room in our schedules and we learned that since our time on earth is limited, we need to limit our time.  We need to limit the time we spend doing some things so that we make sure we have the time to do the things that are most important.  Moses said it this way in Psalm 90. We need to count our days and spend them wisely.

Today we are going to talk about the breathing room needed in our finances which means we are going to talk about everyone’s favorite subject – money.  Now if you are visiting us this morning or have just recently come back to church this might be the reason you don’t attend often, because you think that all we do in the church is talk about and ask for money.  Well, today we are going to talk about money but here’s the good news, I am not going to ask you to give anything I am not going to talk about tithes or offerings or giving anything to the church, but we are going to listen to what Jesus had to say about money because he actually had a lot to say about it.  In fact, Jesus talked more about money, wealth and possessions than just about anything else.

The one thing we all know about our money is that just like our time our money it is limited.  We all have a limited amount of money in our checking and savings accounts.  We have a limited amount of money in our pensions and retirement accounts and we have a limited amount of money that comes in our paychecks, social security or other monthly income.  Our money is limited.  Last week we learned that our time was limited so we had to limit our time, but that’s not true with our money.  While our money is limited we don’t have to limit our use or spending of money because we can always do what?
Because we can’t borrow time we have to limit the time we spend doing certain things, but we can borrow money so we don’t have to limit our spending.  We can borrow money and go into debt.  The problem is that if we do this for too long and live too far beyond our financial limits everything will fall apart, and I do mean everything.  It’s not just our finances which will fall apart but our jobs can suffer and most of all our families and marriages can suffer because of the stress brought on by financial difficulties.  In fact the #1 cause of divorce is actually money.

While everyone needs to learn some good financial practices if we are a Christian and identify ourselves as a follower of Jesus then we have no choice but to pay attention to this because Jesus had something critical to say about money and believe it or not he did not say “increase your giving to God or the church.”  What he did said was increase your financial breathing room.  OK, he didn’t use those words, but that is what he was talking about.

I want to be clear that these financial ideas are not new from me, they are sound biblical and financial principles from people like the pastor Andy Stanley and the financial expert Dave Ramsey.  And if there is one principle I would want us all to take with us today it would be this:  Standard of Living ≠ Quality of Life

Our standard of living does NOT equal our quality of life.  If our standard of living goes up and we are able to get bigger homes, newer cars and more stuff it does not mean that the quality of our life will automatically goes up as well.  In fact for many people as our standard of living increases our quality of life decreases because we end up worrying about how to maintain, fix, store and care for all we buy.  And if we live beyond our means too long and find ourselves upside down on our mortgage, behind on those new car payments and have all the access we could want to entertainment and media but no time to enjoy it, then we know that our standard of living is not bringing any kind of quality to our lives.

Now think about this?  Which do you think God is more interested in, our standard of living or the quality of our lives?  Is God more interested in our making more money and having more things or is He interested in the time we have with our family, friends and the opportunity to develop and live out our faith?  Clearly we would say God is interested in the quality of our life more than our standard of living so we need to ask ourselves how we can increase the quality of our lives.  One way to do that is create some breathing room in our finances and one way to do that is to actually lower our standard of living.  I know the idea of actually lowering our standard of living seems completely wrong and un-American, but if lowering our standard of living could bring some financial breathing room and increase our quality of life – wouldn’t it be worth it?

So let’s look at what breathing room in our finances looks like.  Graph 1

Over time we hope that our spending goes up and for most of us it does due to raises, promotions or just cost of living increases.  This may not be a nice smooth line but in general as we move along in life we tend to make more money.  If our spending is less than our income than this space in between is our financial breathing room.  Looking at this graph, most of us would want this.  There’s not a lot of stress here because our bills are being paid, we might have a little saved up in case we have an emergency and we might even have some resources to help or give in some extra way when God calls us to help.  So this is what financial breathing room looks like.
But here is where many of us live:  Graph 2

We spend everything that comes in and so at the end of the week, month or year there is nothing left over.  There is no room for an emergency, no room for an error and no room to step out in faith to do what God might call us to do with our money or time.  Living this way does impact our time because when we live this way we can’t take time off to spend with family or go on a mission trip because we have to work because if we don’t work we won’t get paid and if we don’t get paid we can’t maintain this delicate balance.

Now some of us actually live here: Graph 3

Now it could be that we are living here because our income dropped.  Maybe we lost a job due to the company moving or downsizing, maybe we lost income because our retirement took a hit in the market but most of us who live here do so because we allowed our spending to get out of control.  We leased that new car we didn’t need but wanted and have maxed out our credit cards and are paying outrageous interest and late fees.  If you are living here then you are not enjoying life at all.  You might be avoiding phone calls from debt collectors, worried they might reposes your car, cut off your credit card or turn off your utilities.  Life here is not good and if this is where you are then what I want to say to you is get some really good financial help.

But let’s go back to where many of us live these days, where our income and expenses are basically the same.  

When we are just making it each month and have no financial breathing room then what drives our lives isn’t God but our mortgage company, bank and credit cards.  When we are on this financial treadmill running each day to just survive then we have become slaves to our lifestyle and this is exactly what Jesus talked about.  Luke 16:13 - no one can serve two masters.  Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other.  You cannot serve both God and money.

If money is our master and drives every area of our life then we cannot be completely devoted to God.  If this is where we are living than we cannot be fully devoted to Jesus and I am not the one saying it – Jesus is.  Jesus said, you can’t serve God and money, and this is what it looks like to serve money.
Money is our master when we are spending all our time and energy trying to keep up with our spending and if money is our mast then we can’t be followers of Jesus because we won’t be able to do what he asks us to do with our money.

It goes deeper than that because if money is our master than we also struggle to do what God might ask us to do with our time and our relationships.  Have you ever felt God calling you to go on a mission trip but you couldn’t because you can’t take time off work because if you missed work you would miss a paycheck and if you miss a paycheck then you can’t pay your bills so you cancel the mission trip to keep paying the bills.  With breathing room, however, we might be able to do things with our time we never thought possible. We might be able to spend more time with family, more time with God, more time chasing those dreams we let go years ago.

Our relationships also suffer when money is our slave.  Not only do we have no time to spend with family but when have no breathing room then stress goes up and our ability to focus goes down and increased stress and anxiety and the inability to focus takes a toll on our marriages and children.  Stress robs us of quality time with our family and friends and so relationships suffer.  When we live without any financial breathing room we have no peace and we have no passion and purpose in relationships and no power to live for God because all that we have is being poured into our need to make money.  The only way to live an abundant and free life where we can be faithful to God is to have some financial breathing room, so let’s talk about how we can get there.

You’ll find these steps on the next steps in the bulletin and the first thing we need to do is decide that we have a problem and that we need to do something.  It all starts with a decision.  Any change or improvement in life starts with a decision.  If we don’t have any financial breathing room then we need to decide today to do something about it.

The second thing we need to do set a breathing room goal and this means making a decision on what % of our income we will live on.

This is often a question we never ask ourselves but we should, what % of my income will I live on?  Do you know what % you currently live on?  I don’t and it is something I have decided I need to figure out.  Now if we decide to live on 100% of our income, then we are making the decision to be slaves to money, but if we can lower the % that we live on then we increase our breathing room and our relationship with God and everyone else improves.

The third thing we need to do is track our spending for a few months so that we know exactly where our money is going.  There is no way we can make any changes in our finances until we first know where our money is going.  It takes discipline to do this, but it can be a helpful exercise so we can see if our spending actually reflects the values and priorities we have for our lives.

The last and hardest step is this, cut spending.  Now we can’t cut spending until we know where our money is going but once we see where our money is going we can ask ourselves what we can cut so that our breathing room can increase.  This is a difficult step because we have been trained to think that our quality of life will increase if our standard of living increases so we spend more thinking things are going to get better, but they don’t.  Many times our quality of life increases when our standard of living goes down and we spend less.

Today you may be sitting here saying that while this all sounds good, your financial situation just isn’t that simple, and it may not be.  If it isn’t and you need some real help with your finances then please get some.  Dave Ramsey has written a great book called Financial Peace Revisited and we have a copy in the church library.  If you need help with credit counseling or mortgage issues we have given you a phone number of a local agency which offers free help.  Doing nothing will not change anything and just making a little bit more money won’t solve the problem.  For most of us it is not an income problem but a spending problem.

Jesus is clear that the main competition for our hearts isn’t the devil, it’s money, it’s possessions and wealth and the riches of this world which is why Jesus clearly said, you can’t serve God and money.  We can’t serve God if we have no financial breathing room.  Our faith will suffer; our families will suffer, our future will suffer.  If we have no breathing room then we need to do something about it.

Next Steps
Breathing Room – Dollars and Sense

You can’t serve God and Money
                                               ~ Jesus ~

1. Decide: If you need financial breathing in your life then decide today to do something to create it.  It won’t happen on its own and it won’t happen by simply making more money.

2. Set a breathing room goal: Decide how much breathing room you want in your finances and determine what % of your income you will live on to reach that goal.  For example, if you want 10% of your finances to be your “breathing room” then you need to live on 90% of your income (and that has to include everything).

3. Track your spending: For the next few months track where you spend your money.  You can’t cut spending if you don’t know where your money is going.

 4. Cut your spending:  The only real way to create more financial breathing room is to cut spending where we can.  Sometimes the only way to do this is to lower our standard of living which is OK because…

Our Standard of Living ≠ The Quality of Our Life

For further reading and great financial advice, check out Financial Peace Revisited by Dave Ramsey

To speak with someone about debt or housing concerns call:
Consumer Credit Counseling Service (814) 238-3668