How is your relationship with money? Most of us think our relationship with money is similar to our ability to drive…better than it really is. As we continue our series, “This is the Life,” Adam Tarnow asks three questions to examine our relationship with money and possessions.
Leadership: Part 2
Righteousness: Part 2
Righteousness: Part 1
How is your relationship with money? Most of us think our relationship with money is similar to our ability to drive…better than it really is. As we continue our series, “This is the Life,” Adam Tarnow asks three questions to examine our relationship with money and possessions.
Good morning, Watermark. My name is Adam Tarnow. I'm excited to be with you guys here today. I just wanted to let you guys know I am really excited about this upcoming week, and it's not just because it's Christmas. It's because three days after Christmas, my wife and I are going to be celebrating our sixteenth wedding anniversary. We have a picture of us 16 years ago.
What you can't tell in that picture is that right there, at that moment, my wife and I were in the midst of a financial crisis. At that moment, when that picture was taken 16 years ago, our combined net worth as a couple was -$120,000. We had very few assets, and we had a whole lot of debt. In fact, the minimum payments on that debt were more than we were paying in rent for our little one-bedroom apartment we were about ready to share together.
Now, it was not a secret when we got married that that was our financial situation. That was not information we shared with one another on the honeymoon, like, "Oh, yeah. I forgot to tell you. I've got some debt." That was all stuff we had talked about. We knew that. Our friends knew that. Our family knew that. If you were going to back up 13 months earlier when I first met Jackie and we first started dating, would I have thought that's where we were going to be if we got married? No, that's not what I would have expected was going to be our financial situation.
I had just moved out here to Dallas a few months before I met Jackie. I moved out here to pursue a seminary degree, because I thought I was going to do this. I wanted to be a pastor, so I was out here getting educated to be able to do that. I met Jackie a few months after I moved out here and just knew a couple of things about her financial situation. That's not stuff you usually share on the first or second date, for anybody who's in here who's not married. It's not good to share all that stuff on the first or second date. Wait until the third date before you share that kind of stuff.
But I did know one piece of information early in dating that I started to form some expectations around. The piece of information I knew was that Jackie's full-time job… She was an attorney. I don't know what you saw growing up or what kind of expectations you have when you hear somebody is an attorney, but when I grew up, my parents were big fans of the TV show L.A. Law, and I kind of watched some things there. I binged on some John Grisham novels when I was in college. I had read The Firm.
I started to develop some expectations of what the financial lifestyle or the financial situation was of somebody who was an attorney. So, I'm sitting here as a seminary student, and this relationship is progressing, and I just started to think, "You know what, Lord? I think this is the way life is supposed to work. You follow God's call on your life, and you move halfway across the country, and you go to seminary, and you pursue a life of full-time ministry, and God blesses you with a beautiful attorney wife."
I thought I was living Psalm 37:4. I had delighted myself in the Lord, and he was giving me the desires of my heart. I did not know that I desired a sugar mama, but I was really okay. I was okay with that. So that's all I knew. Then we started dating, and things are going better, and we're realizing, "Hey, I think this may be moving toward marriage, so there are some conversations we need to have."
We knew we needed to talk more about our financial situation. I'll never forget that night when Jackie and I sat down to talk about it. I showed up over at the duplex that she and her friend were renting at the time, and we sat on this green couch. I know where I was, and I know where she was sitting. I was really excited about this conversation.
I was like, "I'll go first. Here's my financial situation. I have about $20,000 in student loan debt. I have no credit card debt. I have a couple thousand dollars in my savings account. I tutor accounting part time right now for an hourly rate. I'm going to seminary, and I'm going to be a pastor. I have no clue what my financial future is going to look like. So that's me. What about you?" I was all excited to sit there and learn all of the details about this life as an attorney.
She said, "Well, here's my income. I'm leasing my car, and I have no savings. I have a couple thousand dollars in credit card debt." I was like, "Hold on. Let's go back to that income number. I want to make sure I understand that. Was that annual? Was that your annual income number? I was expecting that that's your bonus on top of your other income." Come to find out, she was working for a nonprofit, and that's where she was practicing law. Then also come to find out that John Grisham writes fiction.
Then she took a deep breath, and she was like, "Here's the part I'm embarrassed to share with you. Where I went to undergrad and where I went to law school… I financed all of that, so I have $100,000 in student loan debt." So there we were in that moment. I have $20,000 in student loan debt. She has $100,000 in student loan debt. Our eyes were opened. I thought she was going to be sugar mama, she thought I was going to be sugar daddy, and we're like, "There's no sugar."
So do you know what we did? We got engaged. That's what we did. We started to talk about this and realized, "Okay, we're going to have to do something with this." We were a part of Watermark at this time. This was when Watermark was meeting over at Lake Highlands High School. There's a ministry here at Watermark called Moneywise, which teaches some of the basics of financial stewardship and financial management.
If you were in a situation like Jackie and I and you didn't know what to do, you could call up Moneywise, and they would meet with you. So we called up and scheduled a meeting with somebody, and the gentleman we met with was an elder at the time. His name was Kyle Thompson. He was kind enough to meet with us.
I remember he sent this worksheet over to us and said, "I want you to fill out some of this information that'll guide our conversation." Up at the top of that worksheet was, "What are all your assets?" We just had a couple of bullet points in there. And it said, "What are all your liabilities?" and we had a lot of bullet points in there. It said, "Now take your assets and subtract your liabilities. This is your net worth."
I remember how embarrassing that was to write down -$120,000, how embarrassing it was to slide that worksheet across the table to him as he met with us one Sunday morning before church and we shared our situation with him. He was so kind and so encouraging and shared God's Word with us. He basically had one thing. He just said, "Hey, I think it's okay and it's fine for you all to get married. I wouldn't say this is a reason not to get married, but here's what you're going to need to do. You're going to need to get a plan."
So we left that meeting and said, "Okay. Here's our plan: let's ignore it." We executed it flawlessly for the first six months of our marriage. We just ignored it. This debt was there. It was like this sleeping giant in the corner of our very small apartment. We did not want to wake him. But then, after six months of being married, on June 20, 2004, we walked back into Lake Highlands High School, and a gentleman gets onstage to preach that morning, and it's Kyle Thompson. He's preaching a message called Debt: A Biblical Perspective.
I remember Jackie and I were sitting right over here on this side of the auditorium. We were sitting next to one another, and 27 minutes into that message, Kyle opened up and turned to Proverbs 22:7 and read this verse. It says, "The rich rule over the poor, and the borrower is slave to the lender." Twenty-seven minutes into that message on June 20, 2004, my wife and I, sitting in this area of the auditorium… Our life changed with that.
Some words were put onto all of the emotions we had been feeling. We had been feeling embarrassed. We had been feeling hopeless. Most of all, we had been feeling the effects of Proverbs 22:7. We were enslaved to this debt. It was that morning when we said, "Okay, we need to do something about this." We left that church service and got into our car and drove home, and we had what I can say now, 16 years later, was one of the most significant conversations we ever had in our young marriage, as we tried to come up with a plan.
I start with that story this morning for this reason: I know how hopeless we felt back in 2004, buried under all of this debt. I remember what that felt like, and I also remember how isolated we felt. It felt like we were the only marriage that money was having a negative impact on. We were the only people who were being impacted by this thing called money. What I know now, 16 years later, that I did not know then is that we were not the only marriage that was being negatively impacted by money. We were not the only individuals whose lives were being impacted by money.
Every single one of us, regardless of where you are on the financial spectrum… Money impacts all of us. As we put a little period at the end of this volume of This Is the Life, I think it's really apt that we're ending talking about this subject this morning, that we're talking about money and possessions, because here's what's true: money is powerful, and not many things in this life rob you of life more than an unhealthy relationship with money and possessions.
So, that's what we're going to talk about this morning. I think this is an incredibly important message. The reason this is such an incredibly important message for us is that I think a lot of us view our relationship with money and possessions the same way we view our driving skills. We are the best driver we all know. Are we not? The reason there are so many bad drivers out there is not because of us; it's because of the other people. Other people are bad drivers.
We grossly overestimate our ability to drive, and we underestimate everybody else's ability to drive. We think everyone else is the one with the problem. I think we do the same thing when it comes to assessing our relationship with money and possessions. We think we're doing okay and it's everyone else who has the issue. I think the reason we think we're doing okay is because we believe, wrongly, that numbers tell the whole story.
If I were to ask you, "Hey, how is your relationship with money and possessions?" you would just start to look at the numbers. You would go, "Well, listen. I don't bounce any checks. I pay my credit card off every month, and I don't have any unusual amount of debt. I give a little bit. I save a little bit. My spending is under control. I'm not as rich as somebody else, but I'm not as poor as others. I'm just right there in the middle, and I think I'm doing okay," because we wrongly believe that numbers tell the story.
What we're going to see this morning is that numbers do not tell the story. Jesus told us in Matthew 6:21, "Where your treasure us, that's where your heart will be also." What Jesus is telling us there is that a relationship with money and possessions is not a numbers issue; it's a heart issue. Numbers don't tell the whole story. How is your heart? Do money and possessions have a grip on your heart?
So, what I want to do this morning, as we wrap up this volume of This Is the Life, is to ask you three questions…three questions to examine your relationship with money and possessions, three questions to examine your heart. I want you to think about these individually. I want you to have a conversation with your spouse about these questions. I want you to talk to your friends and your community about these questions. I want you to wrestle with these questions and really examine your heart and try to take a sober view of whether or not your relationship with money and possessions is healthy or not.
Now, I have to time-out here and just put a little sidebar on this, because there's a word I'm going to use over and over again throughout the rest of this message. I've used it once before already since we've been talking this morning, and I need to define this word. It's kind of a churchy word that we don't use very often, but you're going to hear me say it a lot of times as we continue on this morning. It's the word steward. I'm going to say steward or stewardship or tobe a faithful steward.
A steward is somebody who manages someone else's property, but you manage that property not according to your own vision and values but according to the owner's vision and values. That's what a steward is. The reason I'm going to use that word so often as we continue on and talk this morning is because that is the best way to describe, from a biblical perspective, what a healthy relationship with money and possessions looks like.
Scripture is clear from beginning to end. In all of the opportunities, in all of the passages that talk about money and God's Word (and there are a lot of them), there is an underlying foundational principle in every single one of those passages. It is that God is the owner of everything; therefore, we are the stewards of what he owns. You see this most clearly in 1 Chronicles 29:10-20. You see this in Psalm 24:1.
The mindset of somebody who wants to have a healthy relationship with money and possessions is you understand you are a steward, not an owner. God is the owner; we are to steward what he has given us, not according to our own vision and values but according to his vision and values. Okay? So time back in. Let's go. Here we go.
1 . When managing your financial household, are you seeking to be diligent or are you negligent? When it comes to managing your own financial household, are you diligent in managing that household or are you negligent in managing that household? Let's look at our first proverb. Proverbs 27:23-24: "Be sure you know the condition of your flocks, give careful attention to your herds; for riches do not endure forever, and a crown is not secure for all generations."
You may be sitting there going, "Adam, I don't know where you live right now, but I don't live on a farm. I have no flocks, and I have no herds. Help me connect the dots here. How does this help me or encourage me to be diligent?" What we need to remember is that when most of Scripture was written, the economy at that time was primarily an agrarian economy. Most people were living on farms. That's the way the Lord was providing for them so they could provide for their own financial needs.
So when the author of Proverbs is writing this down, saying, "Be sure to know the condition of your flocks and give careful attention to your herds," what he is saying is, "Keep your financial household in order, because those flocks and those herds are how you are going to provide for yourself. You need to be diligent in managing those, because if you're not [as it says in verse 24], riches do not endure forever." So be diligent in managing your financial household, because if not, things can get out of control in a hurry, and you don't want things to get out of control.
Life is hard enough as it is. You don't need your financial household to get out of control and bring even more pain and misery into your life. He is encouraging the listeners to be diligent in managing their financial household, because if not, things can get out of control. Another reason he's encouraging them to be diligent, which is what we just got done talking about…the theme that runs throughout all of Scripture…is because those flocks and those herds are not yours. You are not the owner of those. So be diligent in managing that property and those things that don't belong to you that you are just stewarding.
So, the first indication that we have a healthy relationship with money and possessions is that our heart wants to manage our financial household with diligence, not with negligence, because things can get out of control really, really easily. I want to say this. I don't think it has gotten easier to manage your financial household. It may be easier now to not live in an agrarian culture where we're having to manage flocks and herds and crops and all that kind of stuff, but there still is a challenge today, living in 2019, to be diligent with our financial household.
That's because our economy now… Maybe it's not agrarian, but our economy now has all this digital cash. We just don't see cash anymore that much. Things get direct-deposited into your checking account, and you have debit cards and credit cards and Venmo and PayPal and Apple Pay. We're not holding on to cash anymore, which means these transactions are just flying all over the place, and it is really, really difficult to manage all of those transactions.
Now when we're out there and we're spending or we have all of these transactions, we don't even have the same emotions anymore that we used to when we used to have cash. I was even thinking about this, about what life was like for me when I was about 13, 14, 15 years old and I started earning money. I was mowing yards in my neighborhood. I was paid in cash. I would take that cash and put it into my wallet, and the more cash I had, the fatter my wallet got.
So, for me, all I had to do to be diligent to manage my financial household was just not lose my wallet. That's all I had to do. Every financial transaction, there was an emotion attached to that cash. If I went to the baseball card shop and bought some baseball cards and took a $20 bill out, that hurt. I felt that emotion of taking that out and seeing the wallet get thinner and putting that money over there and watching it change. There was emotion attached to those transactions, and it was so much easier to track it all.
Nowadays, in this digital cash economy we live in, we don't even feel that same sense of remorse like we do when we're handing over cash. I was trying to think about what I do feel when I go out and have some transactions nowadays and I'm using my debit card or my credit card. I do have some emotion, but the emotion I feel when I use my debit or credit card is I just feel annoyed, because that chip reader still takes a long time, and then when it's done with you, it gets all temperamental and mad and starts beeping at you, like, "Get it out! Get it out! Get it out!" It just throws me off, so I feel annoyed.
Do you know the other emotion I feel when I go out there now in this digital cash economy? When I spend, I feel like I'm earning. Think about what a Jedi mind trick the credit card companies have played on us. They have gotten us to the point where we feel like spending is earning. Somehow, they've gotten us to believe that points are more valuable than dollars. So you'll go spend $500, and you'll be like, "Yeah, that's $500, but it's one and a half times the points. I think I'm winning in this transaction."
I just want to remind you (we all need this reminder), spending is not earning. Spending is spending. In this culture we live in with digital cash and these financial transactions that are flying around all over the place, things can quickly get out of control. We need this reminder that our riches do not endure forever, which is why British psychologists have declared the most depressing day of the year is January 24.
There are a lot of factors that go into that, but one of the primary factors as to why January 24 is the most depressing day of the year is because that's when the credit card statements for Christmas start to show up. There are a lot of us in this room that January 24 is going to happen, and you're going to get that alert that your credit card statement is due, and you're going to open that up and look at it, and you're going to be like, "Whoa! It did not feel like I was spending that much." Things got out of control quickly.
So we need this reminder. When it comes to managing our financial household, we need this reminder to be diligent. The reason we need to be diligent is because riches don't endure forever. Things can get crazy in a hurry. You may be thinking, "All right. What's a really practical way that I can be diligent?" It's not rocket science. It's just budgeting and tracking. Do you have a spending plan, and do you track your expenses, and do you compare them to the spending plan? That's just the basic blocking and tackling of being diligent.
You have a spending plan and track expenses not to be a nerd; you do it to be diligent, to sit there and go, "I don't want to be negligent here. I know things can get crazy in a hurry, so I want to be diligent. So I'm going to have a plan, and I'm going to track." The other reason we need to seek to be diligent is the other reason this was written: because it's not our money. If we're not diligent to track that and to manage that financial household, then we are being negligent with somebody else's resources.
You may be sitting there going, "Adam, I think I do good enough with all of this. I log on to my bank app a couple of times a month. I look at the credit card thing. Again, I don't bounce any checks, and I pay it all off. I'm doing fine. I don't know if I need to set a spending plan. I mean, the numbers are all working out." I just want to be a friend and go, "I think that's negligent when it's not yours." I don't think "good enough" is good enough. I don't think "okay" is okay.
That would be like if those of us who are parents took our kids into the kids' ministry today… You walk back there and drop your kid off. You show up to the classroom, and there's that little half door. You look in, and you see chaos ruling in that classroom. I mean, you see kids being body slammed. You look over in the corner. It looks like there are some kids gambling. They're rolling dice. They're exchanging Lego mini figures back and forth.
You're looking around, going, "Where's the adult? Who's bringing order into this chaos?" and you see over in the corner, that's where the adults are. They seem to be huddled around an iPhone, and they're laughing at Baby Yoda memes or playing Clash of Clans or something. You're like, "Hey, there's chaos reigning over here," and they're like, "Oh, don't worry about it. We've got it."
You're like, "No, no. I'm about to drop my kid off here." They're like, "Oh, don't worry about it. Don't worry about it. We'll keep them alive." That would not make you feel comfortable. You'd be like, "Listen. I don't know what kind of circus you run at your house, but you don't own this child. This is my kid, and I don't want you to be negligent when my kid is in there; I want you to be diligent."
In the same way, we need this reminder that if we want to have a healthy relationship with money and possessions, our heart will understand that we need to be diligent, not to be nerdy but because we want to be a faithful steward, because it's not our money. So that's the first question. Do you seek to be diligent or are you negligent?
2 . Do you view generosity as a blessing or as a burden? Let's go back to Proverbs. Proverbs 11:24-25: "One person gives freely, yet gains even more; another withholds unduly, but comes to poverty. A generous person will prosper; whoever refreshes others will be refreshed." This is what I love about the Proverbs, this comparing and contrasting.
You would expect that if you give, something else would be going away, and that's not at all what the author is saying here. It's like, "Listen. In God's economy, the numbers don't even add up. It functions completely differently." It's saying here one person gives freely, and they gain something. A generous person prospers. When you refresh others, you, too, will be refreshed.
Just to be really clear here, the author is not saying that when you give you get more money back. It's not talking about money here; it's talking about when you give, you get something back that's more valuable than money. The blessing of generosity, knowing that you were used by God to help meet the needs of other people. So, if your relationship with money and possessions is healthy, you will not only seek to be diligent, but you will understand that generosity is a blessing, not a burden.
I've been on staff now about 10 years and had an opportunity to lead Moneywise for a couple of years. I'll never forget that at Moneywise I got this question over and over again when I would teach different classes there. The question was always, "Adam, how much should I give? Will you just tell me how much I should give?" I understand the question, and I always tried to answer the question the exact same way, which is, "I understand why you're asking that question, but I think that's kind of the wrong question."
Imagine if when I got back from my honeymoon, I sat my wife down and said, "Okay. Now we're back. We're getting ready to build our life together. I have one question. How much do I need to talk to you every day? Will you just give me a number? Is it 10 minutes? Is it 15 minutes? Is it different on the weekends than it is during the week? Because I've got stuff I want to do. I've got a life I want to live right now. So, if you'll just let me know where the bare minimum is that you're happy with so I can get on with my life, that would be great."
No. If I had that conversation with Jackie, it would be like, "No, that's not the right question to ask." In the same way, when it comes to finances, that's not the right question to ask when it comes to generosity. There's no box to check. Scripture doesn't tell us how much to give; Scripture tells us how to give. Scripture also gives us an amazing example to inspire us to give. Let's look at this how to give. There are so many passages I could go to. I'll go to one of my favorites in 2 Corinthians 9:6-9. The apostle Paul writing to the church in Corinth. Here's what he says:
"Remember this: Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously. Each of you should give what you have decided in your heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. And God is able to bless you abundantly, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work. As it is written: 'They have freely scattered their gifts to the poor; their righteousness endures forever.'"
I love that. Paul is not telling us here how much to give. He was not telling the church in Corinth how much to give. He was saying, "Here's how to give. Here's how to be generous. Do you want to know how to do it? Do it thoughtfully. Do it deliberately. Don't do it under compulsion or because you feel guilty, and do it with great joy, understanding that God has got you and that when you give, it's a perfect transaction, and those gifts endure forever. So do it generously."
He's teaching us how to give here. In all of those conversations I had with people at Moneywise, I rarely met people who didn't want to give. Most people want to be generous, but at the same time, there's this disconnect between the desire to be generous and then acting out in generosity. That mismatch knows no bounds. It could be anybody, regardless of where you are in your relationship with God.
When I talked to members, there was often a mismatch between members of just going, "Hey, here's what I've agreed to, being a member here at Watermark, and what I've said on how I'm going to be generous, and then what I'm actually doing. There's a mismatch between those." People who claimed to follow Christ and people who were just exploring the faith. There is a desire in many people to be generous, but there is not always action there.
I think the reason there's not always action there is because our values are all mixed up. There's such a great example of this that we've seen just recently right around Thanksgiving. We see this thing in our culture. I don't know if you see this, but we see this thing in our culture that there's this big other holiday that happens right after Thanksgiving on the very next day. What is it? It's Black Friday.
Then you have Small Business Saturday, then you get a day off on Sunday, and then you get to go waste time at work on Monday, and you have Cyber Monday, and then what happens on Tuesday over the last four to seven years? Now Giving Tuesday shows up on Tuesday. So if you have anything left over after spending on Friday, Saturday, taking a break on Sunday, and then on Monday… Whatever you have left over, be generous.
For so many of us, there's that mismatch in what we want to do and what we actually do, because we don't have the right plan and we're just not thinking through it the right way. Our values are out of whack. That was essentially my giving strategy shortly after I became a Christian in college. I started to read God's Word, and my heart started to be stirred by passages like 2 Corinthians, chapter 9.
I had never been consistently generous at this point in my life…ever…as a young 20-year-old who started following Jesus, so I developed what I thought was the most generous giving plan I could ever come up with. I had this agreement with God. I said, "God, here's what's going to happen. You know every Friday I go to the ATM machine and get my cash out for the weekend, and whatever I have left over when I walk into church on Sunday, that's yours."
So, I would have Friday night to spend and have fun. I'd have all day Saturday and Saturday night. I had all day Sunday, because my church met on Sunday night. I had all day Sunday to go and have fun, and whatever I had left in my pocket when I walked in there on Sunday evening, that's what I gave to the Lord. Oftentimes, it was nothing. Sometimes it was $1, $2, or $3. I will never forget the day I walked in there and had a $5 bill in my pocket. I had never given $5 to anyone at any time.
I walked in there. At the back of our church where we met, there was a shoebox with a hole cut out on top of it. I remember walking in there with that $5 bill, going, "Oh my gosh. Is it bad to make change in this thing right now? Is anybody looking? Can I do that?" I just took that $5 bill out, and I was like, "Lord, we have a deal. You're welcome." I dropped that $5 bill in there. I was like, "That just happened."
I totally expected to show up the next day and have the building named after me or something like that. My values were out of whack. I had a desire to give, but I was giving what was left over. Oftentimes, what's left over is not much. If we want to start to shore up that gap between our desires and what we actually do, if we want our hearts to change in understanding that generosity is a blessing not a burden, what we need to do is raise the value of generosity in our lives.
I want to be really clear. When it comes to finances, our values are vertical. They are. There is always a vertical list of values. There's a number one, number two, number three, and it just keeps going right on down the list. The typical household values look something like this. You have your income, and you're going to pay for your housing, and then transportation, food, and clothing. You're going to have fun.
If there's anything left over, you're going to save a little, maybe invest, and then generosity. What Paul is encouraging us to do, what Proverbs 11 is encouraging us to do, what Proverbs 3:9 is encouraging us to do when it says, "Honor the Lord with your wealth, with the firstfruits of all your crops…"
What they're challenging us to do is to raise the value of generosity, to just go, "All right, Lord. Here's what I want to do. I want to give first and then live off whatever is left, recognizing that there may be things I could do that I'm not going to do because I've chosen to view generosity as a blessing not as a burden. I'm going to do it joyfully, because I trust your Word that when I do that I'm going to get something back that's better than anything I could buy, any restaurant I could eat in, or any vacation I could go on."
So, a healthy relationship with money and possessions is going to view that generosity as a blessing, not as a burden. Scripture tells us how we are to give, but do you know what else Scripture does? It provides us with an example, an example to motivate us to be more generous, because let's be honest. Sometimes we just need to see it. We just need to see an example of sacrifice. We need to see an example of generosity to go, "Okay. That's what I want to do."
Again, when I think about this, there's this other thing going on in the culture right now that I think of that, again, came out around Thanksgiving when Disney+ came out. Disney+ came out, and they have this television show on Disney+ called The Mandalorian. We have been introduced to, quite possibly, the greatest Star Wars character ever in The Mandalorian. We know him as Baby Yoda. I have a picture here. Baby Yoda. It's adorable.
I'm not giving too much away here on the plotline, but the plotline of this television show is that Baby Yoda is in danger, and the Mandalorian has been moved to sacrifice to save Baby Yoda. So he is sacrificing. What I find so funny is now the Internet is just going crazy over Baby Yoda and going crazy over the Mandalorian's sacrifice, and they're going, "I want a piece of that. I want to live a sacrificial life like the Mandalorian is."
So they're going to the Internet and confessing their undying love and devotion for Baby Yoda and what they would do to sacrifice for Baby Yoda. These are real tweets from real humans. This is @JackJ. This is what he said: "I would actually take a bullet for baby yoda…even tho he could stop it via force." This is what @neil_adavies said: "I've got a very little boy whom I love with everything I have inside me, but [I would push that child] to the curb to protect #BabyYoda."
They saw this example, and they're like, "I want some of that. Okay. I see what sacrifice and generosity looks like, and now I want to live and I want to be that way." Sometimes we just need to see it. That's why we open up God's Word and try to read it and devote daily in our relationship with the Lord, because buried in there is example after example after example of generosity.
This season we're celebrating right now at Christmas is one of the most amazing examples of generosity in the life of Jesus, that he came from heaven to earth because he saw that you and I had a debt we could not pay. If you read through Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John and you read the stories of Jesus and just realize how generous he was with his time, how generous he was with his wisdom and his knowledge, how generous he was with his gifts, and how ultimately generous he was with his life to hang on the cross as payment for our sins… He paid our debt.
You start to understand what Paul meant in Romans 12:1 when he says, "Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God's mercy [in view of Jesus' life] , to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship." You see the example of Jesus, and it motivates you to live generously.
So, our hearts seek to be generous. We have a healthy relationship with money and possessions when we view generosity as a blessing, not as a burden, and when we seek to be diligent because we know this isn't our stuff. There's one last question I want to ask you to wrestle with.
3 . Do you see financial independence as a condition of the heart or as an accumulation of wealth? When you hear that phrase, financial independence, what pops into your mind? Do you think of financial independence as an accumulation of wealth? That's what often pops into my mind when I think of financial independence. You get so much money saved up or invested that you no longer have to work another day at all in your life. Suddenly, because you worked so hard, life now gets to be all about you, and you get to do whatever you want.
That message of financial independence, where you work hard and you save up, and then one day you don't have to work anymore and life gets to be all about you, is all over in our culture. There are investment firms, and there are financial planners who are trying to sell you, "That is the dream come true, where life suddenly gets to be all about you." We've seen those commercials, and we've dreamed about what that life would look like.
Just think about it. We've seen the commercials. You wake up in the morning. You play doubles tennis with your spouse. You have lunch at the club. In the afternoon you paint some furniture. You watch the sun set on a wooden rowboat in the middle of this serene lake. You do some ballroom dancing at night. If you're sitting there going, "Hold on; I think I've seen that," you're right. I just described a Cialis commercial.
When you think of financial independence, if that's what you think of…you think, "I'm just going to go out there, and that's my goal: to accumulate enough so that life can just be about me and I can do whatever I want"…I just want to let you know that if that's your goal, if you go after that, you're not going to be happy with those results.
The primary reason you're going to be left wanting if you make that your goal in life and that's the way you view financial independence is life never works out that way. It never works out the way the commercials show. I want to break this to you: Those commercials are full of actors. Those are actors. It never works out that way. Do you know what those commercials are? They're financial pornography. That's what they are.
They are these images we put before our eyes that do something to our hearts and our desires, and it makes us want to act on it. If you set those images before your eyes over and over and over again and you believe that is the dream come true, that one day you'll have enough in the bank and life gets to be all about you, you're going to be left wanting. You're going to be really disappointed.
Now, Scripture does talk about financial independence, but when it talks about financial independence, it doesn't talk about it as an accumulation of wealth where suddenly life gets to be about you. When it talks about financial independence, it talks about it as a condition of the heart, a heart that is free from the grip and the love of money. That's financial independence. That's the financial independence that is the dream come true: a heart that isn't ruled by the desire and the love of money. Let's look at it in Scripture. Proverbs 30:7-9:
"Two things I ask of you, Lord ; do not refuse me before I die: keep falsehood and lies far from me; give me neither poverty nor riches, but give me only my daily bread. Otherwise, I may have too much and disown you and say, 'Who is the **** Lord ****?' Or I may become poor and steal, and so dishonor the name of my God."
I want to be really clear what the author of Proverbs 30 is not saying. It's not talking about numbers here. It is not saying the golden life or the most spiritual class in life is the middle class. It's not a numbers issue. What the author is talking about is a condition of the heart. He's saying, "Lord, don't give me so much that my heart is so gripped by what I have and what you've given to me that I'm pulled away from that and I forget who you are, and don't give me so little that my heart is gripped by that survival where my heart is pulled away."
What he wants here and what he's asking God to give him is financial independence, and that is a heart that is not gripped by the love of money. I cannot read this passage enough. My heart needs to be reminded of that, and I need to be reminded of that over and over and over again, because, candidly, do you know what my heart wants? My heart wants there to be a loophole in this life. I want there to be a loophole where you can love God and love money. That's what I want.
I want to be able to love God and love his Word and share it and be about his business and be fully devoted to him, but I also really want to love money. I think some of the reasons my heart is so drawn to try to find this loophole is definitely because of some of the images, the financial pornography, I've put before my eyes, but the other reason I think there's this loophole and why I want there to be a loophole is because I think I meet people who have found it.
I have friends, relationships with people, friendships with people, and I meet these people, and I am so impressed by their spiritual maturity. "Man, you really seem to love God. You love his Word. You want to be fully devoted. You disciple. You have such a maturity about you. You really seem to love God, and then I look also at other parts of your life, and you look like you're loaded too. You take different vacations than I do. Your house looks different. You drive different cars. You wear different clothes. You eat at different restaurants. I think you found the loophole, and I want it too."
What we need to be reminded of is what Jesus said in Matthew 6:24. "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." There is no loophole. If you think you see that loophole on a commercial or if you meet somebody and you think that person is living in the loophole, it's an illusion.
Either that person is fooling you to believe they love God and, really, they just love money, but what I think is really going on… The illusion is they don't love money; they just love God. God in his sovereignty has decided to entrust them with more to steward than maybe he has entrusted me, but that person's job and my job are the exact same. It's to have a heart that is free from the love of money, to get to know God, to get to know the owner, and to faithfully steward whatever it is he has given us. Just be faithful.
So, if we want to have a healthy relationship with money and possessions, we have to be diligent, because it's not ours; have a heart that understands that generosity is a blessing, it is not a burden; and have a heart that desires to be financially free from the grip of money on our lives. When we do that, we're going to find life.
So, that June 2004, my wife and I get in the car and drive home, and we just said, "We have to do something to get out of this prison." So we open up Microsoft Excel, and I start running some numbers and go, "What if I dropped out of seminary? And what if, Jackie, you got a new job? And what if we threw this much at the debt?"
We came up with a bunch of different scenarios, and we gathered some friends around. We met in the living room, and we presented all of these options. Option one: I drop out of seminary. I go back into accounting. Jackie looks for a new job. Option two: I finish up seminary, and then we deal with it when I'm done. Option three: We hope we have some long-lost relatives we don't know about who are going to die soon and leave us some money.
Our friends looked and said, "Listen. If you're willing to make those changes, then do option one. If you're willing to do that, I think that's the best option." So we said, "Great. That's our plan." By the grace of God, I was able to get a new job in accounting, and Jackie was able to leave the nonprofit world, and she got a job. She went from being an attorney to being a legal secretary, but it paid more money, and that's what we wanted.
In November 2004, we made our first aggressive debt payment, and then in March 2008, we made our last aggressive debt payment. It's one of the few things in this world, for us, that has ever gone better than what we planned. We thought it was going to take about five years, and it took a little less than four. I'll never forget the emotion we felt that November 2004 when our net worth was -$120,000. It felt like I was throwing a nickel at a million-dollar problem with that first aggressive debt payment. It still felt harrowing.
I'll never forget that emotion we felt in March 2008 when we made that last debt payment, when our net worth was now zero. It never felt so good to be worthless. I don't know where you are this morning on the spectrum, if you're like Jackie and me and you feel like you're buried in debt, and maybe you don't know how to get out of that. Maybe one of your first steps would be what Jackie's and my first step was: reach out to Moneywise and meet with somebody or take the class in February to talk about that.
I don't know if you're on the other side of the spectrum where God has entrusted you with much, but wherever you are, I know this: You cannot ignore money. It will impact your life. Money is not a source of life, but it can ruin your life. Our job is to be a faithful steward of whatever it is God has entrusted to us. We seek to be diligent, we seek to be generous, and we seek to be free, and when we do that, like with all of the topics we've talked about in the This Is the Life series, we find life as God intends. Let me pray that we will live that way.
Lord, we thank you that you love us. We thank you that you have paid our debt for us. We thank you, Lord, that you have given so freely to us. We thank you that Jesus came down to teach us about you and to provide a way to you, and we thank you, God, that you want us to experience life. We need help.
We are so lured by the world's advertisements, and our hearts are so enticed to want to try to find this loophole, and we just need your help. So, God, I pray that you will help us to be diligent in following after you and that you will keep our hearts free from the love of money so we can follow you and find life. We ask this in Jesus' name, amen.