Here is a true story. In 1972, Walter Cavanagh and a friend bet a dinner to see who could accumulate the most credit cards. Eight years later Walter won the bet—and broke the world record—by applying for and getting 1,003 credit cards, weighing 34 pounds and entitling him to $1.25 million in credit. His ultimate goal: 10,000 cards.
It's illegal now, but credit card companies used to mail credit cards to people who hadn't even applied for them. In 1966, five Chicago banks banded together and mailed out 5 million cards to people who hadn't asked for them. What makes this more interesting is these five banks had been less than cautious in assembling their mailing lists. Some families received 15 cards. Dead people got cards. Babies got cards. A dachshund named Alice was sent not one but four cards, one of which arrived with the promise that Alice would be welcomed as a 'preferred customer' at many of Chicago's finest restaurants. (Information gleaned from "Uncle John's Legendary Lost Bathroom Reader")
Here's the deal as we open the door to our finances. We are a credit-based society. The following is a good example of this.
After WWII, VA loans were made available to returning soldiers to make it easier for them to obtain their own homes. The resulting housing boom was so impressive that FHA loans were created to help first time buyers purchase their first home. Without those kinds of loans, many people in America would be renters, not owners of their homes.
On the flipside of this good news is the bad news most of you won't be surprised to hear. On average, consumers spend 23% more money with credit cards than when they pay cash. Credit card companies know this and that is why they press so hard to have you sign up for their cards. This is definitely a money making proposition for these companies because many people never pay off their balances.
Here's the real good news. God has an objective: God wants His people to be in a position where we aren't engulfed in debt. Look again with me at Deuteronomy 28:12. "The LORD will open the heavens, the storehouse of his bounty, to send rain on your land in season and to bless all the work of your hands. You will lend to many nations BUT WILL BORROW FROM NONE."
God apparently has NEVER wanted His people to live in a constant state of debt. In fact, God asked Israel to set their economy up on a 7-years cycle. In Deuteronomy 15:1-3 God commanded His people:
"At the end of every seven years you must cancel debts. This is how it is to be done: Every creditor shall cancel the loan he has made to his fellow Israelite. He shall not require payment from his fellow Israelite or brother, because the LORD's time for canceling debts has been proclaimed. You may require payment from a foreigner, but you must cancel any debt your brother owes you."
This is such a powerful concept that one of our nation's laws is based upon it. Does anybody know which law that is? Bankruptcy. Chapter 11 is based upon the Biblical teaching here in Deuteronomy 15 and it is based on a 7-years cycle.
Why would it be important to God for His people to be debt free?
First, debt puts someone other than God in the position of being our master. Proverbs 22:7 tells us this. "The rich rule over the poor, and the borrower is servant to the lender."
This is most readily revealed in how some people see the tithe. There are a lot of people who don't give hardly anything to God. Why NOT? They'll say "I can't afford to. I've got debts to pay!"
Thus, many people hold back from giving to God because something, other than God, is their master. God wants us to be free from the shackles of debt.
Second, debt can undermine our witness. Jesus said in Luke 16:11 "... if you have not been trustworthy in handling worldly wealth, who will trust you with true riches?"
Our witness can be undermined by how we handle our finances. If we don't pay our debts, that causes those who gave us that money in good faith to question our faith and our commitment to God.
Psalms 37:21 tells us that "The wicked borrow and do not repay."
Here's another true story. Dennis was a young man Pastor Dan met while serving at his first church. It was during the small recession the US experienced during the 1980's and Dan's congregation had decided to adopt this mission statement: to help out some of the struggling families in their small community. The church set aside $100 a month to give to some needy family. Someone told Dan that Dennis and his wife Robin had just moved into a dilapidated house on the highway and they thought this family could use the help. Dan stopped by and walked into a home that had plaster peeling off the walls and the only heat seemed to come from a wood burning stove in the living room. Dan explained that his church had authorized him to give them a check for $100 to help them out.
Dennis was an "aw-shucks" kind of guy and he responded "Gee, I don't really need $100, but we could use $89.90 for our electric bill... and we'll pay that back."
Dan explained that whether he paid it back or not wasn't critical. That was between them and God, but they—the church—weren't going to worry about it. Then Dan asked if they had a church home and they said they hadn't. You know what happened? They started coming to church and were eventually baptized into Christ and became leaders in that congregation.
I share this story of Dennis because the church Dennis now actively belongs to did something for him and his family. They helped him. They didn't spend their money on themselves—and by that I mean they didn't spend their money on their building, their maintenance, and they certainly didn't stockpile their money in their big nest egg for some terribly unforeseen future, they invested. Specifically, they invested in the very place God wants us to invest—they invested in people.
There is one question I get asked more than any other question when I meet someone for the first time and the newcomer finds out my fulltime vocation. Want to guess the question? It's this. "How big is your congregation?"
You need to know the answer I give them. I answer that repeated question the same each time. I say, "Not big enough."
And it's not big enough because God's love through you is so big, it's limitless. God's love through you is so big it knows no boundaries. When we put God first, we will put in ten and God's shows us twenty. When we put God first, when out focus is on serving Him only, we put in forty one, He gives us eighty two, or ninety two. We scrape by and put in one hundred and ten, and he shows us one hundred fifteen. There is always more. As we open the door to our finances for His mission, and I'm going to talk about that in a moment, God will always do what God always does—God's economy is not ours—He gives more.
Someone I respect very much shared this recently, and it's related to the lime green sheet you have in today's bulletin, the sheet that is asking you to write down your future goals—your aspirations—for your church's future. She said, "Now that you have the new addition paid off, you're just looking for ways to spend more money."
She's right. When we open the door to our finances, this is exactly what we're doing. Where do we go? What do we do? We do what we, as a church, are called to do. We engage a real mission. Finish paving the parking lot. We've talked about that. Secure a new sign out on the front lawn? We've talked about that, too. Now it's time to move off the campus, move beyond the walls. Think about it. Jesus never complimented anyone on their house, their future, their décor. He talked about buildings and those same buildings coming down, but he was never interested in design trends, home makeovers, or the latest Flip or Flop or Fixer Upper episode on HGTV. He was interested in His mission, and His mission in reaching the people with His message—and His message weren't just words, they were actions.
Jesus was very clear on this when He said in Matthew 6:19-21, "Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also."
I love you. That's not a line of bologna. It's true. You're tenacious, stubborn, opinionated, visionary, sometimes petty, sometimes short-sighted and above all—and I see this in all of you—you're caring. You are caring! Yes, I love you. Yes, you're doing well here, and again, this ain't empty praise.
I do love you. And as pastor, I am done talking about signs and concrete. I am. We need them. They'll get here. I know you. By no means are we going to stop the upkeep and the physical wellbeing of our space so that God's work here will continue to be a success.
But we need to do more. We need a mission statement. You did something with that mortgage; now do more, be more. Don't stop. Don't plateau. You see what God can do in you and through you, let's keep going to the Promised Land.
Get a mission statement.
Here's my pitch. I really saw our community yesterday during the Pet Blessing. I really took one cold, hard look around us. When you live in the 'hood for awhile, you get used to seeing things. You insulate yourself from the poverty around you. You don't watch the paint fade on your house each day, for example. You wake up one day and say, "Yikes, that needs to be repainted." Like you, I'm used to Harford looking sad, barren, and poor.
Here's the mission statement I'm pushing for now. Again, have it with parking lots, signs, bathroom sinks and future closets—and amen to all of this, seriously, amen! But we need to get out of here. I read what John Dorhauer said in his book, Beyond Resistance, about that church in Arizona having its mission statement. Here's ours. We feed the children here.
For the last three Wednesday nights before our after our scheduled worship, I see the Cub Scout dads leave with their sons. These guys are zombies. They're walking dead. at 7:30 PM. Their days are long and their jobs are draining. They're coasting, doing the best they can to be the dads they feel called to be. I'm not knocking these guys, I'm applauding them. And they need our help. Our local families need our help. Let's be the church with this mission statement: let's feed the kids. I'm not talking just mac-n-cheese meals, I'm talking after school programs here. Teach them to sew. Teach them to knit. Let's get our skill-based woodworking men here, our baseball and our soccer coaches.
You pay me to think. This is what I think. We level that area beyond the Memorial Garden. It becomes our first flat field here! Amen!
You heard what I said earlier today about a mission statement. We have a mission statement, or someday we file Chapter 11. We have a mission statement, or someday this place is a monument that the moss covered tombstones to your left. We have a mission statement, or we just stay in business for ourselves for a time.
We have a mission statement. We feed the kids. Write that down on your lime green paper and turn it in.
In 1 Timothy 6:17, Paul teaches this: "Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment."
What is our enjoyment? Watching our church live.