Dirty Green Paper – The Dark Side of Money

Before we wrap up this series, we need to address a very important truth: Money has a “dark side.” You can see this in the unhealthy way our culture relates to money. It seems like we constantly hear stories about people mistreating one another or exploiting one another for money. We hear stories about corporate greed, political corruption, and dishonest gain. Many of us are guilty of forgetting how rich we are because we are a part of a system that constantly tells us we do not have.

The Bible understands this tendency in our hearts. Paul wrote to his protégé, a young pastor named Timothy, trying to protect his heart from this lie of lack. Some false teachers at the time had fallen into the trap, and they began twisting God’s word to support their lifestyle of greed and exploitation. 1 Timothy 6:6 – “Godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into this world, we can take nothing out of it. But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that. People who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge men into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil.”

Money isn’t evil. It isn’t the root of all evil. The love of money, however, is the root of all kinds of evil. What are some dangers we need to avoid?

Hungering for Money: Greed – Greed is listed in scripture right alongside sins that generally get a more severe treatment from people – like sexual immorality, lust, idolatry, and evil desires. Even if it is such a common trait in our culture, the Bible does not find it acceptable. Greed is a dangerous thing. It has a numbing effect on your heart. What used to satisfy you cannot satisfy you anymore. Ecclesiastes 5:10-15 states this so poetically: when you love money, it will never be enough! As goods increase, so does consumption. This is the story of our culture – more, more, more. Everyone always feels like they don’t quite have enough money, no matter how much they have. We tend to just live right up to (and even beyond) however much money we have. So, there is an insatiable desire for more. It seems like in the eyes of our culture, success is the same as how much you have! Stuff is nice! We live in a world that values its stuff! We are a little bit backwards, in that we work so hard to be able to buy and upkeep all are stuff that we don’t have any time to use any of it…like we water our grass so it will grow just so we can cut it down again. A huge percentage of the gross national product is stuff. Not food, resources, materials, even labor. It is “consumer goods,” which is a fancy name for smart phones, video games, blue jeans, and other stuff. They need to sell you this junk, so they need to convince you that you need it. And we buy the lie all the time. What Paul taught Timothy here is so important: contentment. It is a choice of the heart that declares: what I have is enough. Listen to this: “Keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have, because God has said: ‘Never will I leave you, never will I forsake you.'” (Hebrews 13:5) FREE is the right word there. FREE as in not ensnared, not trapped, and not controlled by our desire for more.

Slavery to Money: Debt – Debt is very simply something that you owe. It is a tough spot to find yourself in. We have enough money for what we need, but not always for what we want, and this is where they get us. If you want something you cannot afford, you will buy it with “credit.” That is how money works: if we get it, it gets us. If we don’t have it, our lives are spent trying to get it. When we do get it, we don’t own it as much as it owns us. Check out Proverbs 22:7“The rich rules over the poor, and the borrower is the slave of the lender.” Another word for debt would be obligation. It is especially troublesome when your obligations or debts prevent you from going after what God wants for you. Debt takes away your choices. You might want to give, or to change something about your career or your life, but you can’t because you have someone else calling the shots. Whoever you owe has a claim on you. Even the stuff you have on credit actually has someone else’s name on it. According to Dave Ramsey’s FPU, the average college student has $2,200 in credit card debt and will graduate with $20,000 in student loans. Can you imagine starting your adult life with no job and $22,200 of debt? That’s a terrible way to enter adulthood. That debt will just hang around your neck like a boat anchor, always dragging you down and limiting your options. We are called to excellence, to lead the world and not be in bondage to it. Don’t buy something if you cannot afford it. Remember our vision for money: to be blessed by God to be a blessing to others. Hard to do when you are broke or in debt. People used to talk about “good debt:” debt that will later make you money. This includes school loans and mortgages. I wonder if there is any such thing as “good debt.” Home mortgages are not always good investments and the same is true of college loans. The prevention for debt is simple wisdom. No one really thinks it is a good idea to spend more than we have on stuff we don’t really need, but we do so little thinking, if we really stop to think about it. Thinking didn’t get us into debt – lack of thinking did. We have to think! This involves discipline and vision. It takes courage to do something different.

Questions for discussion:
-Do you feel rich? Why or why not? Why do you think we have a hard time recognizing our own wealth?
-What are some examples of why greed is so dangerous? Can you think of an example of people being mistreated for money?
-Why is debt dangerous and dumb?

Dirty Green Paper

Money is powerful stuff! It might not seem like a topic that should come up in church, but money matters to us so it matters to God. Our country has a problem when it comes to money. We do not know how to deal with it. We are part of a VERY small percentage of the richest people on earth, and maybe even in history, yet we forget how rich we are because we are a part of a system that constantly tells us we do not have. Sometimes money works like this: if we get it, it gets us. If we don’t have it, our lives are spent trying to get it. When we do get it, we don’t own it as much as it owns us.

For these reasons and more, your relationship with money is closely linked to your relationship with God. Jesus spent a lot of time talking about money and how we relate to it, and he taught there is a line of connection from our wallet to our heart. The truth is this: we have problems with money that have spiritual roots. We will never truly find financial peace if we ignore the inner condition of our hearts that make us susceptible to money pitfalls like greed and debt. God talks about money all over the Bible, and if you were to follow his instructions, you would have more money, give more money, and make your money work harder for you. Money isn’t evil. It isn’t the root of all evil. The love of money, however, is the root of all kinds of evil. Money can be something powerfully evil, but it can also be something powerfully good! I think at a very basic level, our relationship with money should look like what God told Abraham in Genesis 12:2-3. God wants to bless us, and it is our job to channel that blessing to others! With this in mind, Echo is having a conversation over the next several weeks about how to relate to money righteously.

After we get some of it, we can basically do 4 things with it:
• Spend it.
• Give it.
• Save it.
• Invest it.

This Sunday, we talked about spending.

First, Good spending starts with settling the “ownership” issue. Jesus explained this once using a coin in Matthew 22:15-22. The way Jesus phrases his question would have reminded his audience of Genesis 1-2, where human beings are created in the image of God. In whose image was the coin created? Caesar’s. In whose image were we created? God’s! When Jesus says “give to God what is God’s,” he is not saying God is not concerned with money. Jesus is implying that God is asking for all of us. The message of the Kingdom of God is one of total surrender. Why should we be concerned about our cash? Because our feelings toward it and how we use it are a huge part of who we are. Remember, there is a line of connection from our heart to our wallet. The starting point to righteous attitude toward money is settling the ownership issue: everything belongs to God, so I have to use whatever He entrusts me with responsibly.

Second – Spending easily becomes out of control, and our culture has even invented ways of spending more money than you have. You combat this with a budget, which is a spending plan. A budget is a tool to help us plan and to help us make our money work toward our goals. It helps us do something we all have a hard time with: telling ourselves “no.” A budget means you have a plan, you have counted the cost, and you are working toward a goal. Budgets can be complicated or simple as long as they balance income and expenses. The simplest lesson anyone ever taught me about money: every time you get 10 dollars, give one of them to God’s work, put one of them in savings, and spend 8 of them wisely.

Third – Your spending habits reflect your values.
If you spent $50 a month on Mountain Dew, we could confidently say you really like Mountain Dew. The problem with that comes in when you consider “opportunity cost.” It means that if you use your $50 to buy the Mountain Dew, you won’t have that $50 to buy your friend’s x-box game when he sells it. We might have all the money we need, but we can’t have everything we want. What a budget does is help us make choices about how to spend money in advance, so our choices will better reflect our values instead of just buying things on impulse. Marketing is so effective, people often buy things unplanned in the moment and regret it later. Living on a budget, no matter how much money you make, will protect you against this. Another thing to consider is what you actually spend money on. This is about recognizing that you vote with your wallet. When you choose to guy a product from an organization or person that you don’t agree with, you are actually supporting them and their issue. You can do this the other way too: actively support products and companies you think are doing something right. This is just another way money is powerful.

Questions for discussion with your teen:

*Talk about the family’s budgeting process. If you can, invite your teen to join you paying the bills or planning the budget for the month. If you don’t have a budget, why not?
*Do you think you are more of a spender or a saver? What do you think about your spending habits?
*What does it mean to “vote with your wallet?” Is there anything we support as a family with our money that doesn’t reflect our values?

Tips for New College Parents – How to handle your freshmen

Many of our parents are just now discovering a new rhythm of life after sending their kids off to college. This is a very difficult transition for many, especially when so much of life revolved around your kid for 18 years. One of the things we have found to be true of early college students is that they still need the voice of youth ministry – and more importantly they still need the guidance of their parents. Still, the conversation needs to shift as students enters greater dimensions of autonomy. Our youth leaders do their best to keep the conversations about faith going with students, even after they have graduated from our program and head off to college, but the conversation looks different after high school. This is often a hard transition for parents and students alike.

Echo has been following the research of the “Sticky Faith Project” for a few years now, and listening carefully to their recommendations and findings. They have just published a great article on stickyfaith.org about the tough transition for college freshmen and their parents.

Check it out here: http://stickyfaith.org/articles/out-of-the-nest

Thank God for Summer – Echo Middle School Series

Our Middle Schoolers are preparing for the welcome relief of summer vacation, so we thought we would address what is already on everyone’s mind and see what we can learn about God in the process. Summer vacation is an American institution, at least for now. Summertime is the season for pool parties, camping, fireworks, backyard BBQ’s, camp, sleeping in, and more.

One of the best (if not the best) parts of summer is that there is NO SCHOOL. Freedom and fun are measured not in days, but in months. Where you normally have to give 7 hours of your day to sitting in class and learning, you now have those hours back! Think about the possibilities: you could read a good book, have a movie marathon with friends, get a summer job, or serve your church and community. Having time to recharge is something very much in line with the heart of God.

In Genesis 2:1-3 –, we find the story of God resting after the work of creation. After God created the heavens, the earth, and all the creatures that inhabit it, He took a break! Get this picture: God working hard, then kicking back and enjoying what He created, even delighting in it.

In Exodus 16:21-30, Moses is trying to teach people about the importance of taking a break. Six days a week, they can work and gather and toil. The seventh day, their work should be done so they can be with God and relax. They are having a hard time understanding this; so God reminds Moses that the idea is a gift, not a burden. Jesus makes the same argument in Mark 2:23-28 .

So how do we follow the command of God to rest? How do we make “sabbath” a reality in our busy lives?

Learn the power of the word “no.” What a powerful word! This is a lesson that I am not sure people teach much around this area. You cannot do everything. You cannot accept every invitation, join every club, play every sport, be a part of every activity. Human beings are not meant to run all the time. We are meant to have downtime and to recharge. We can easily get so busy and our schedules can become so complicated that we miss out on opportunities to meet with God. The only way to simplify our lives is to stop doing so much. Between homework, sports, dance, karate, FBLA, Odyssey of the Mind, Future Problem Solving, and babysitting jobs, you will have no time for family and no time for God. Saying “no” should also apply to setting boundaries on certain things. For instance, just because your phone is ringing, it doesn’t mean you need to answer it. Don’t become a slave to your phone, calling, texting, and chatting until you are tired and worn out.

Learn to slow down. The pace we live it is just too fast. We have all this technology that is designed to save us time. We can travel much faster, communicate with anyone anywhere instantly, and we have a huge number of gizmos at our disposal to make life easier and save us time – yet we are very “time poor.” We live at a faster pace than at any other point in human history. We spend less time with family, and less time with God. This pace is not good for our soul, it makes us stressed out and fatigued. The only answer to this is to deliberately slow down. If that means doing less, then we need to seriously consider it. You might say: “But I am in middle school, my life is not that crazy!” I would disagree. I have had enough conversations with students trying to find time to live and not being able to fit it in. This summer, slow down a bit.

Learn to take a break. This sounds like something that is nice, but not really that important. This idea is very important to God. The idea of “Sabbath” even made it into the Ten Commandments, right next to commandments about murder and adultery. In God’s eyes, practicing Sabbath is something very moral. This is not hard to udnerstand: think of how much better we could treat others if we were well rested? Think how much better our world would be if everyone was well rested? Sabbath is important because it is closely tied to our ability to embody key virtues like patience, temperance, prudence, and justice.

How do we apply this “Sabbath” idea today? Go get ice cream, have a movie night, take a nap, play a board game with your family. Since we all have busy families and busy lives and busy schedules, focus on finding “Sabbath moments.” Remember: the heart of this law is to allow us to reconnect with God and to recharge. So, what about taking advantage of drive time, or maybe instead of crashing in front of the TV or Xbox, you can spend some time with the Bible or listen to some worship music? What if you did something special as a family this summer, and started a family Bible study?

*Questions for discussion with your teenager:
-How do you feel about the pace of your life?
-Why is it hard to say “no” to good things?
-What do you notice about my character or behavior when I don’t have enough “down time?”
-What are some creative ideas for our family to better practice “sabbath?”

Know the Game – Questions of Morality…

Have you every played a board game with someone that played with a different set of rules than you normally play with? It can be frustrating to say the least. Monopoly is the king of “home grown” rules. It seems like everyone has a different twist or tweak for that game. When it comes to life, I wonder if some people are making up or customizing rules as well. This is very evident when it comes to religion. C.S. Lewis told a story about a little boy that was asked to describe God. The boys answer gets at what I am talking about: “As far as I can make out, God is the sort of person who is always snooping around to see if anyone is enjoying himself and then trying to stop it.”

One example that I found (which will remain “link-less”) is a website full of such rules. This site defines the gospel (which ironically means “good news”) by reminding everyone that God demands perfect obedience and “whoever does not obey God will punish and destroy.” What are these areas where perfect obedience is expected? It is not, as you might expect, in areas of love, mercy, or justice. Instead, issues of the heart have been replaced by a long list of things NOT to do. This list includes: television, movies, newspapers, magazines, ALL organized sports (this website spells out that they mean amateur and professional sports of any kind), holidays like Christmas, and parties of any kind. It appears that people always have the tendency to make Christianity about following a set of external rules.

This was a problem in the early church, though it was a little different then. The big issue for many of the Greek churches that Paul planted was what to do about all the Hebrew code of laws. The 600 different biblical laws and the thousands of laws from the Hebrew Oral tradition were somewhat problematic for the Greeks coming to faith in Jesus. Things like circumcision and food laws had become external stamps of righteousness to the Jews and there was pressure to force the Gentile believers in Jesus into these bonds. The book of Galatians has this tension in the background. Paul makes the argument that Christ’s work on the cross has set us free from the burden of the law. This does not mean that people are free to behave however they want no matter who it hurts, but it does significantly change the motivation for right action. In Paul’s view, it is not about trying “keep the rules” but about meeting the obligations of a love relationship with Jesus. So in one sense we are free: free from the obligation to keep all the rules because that is what we ought to do. In another sense we are bound: we have an obligation to return the love we have been shown.

So if externalism is not the kind of righteousness God is looking for, what is God looking for? This is the question we will be asking this month in Echo. We will be looking at morality in terms of “virtues:” internal characteristics that define who a person is or is becoming instead of external rules that define what they do or do not do.