Monday, October 20, 2008

HOPE in the Midst of the Current Financial Crisis

HOPE in the Midst of the Current Financial Crisis

An open letter from Pastor Glenn

In late September, the bills came due on America. The bills always come due. The illusion that we as individuals, as companies and as a nation can live on 110% of our income is now over. But—now what do we do? And now, what will we do as a church?

I believe that the sustained nature of this situation will provide an opportunity for us to learn (or relearn) the basics. Actually, this may have a greater and more positive impact on Americans to get their spiritual act together than the 911 attacks.

Remember how full the churches were the Sunday after 911? I do. I also remember how the crowds were gone a month later. Americans are a resilient people, and we were able to absorb the shock of what had happened. We then we took down the Taliban government in Afghanistan before Christmas. And we moved on.

According to Dave Ramsey, this financial crisis is more likely to be with us for three to five years. It will take that long for the excess housing stock to be used up and then we need a couple of years for the greater economy to right itself. We need adopt a long-haul mentality.

There is a saying: “Leaders are dealers in hope.” I want to give you some handles for hope as we move forward. I want you to know that your church will help you. We don’t know if the financial systems will remain in prolonged chaos, or if it will turn around rapidly, or if we are headed toward a deep recession—dare I say depression?

Here’s the HOPE we offer:

H: We will HELP you “reframe” what you are hearing

Reframing is a understanding concept; it means to enter the conversation that people are already having in their minds, and enabling them to move them to a place they were not expecting—and there, you experience a flash of insight that has the potential to change your life. Jesus frequently “reframed” people’s understanding, as for example when in the Sermon on the Mount He said again and again, “You have heard it said, but I say to you…”

What do we have to have reframed? We have come to believe that financial security comes from our 401k, our investments and our property value. We need to see instead that our financial security comes from God and that His word gives us all the essential tools we need to handle wealth and to experience the prosperity that arises from generosity. I was talking with a man at the gym I attend about the financial mess, and I said to him, “There’s no better place to find our way out of this mess than through what Jesus teaches in the gospels and in the Book of Proverbs.” According to Hebrew 12:28, we are inheritors of an unshakable kingdom. That’s the vision to keep before us.

This may well be a blessed time when it comes to the advance of God’s Kingdom. During the last steep recession (1973-1976) we saw the beginnings of some of the greatest churches and ministries in America. Willow Creek Church near Chicago began in 1975. So were the Vineyard and Calvary Chapel movements. A few years later during the 1979-1983 recession, Saddleback Church here in Southern California began. Down economic times have frequently been up times for the Kingdom of God. This is not a time to fear, but to hope, and to anticipate what God will do in our time. Lou Engle of The Call (see believes that we are on the verge of a new Jesus movement, and that California will be on the cutting edge of this movement of God.

Did you know that charitable giving (including church giving) did not decline during the Great Depression? Again, down times can be up time for God’s work. Have no fear!

O: We will OFFER Tools and Faith to our congregation

We commit as a church to offer you tools and faith that will help you get your financial house in order—in a way that will honor God, provide for the needs of your household, and be a good witness to the world. For example, in January, we will study The Treasure Principle in all our Sunday morning classes. We intend to follow that up with a four to six week seminar designed to help you apply Biblical principles to your financial situation.

We also commit to give you the things needed to build your “financial faith.” Remember 2 Timothy 1:7: For God did not give us a spirit of timidity, but a spirit of power, of love and of self-discipline.” Jesus repeatedly reminded us to “Fear not!” Remember: The opposite of faith is fear. Fear is a subversive form of faith. Fear is believing the lies of Satan. Fear is faith in the enemy!

We will model this as a church in our decision-making. We will not cancel doing the things we believed God called us to do. We will be wise with our times, but we will continue to move forward.

P: We will continue to PROMOTE generosity

Our model is what God has already done—God loves, therefore God gives (John 3:16). If we love, we also give. The current situation cannot cancel God’s commands to love or to give. When all others are hoarding, we give—and release the blessings of heaven (Luke 6:38). We will do so no matter what, and in the process, we will give witness to our faith in God to provide our daily bread (Matthew 6:11).

Doing this will enable us to standing out like a purple cow! What a great witness—to be generous in hard times!

I know that it will be a temptation for us to stop tithing. It will be a temptation to retrench or at least to not move forward in generosity. I urge you to resist that temptation, and to trust in God. There will be a special temptation to reduce giving in anticipation of what might happen—not because our income has actually declined. Please don’t give in to that temptation to sin. It really is sin because it’s a temptation to stop trusting in God to provide for now and for the future. It breaks the principle of living on what God’s provided, and giving 10% of income to kingdom causes. (See Malachi 3:8.)

Don’t cut the growth edges your financial life. By “growth edges” I mean the “seed” that you plant now which results in future provision. For example, debt retirement, savings and certain investments are “growth edges” in your personal finances. As a church, spending on the things which attract and retain newcomers are also “growth edges.” In personal finance, growth edges include generous giving. That’s so because God has commanded it, and because generous giving trains us to live well within our means. Giving is actually a powerful financial tool. If we live on 90% of our income, we will never, ever be tempted to try to live on 110% of our income! No—it is far better to cut personal spending (things like lunches out daily when we could pack a lunch, or expensive vacations) than to cut giving.

E: Encourage Evangelism

Here’s a fact: people are most likely to come to faith if they are around people like themselves and if they are under tension, in transition and/or in trouble.

A good example of that is the growth of the church in China. If there was ever a people enduring tension, transition and trouble over a protracted period of time, it was the Chinese people since the 1949 revolution. As I mentioned before, many experts believe that this will be a lengthy, perhaps a five-year crisis.

While none of us would have wished for this time of difficulty, there is an opportunity for us, as God’s people, to model to the world that our faith is not just a ‘sunny day faith.’ Throughout the ages, it has been during times of crisis that Christianity and God’s people have had the most impact. Let me challenge you to model with your life and lips by:

· Being a person of generosity while everyone else is hoarding (John 3:16);

· Being consistent in faith while others are fearing (2 Timothy 1:7);

· Showing great love and concern for your friends and inviting them with you to First Baptist so they too can find hope (1 Peter 2:12).

This is a time to shine like beacons of HOPE in the midst of darkness. From 1999 until 2006, we used the motto “The Beacon on Baldwin.” While not bringing back the motto, it’s time to bring back the concept—and to truly function as beacons of HOPE for our troubled time.

For a great little book so revelant to the faith issues posed by the financial crisis, see Andy Stanley’s book Fields of Gold.

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