How to Prepare for a New Year

We're now just hours away from a new year. It's hard to believe that a year ago, the world was caught up in Y2K hype. I think some people were almost disappointed when 12:00 rolled around and not much happened. They're still living off the tinned food that they stored in their basement.

As I thought about today, I thought of all the things that I could speak on. I thought of challenging you - get into shape, start a Bible reading regimen, and so on. This is the time of the year that the most people join gyms and join weight-loss programs. Just try going into Weight Watchers in the next few days - you'll be waiting in line. The problem is that many of our resolutions get dropped. I could challenge you today to start a new regimen today, but most of us have given up on New Year's resolutions. We need more than a New Year's challenge to make things right in our lives.

What I want to do instead is to relieve you of a burden. Tomorrow you officially enter a new millennium. Last year was just a dress rehearsal. One of the greatest problems that many of us have is that we're carrying too much junk around. We need to let some of it go. Listen to Hebrews 12:1: "Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a huge crowd of witnesses to the life of faith, let us strip off every weight that slows us down, especially the sin that so easily hinders our progress. And let us run with endurance the race that God has set before us."

As we enter into a new year, we can't afford to be carrying along extra weight - especially the weight of sin. You've got to leave some of that junk behind. You've got to make a fresh start. I've never watched a race where a contestant carried a garbage bag down the track. But I've seen a lot of people carry along guilt, sin, and other junk throughout life. They've never let it go. I'd like nothing better than to see you prepare for the New Year by making a clean start.

Who do I want to talk to today? I want to talk to people who have messed up this year. You've failed, and you've come today expecting a beating. I talk to people all the time who come to church looking for a good beating so they can feel better about themselves. "Okay, I got what I deserved." I want to talk to people who are feeling lousy about themselves. Maybe they've really messed things up this year. Maybe they're feeling low about where they are in life. And my message for them is from Psalm 103:

The LORD is merciful and gracious;
he is slow to get angry and full of unfailing love.
He will not constantly accuse us, nor remain angry forever.
He has not punished us for all our sins,
nor does he deal with us as we deserve.
For his unfailing love toward those who fear him
is as great as the height of the heavens above the earth.
He has removed our rebellious acts
as far away from us as the east is from the west.
The LORD is like a father to his children,
tender and compassionate to those who fear him. (Psalm 103:8-13)

How can I prepare for a new year? Four actions:

1. RECOGNIZE THAT FAILURE IS UNIVERSAL

The first action I would like you to take today is to recognize that failure is universal. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle once decided to play a practical joke on twelve of his friends. He sent each of them a telegram that said, "Flee at once...all is discovered." Within twenty-four hours, all twelve had left the country. Why? All of us have failed. Broken lives are universal. The first action that you need to take is to recognize that failure is universal.

This past week I went to Martha Stewart's web site. I saw that you could learn how to make a dip with Rosie O'Donnell, how to plan the perfect New Year's Eve party, how to surprise guests with unique party favors, and how to plan a party that is so good, your guests will be talking about it until the next one. I feel guilty when I compare myself to Martha Stewart. I don't excel at Martha Stewart sorts of things. I don't live in a Martha Stewart sort of home. I am not Martha Stewart.

The problem is that a lot of us come to church on a Sunday morning expecting to find Martha Stewart Christians everywhere. They read their Bible seven days in a row last week. They prayed an hour each day. They didn't blow up at their kids once last week. Their priorities are in order.

But the reality is that none of us are Martha Stewart Christians. All of us mess up. Paul writes:

It seems to be a fact of life that when I want to do what is right, I inevitably do what is wrong. I love God's law with all my heart. But there is another law at work within me that is at war with my mind. This law wins the fight and makes me a slave to the sin that is still within me. Oh, what a miserable person I am! Who will free me from this life that is dominated by sin? (Romans 7:21-24)

There's a lot of debate about whether Paul is writing that as a believer or an unbeliever. We don't really know. But we do know this: failure is universal. All of us fail. And nobody here today is free from struggle or sin.

Is that supposed to be encouraging? In a weird way, yes! It means that all of us need Jesus. All of us are on equal footing before Jesus. All of us need help.

The Bible is chock-full of people whose lives were devastated and broken from sin. We think it's unusual when a life implodes from sin. But in the Bible, it's the rule, not the exception. I'm not talking about little sins - I'm talking about the big ones. Moses with an anger problem, who killed a man in a fit of anger. David who blew it by committing both adultery and murder. Jonah who cared so little about lost people that he ran from God. Peter who denied Jesus three times. I could add my own name to this list. All of us are broken people.

Some of you are carrying around guilt because you think that you're worse than everyone else. The Bible says, "For all have sinned; all fall short of God's glorious standard" (Romans 3:23). Let's stop pretending. Do you remember the book, You're Okay, I'm Okay? I have a friend who's thinking of rewriting it to say You're Not Okay, I'm Not Okay. Everyone has failed.

Action two you need to take:

2. REALIZE THAT GOD DOESN'T WRITE YOU OFF

God never writes you off. I don't know if you've been following the story of the man who stole a diamond ring and swallowed it. They arrested the man, did an x-ray, and sure enough, the ring was in his digestive tract. They kept on waiting for it to come out so that they could retrieve it, but it's still stuck in there. Legal experts say that there's nothing they can do but wait. If the ring comes out after he's released, he's free to keep it.

The funniest part of the story is the jeweler from whom the ring was stolen. He's not so sure he wants it back. Given the ring's history, he thinks it's lost some of its value. Who wants to buy a ring that's been where that ring has been?

A lot of you have been in pretty dirty places. You may think that God looks at your life and has to do a calculation to see how much you're worth. But you've never lost your value to God. You're incredibly valuable to him. God will never write you off.

There's a verse in the Bible that I love. Romans 5:20 says, "But as people sinned more and more, God's wonderful kindness became more abundant." You can never out-sin God's grace. God's grace is always more than your sin. In fact, Jesus taught that the more sins you've committed, the more God's grace is lavished on you, because more grace is required. God matches your sins with grace, and the grace he gives is always greater than your sin.

I have in my hand a $5 bill. How many people want it? I want a volunteer to come up and get it. But before I give it away, I want to do something to it. I want to scrunch it up and trample on it and get it a little dirty. How many people still want it? No matter how dirty that bill gets, it still retains its val ue.

There are a lot of religions that teach you that if you're going to be valued by God, you've got to clean up all the dirt and junk in your life and get your life in order, and then God will take you. But the Bible teaches something completely the opposite. The Bible says to come as you are. Realize that God never stopped loving you. Don't get your life all cleaned up and in order. Just come as you are. God will put things right.

When Jesus was here, he spent a lot of time with sinners. The group that he had no time for were the self-righteous Pharisees who saw thought they behaved themselves into a relationship with Jesus. One day Jesus went to a Pharisee's house. At the house, an immoral woman came up, brought a beautiful jar of expensive perfume, knelt behind him, crying, and wiped Jesus' feet with her hair. She kept kissing his feet and putting perfume on them.

The Pharisee said to himself, "If God had really sent him, he would know what kind of woman is touching him. She's a sinner!" (Luke 7:36) But Jesus said:

"I tell you, her sins—and they are many—have been forgiven, so she has shown me much love. But a person who is forgiven little shows only little love." Then Jesus said to the woman, "Your sins are forgiven." (Luke 7:47-48)

It wasn't the stingy religious leader who was forgiven by Jesus - it was the grateful immoral woman. You're not forgiven because of how good you are. You're forgiven because you come to Jesus just as you are.

Paul writes:

God saved you by his special favor when you believed. And you can't take credit for this; it is a gift from God. Salvation is not a reward for the good things we have done, so none of us can boast about it. For we are God's masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so that we can do the good things he planned for us long ago. (Ephesians 2:8-10)

You're God's masterpiece. You haven't lost your value. Jesus offers you full and complete forgiveness - just as you are.

So recognize that failure is universal. Realize that God doesn't write you off. The third action that you need to take:

3. REFUSE TO PRETEND ABOUT YOUR CONDITION

Never pretend just who you are. Don't pass yourself off as better than you really are. Acknowledge your real condition.

I think that if we're to do this, we need to be honest about three things. We need to be honest about our PAST. Paul wrote to the Corinthians:

Don't fool yourselves. Those who indulge in sexual sin, who are idol worshipers, adulterers, male prostitutes, homosexuals, thieves, greedy people, drunkards, abusers, and swindlers—none of these will have a share in the Kingdom of God. There was a time when some of you were just like that... (1 Corinthians 6:9-11)

Some of us need to be more honest about our past. We don't need to tell everyone all the gory details. But it's amazing how quickly we forget what we really were. We tend to airbrush our past. Don't pretend you were better than you were. Be honest about who you are.

You've also got to be honest about your PRESENT. Paul continues, "There was a time when some of you were just like that, but now your sins have been washed away, and you have been set apart for God. You have been made right with God because of what the Lord Jesus Christ and the Spirit of our God have done for you" (1 Corinthians 6:11). Some of you are struggling with false guilt. You're feeling guilty about things that you've done, but you've got no reason to. You're forgiven. Your sins have been washed away; you've been made right because of what God has done. You've got no business feeling guilty about your sins.

How long should a follower of Jesus Christ feel guilty about a sin they've committed? About ten seconds. That's how long it takes to confess that sin to God and receive the gift of forgiveness. Satan's called the accuser. It's a trick that he uses to make people feel guilty for sins that Jesus has already forgiven. Don't let him do that. "Your sins have been washed away, and you have been set apart for God. You have been made right with God because of what the Lord Jesus Christ and the Spirit of our God have done for you."

But don't act like you have your act all together! C.S. Lewis said, "Think of me as a fellow-patient in the same hospital who, having been admitted a little earlier, could give some advice." We're all sinners. The only difference between us is that some of us have been forgiven. And those who have been forgiven can't take the credit for it. It's all Jesus. He's the one who has put us right.

Be honest about your past and your present. You've also got to be honest about your FUTURE. My motto used to be, "It couldn't happen to me!" But the Bible says, "If you think you are standing strong, be careful, for you, too, may fall into the same sin" (1 Corinthians 10:12). Never say the words, "It could never happen to me." Be honest about your future. You don't have the power to live life on your own. You need God's help if you're going to stay strong.

Authenticity means that I am who I appear to be. There's no pretending. I never want to pretend about who I am. Am I struggling? Sure. Do I fail? Absolutely. Am I vulnerable? Do I have weaknesses that could be exploited in the future? Yes. Am I forgiven? Yes, because of what Jesus did. I refuse to pretend about my condition. It's a great step to take.

One more action you need to take to prepare for the New Year:

4. RECEIVE THE GIFT OF GOD'S GRACE

The reason that many of you are carrying burdens is because you haven't taken this step. You haven't received the gift of God's grace. Everything in our society says that we have to do it ourselves. But that's not the way it works with God. Do you want a clean slate? Then receive the gift of God's grace.

Romans 6:23 says, "The wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord." This is the ultimate gift that keeps on giving. With God, the best is yet to come. The gift of God is eternal life that begins now and continues throughout eternity.

There's only one catch to this gift. You have to accept it. Although Jesus makes this gift available to everyone, it's effective only to those who receive this gift.

If you're a follower of Jesus Christ this morning, you can't take any credit for it. Your salvation is not a result of anything you've done. It's simply by God's grace. You won't get to heaven and hear people outdo each other with stories of how they got to heaven. It's all of grace. All we can do is be thankful for it.

Isaiah 30:18 says, "The LORD longs to be gracious to you." That's his desire. It is his nature to bless undeserving people. He's waiting for you to accept his grace. He enjoys being gracious. He's not mad at you. His heart's broken for you but he wants you to come home.

God's amazing grace is available right here and right now. Today. That's why He brought you here. You're not here by accident. He brought you here. If you have never received that saving grace gift, what are you waiting for?

A newspaper once ran this personal ad: "Son, I know you are in the city. Please call your father collect. I love you son." God is calling out to you this morning, saying the very same thing. Call me collect. I'll pay the cost. But come home. I've been waiting for you. Come home.

This past summer, I heard a song for the first time. It's called "Change Your Mind." Listen to the words:

Hey, Hey
Did you ever think
There might be another way
To just feel better,
Just feel better about today

If you've had enough
Of all your tryin'
Just give up
The state of mind you're in...

If you want to be somebody else,
If you're tired of fighting battles with yourself
If you want to be somebody else
Change your mind...

Do you want to be somebody else? Are you tired of fighting battles with yourself? Then change your mind. Receive God's gift of grace. Let's pray.

You don't need to pretend this morning. You don't have to make a bunch of New Year's resolutions. You don't have to try to be someone else. You just need to take these steps: recognize that failure is universal. Realize that God doesn't write you off. You're valuable to him. Refuse to pretend about your condition. Come today just as you are. Receive the gift of God's grace.

You can pray this prayer:

"Dear God, I realize that I can never be perfect enough to earn a place in your perfect heaven. I realize that the only way I'll get in is by your grace. Forgive me for thinking that I could be good enough. Forgive me for my pride that thinks I can earn my way into heaven. Thank you for your forgiveness and I ask for it today.

"Jesus Christ, thank you for paying for my salvation on the cross. By faith, I accept your grace today. I want you to guide my life from this day forward. In your name I pray. Amen."

God's Promise to Meet Your Needs

Today we're just one week away from Christmas. There are two types of people in this room. The first type just thought, "I can't wait! Christmas can't get here fast enough." The other type of person just groaned at the thought of Christmas only being a week away. You're my type. It's not like I don't know it's coming, but I never seem to be quite ready for Christmas.

Today we're going to talk about God's promise to meet your needs. There are probably two types of people in this room when it comes to talking about God's provision. The first type of person thinks about God providing their needs and says, "Of course! God always has. I don't even have to think about it." These people probably have the gift of faith, or at least have seen God come through in their lives over and over again. But there are others of us who often wonder, "How are my needs going to be met?" These people go to bed at night worried about the future. They feel financial pressure, and they're not quite sure how God is going to provide for them.

You don't have to be poor to worry about your needs being met. Do you ever drive by really nice houses? I used to think as I drove by, "These people have it made financially. They don't have any financial worries." The reality is that they do. Sometimes they're more worried about their finances than I am. You may be well off; you may be just getting by. But God has made some very specific promises to take care of your needs. One of the greatest promises in the Bible is found in 2 Corinthians 9:8: "God will generously provide all you need. Then you will always have everything you need and plenty left over to share with others." Philippians 4:19 says, "This same God who takes care of me will supply all your needs from his glorious riches, which have been given to us in Christ Jesus."

You may have some great needs this morning. You may have emotional needs - for someone to support and understand you, for a friend. Some of you have physical needs. You have a medical problem. You're facing a medical crisis and you need God to touch your body. You may be facing a financial crunch. You may be like the mother I talked to who couldn't afford presents for her children. You may be a senior who is watching the retirement nest egg shrink while you wonder, "How long will it last?" God has promised to meet your needs.

You may be asking, "Why hasn't God provided for all my needs yet? What's going on? Can I really count on God's promises?" God's promises to take care of you are often based on premises. In other words, they're not just blank, open-ended promises. God says, "If you do your part in following me, I'll do my part in taking care of you."

What's our part? The Bible outlines four steps that you need to take to prepare for God meeting your needs:

1. ASK FOR GOD'S HELP

The first step that you've got to take is that you've got to ask for it. Kids are great at doing this. If you ever want to spend time in the nursery, you'll discover that those little kids don't talk very much, but they're still great at asking for what they want. Do they want to be fed? They tell you. Do they want to be picked up and held? They'll let you know. It's only when you get older that you start to try to do it all yourself. Why doesn't God provide for us? Because we don't ask. If you want God to provide, it begins with praying and asking.

James 4:2 says, "The reason you don't have what you want is that you don't ask God for it." That's pretty clear. God is waiting until you ask. God wants to help us, but the problem is, we never ask him to. We think that we can handle it ourselves. We think that the matter's too small for God. Or - even worse - we think that God won't listen to our prayers. God says to ask.

Jesus said, "Keep on asking, and you will be given what you ask for. Keep on looking, and you will find. Keep on knocking, and the door will be opened. For everyone who asks, receives. Everyone who seeks, finds. And the door is opened to everyone who knocks" (Matthew 7:7-8). Over twenty times in the Bible, God says, "Ask! I want you to ask!" One of the reasons we don't see a lot of miracles is that we simply don't ask. Would you like to see God work in your life more? Start asking.

Why does God want to ask? Because he's a loving Father. I'm a loving father, and I love providing for my kids. It's what fathers do. A family went to get a portrait taken. The photographer said, "Maybe the son could put his hand on dad's shoulder, so that it will look more natural." The father said, "If the son put his hand in my wallet, it would look more natural." Good fathers provide for their children. Jesus said, "If you sinful people know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give good gifts to those who ask him" (Matthew 7:11).

The first step that you've got to take is to ask. Don't worry about asking too much. An old hymn says, "You are coming to a king; large petitions with thee bring." Don't worry about asking too much. Ask God to meet your needs.

Do you want God to provide for you? Here's the second step to take in preparing for God's provision:

2. BE GENEROUS WITH YOUR MONEY

The Bible is full of paradoxes. The Bible says that the first are last, that the greatest among us are servants, that if you cling to your life you'll lose it, but if you give it up for Jesus you'll find it. One of the greatest paradoxes has to do with your money. The Bible says that if you're stingy with your money, you won't have a lot of money. But if you really want to see God provide in your life - if you really want God to bless your finances - then you've got to be generous with your money. The more you give away, the more you'll have.

Proverbs 11:24-25 says, "It is possible to give freely and become more wealthy, but those who are stingy will lose everything. The generous prosper and are satisfied; those who refresh others will themselves be refreshed." God provides for generous people. The only reason God gives to you is so that you can be a conduit of generosity to other people. He gives so that you can give to others. When you start to hoard what God gives you, you end up getting in the way of God's plan. You become the blockage that stops God's generosity from showing up in your life.

What happens when you're generous? When you're generous, you end up on the receiving end of more generosity. It's the law of sowing and reaping. 2 Corinthians 9:6 says, "Remember this—a farmer who plants only a few seeds will get a small crop. But the one who plants generously will get a generous crop." You get to choose how generous you want God to be in your life. If you want God to be a little generous with you, then be a little generous with others. If you are lavish in giving to God and others, then God says he will be lavish in providing for you.

In fact, the two greatest verses about God providing are in the context of being generous with what we have. Philippians 4:19 says, "This same God who takes care of me will supply all your needs from his glorious riches, which have been given to us in Christ Jesus." We read that verse, but we forget to read the verses in front of it, which talk about an offering they were collecting. You can't claim verse 19 unless you're following verses 10-18. You can't claim the blessings without living a life of generosity.

2 Corinthians 9:8 says, "And God will generously provide all you need. Then you will always have everything you need and plenty left over to share with others." Here, too, Paul was talking about taking an offering. The two greatest promises about God providing for our needs are based on the premise of us being generous in giving to God.

Unless I'm obeying God in the matter of giving, God doesn't give any guarantee to meet my needs. God is not obligated to meet my needs if I'm not obeying what he's told me to do. We can block the flow of blessing if we're stingy.

We like to say, "Lord, when all my needs are met, then I'll give away." God says, "No, when you give away, then all your needs will be met." God says you prime the pump. Why? It requires faith.

Give the first part of the income to the Lord and watch him bless it. It's like when I give part of my day to the Lord in a quiet time, he makes the rest of the day expand so I can get more done. When I give the first part of my income to the Lord, somehow he makes that other 90% expand and I am able to pay more with that. Some of you think you can't afford to tithe. But I honestly say, as your pastor, you can't afford not to. You can't afford not to if you really want God's blessing in your life. Ask God for help, and then be generous with all that he gives you.

There's a third step to preparing for God's provision:

3. CONTENT YOURSELF WITH WHAT YOU HAVE

Another reason God sometimes doesn't provide for us is that we're not content with what we already have. We think that we need to have more if we're going to be happy. James 4:3 says, "Even when you do ask, you don't get it because your whole motive is wrong—you want only what will give you pleasure." God doesn't give us more if our motive is to accumulate more for our own selfish pleasures. God is more interested in your character than your comfort. God is watching your attitude to see if you're content.

1 Timothy 6:6 says, "True religion with contentment is great wealth." If you are a follower of Jesus Christ, and you are content, then it doesn't get any better. There's no greater wealth than that. The passage goes on, "After all, we didn't bring anything with us when we came into the world, and we certainly cannot carry anything with us when we die" (1 Timothy 6:7). Babies aren't born with an awful lot. They don't come into this world with car keys and stereos and stuff. There's just an umbilical cord that gets cut pretty fast. When you leave, you don't take very much with you. So the things you have on earth are just for the eighty or so years that you're here. They're not that important. Be content with what you have.

We have a way of confusing need and greed. In 1890 a sociologist did a study and asked Americans what they thought were the basic needs of life: What are the absolute bare minimum necessities you felt you had to have in order to survive. In 1890 the study revealed that Americans thought there was 16 basic things every one needed in order to survive. The survey was taken a couple of years ago, less than 100 years later. Now Americans think they have to have 98 things in order to survive. Our wants have a way of being exaggerated into needs.

What is contentment? Contentment is not a lack of goals or ambition. Contentment means my happiness is not dependent upon circumstances. Most people get caught into "when" thinking - "When I get such and such, then I'll be happy." "When I get to a certain level economically... When I get a certain job ... When I can retire ... then I'll be happy. When I get the house paid off... When I get the bills paid off... then!" God says, "No, once you get there you'll always want something else. You always want more." Somebody asked Howard Hughes, "How much does it take to make a man happy?" He said, "Just a little more."

It's no easier to be content with $10 billion than it is with $10. Paul wrote, "I know how to live on almost nothing or with everything. I have learned the secret of living in every situation, whether it is with a full stomach or empty, with plenty or little" (Philippians 4:12).

This is the third requirement of having God provide in your life. Learn to be content. How can you be content? Learn what makes you discontent. Comparing causes discontent. It's stupid to compare. There's always someone smarter, richer, and better looking than you. So don't compare. Ted Turner said, "If I sit down and say, ‘I've only got $10 billion, but Bill Gates has $100 billion,' I'll feel like I'm a complete failure in life." So don't compare. You will always find someone richer than you.

God won't give you more until you're content with what you have. If you're not content with what you have, then it shows that your priorities are wrong; that you're focusing too much attention on your possessions. God says, "I won't give you more because you won't be able to handle what I want to give you." If you aren't content, you'll never be happy.

Ask God for help. Be generous. Content yourself with what you have. There's one more step to preparing for God to provide for your needs:

4. DEEPEN YOUR COMMITMENT TO GOD

Listen to Matthew 6:32-33: "Your heavenly Father already knows all your needs, and he will give you all you need from day to day if you live for him and make the Kingdom of God your primary concern."

Do you want God to provide for you? It starts here. It starts with putting God first in your life. That's the bottom line. The Bible says that if you put your trust in God - if you make his kingdom your primary concern - that God will provide for you. He will meet your needs. But you've got to put God first in your life. Psalm 34:10 says, "Even strong young lions sometimes go hungry, but those who trust in the LORD will never lack any good thing."

Does this work? Listen to this story of a single mother from within our church:

I want to give God the glory for the miraculous way He has provided for our family over the years. As a single mother of four young children, not receiving any support, we were at risk of losing our home through foreclosure. Selling it was not an option, as we had nowhere to go. My meager salary was barely sufficient to put food on the table.

The worry, and lack of sleep, put me in hospital for two weeks, which made things even more difficult. I had a very loving, caring, extended family, with very limited financial means. They helped as much as they possibly could, but their help only began to meet the desperate financial situation I found myself in.

During this time, I never missed paying my tithes. There was no question that this was God's money. I had been raised in a Christian home, and was taught this at a very young age.

God's grace was new every morning, He provided in such miraculous ways. When there were bills to pay, and no money to pay them, we received money anonymously, through the mail, or dropped in the mailbox. When we didn't have food for the next meal, we would find a big box of groceries at the door. This happened again and again.

Although God supplied our daily needs, the threat of losing the house still loomed over my head. Someone suggested that I call the mortgage company to tell them of my plight, and to try to work out a payment plan. I did this, and much to my delight, they were very understanding, and agreed to cancel the foreclosure proceedings, and allow me to pay what I could.

I could go on and on, but time does not permit. As our pastor mentioned last Sunday, we are commanded to tithe even when we can't afford it, and God will supply our every need. He also suggested that we call our creditors to try to work things out, when we don't have the money to pay. I have proved that this really does work.

I thank God for allowing us to go through that, so that we could experience the daily miracles, he supplied ALL our needs, spiritually, emotionally, physically, and materially.

What impossible situation are you facing? What needs seem insurmountable? The Bible says, "God will generously provide all you need. Then you will always have everything you need and plenty left over to share with others" (2 Corinthians 9:8).

In a week we open our Christmas presents. But the greatest Christmas present ever given was not a thing. The greatest Christmas present ever given was a person - Jesus Christ. He came as the greatest provision that God could ever give us - a provision to deal with our sins. The Bible says, "When the right time came, God sent his Son, born of a woman, subject to the law. God sent him to buy freedom for us who were slaves to the law, so that he c ould adopt us as his very own children" (Galatians 4:4-5). The greatest Christmas present you could ever receive is the gift of freedom from sins, and that's the reason that Jesus came to earth. You can receive that gift today.

The Bible says, "Since God did not spare even his own Son but gave him up for us all, won't God, who gave us Christ, also give us everything else?" (Romans 8:32) God gave you the greatest gift he could ever give - the gift of his Son. God will provide for all of your needs.

Would you pray with me?

You need to receive this gift. You need to receive the forgiveness from sin that Jesus Christ offers. Would you pray this prayer in your heart? "Dear God, thank you for not sparing your Son. Thank you for sending him to buy my freedom. Today I seek your kingdom, and I make your kingdom my primary concern. I turn away from my sins to follow you, in Jesus' name, Amen."

If you prayed this prayer, congratulations! The Bible says, "Those who become Christians become new persons. They are not the same anymore, for the old life is gone. A new life has begun!" (2 Corinthians 5:17) God has started a new work in you today! You are a new person.

If you have needs you would like God to meet, would you pray this prayer, "Father, thank you that you are a heavenly Father and you've promised to meet all our needs. Today I ask you for help. I have needs that I need you to meet. Lord, help me to be generous and content with what I have. I pray that as I put you first in my life that you will provide for my needs, so that I will have everything I need and plenty left over to share with others. I pray this in Jesus' name, Amen."

Breaking Out of the Debt Trap

We live in a society of instant gratification. Buy now, and pay later. This causes enormous problems, not only in our culture but also in our individual families and lives. For the first time in history, personal and consumer debt totals over 100% of Canadian incomes. An article in the Globe and Mail's Report on Business earlier this year said, "Canadians can't spend fast enough. Our debts are at record levels and show no signs of slowing. How did things get so wild?"

Welcome to the culture of ever-expanding consumer debt, where low-interest credit-card applications arrive weekly, pre-approved lines of credit are offered unbidden, and a barrage of advertisements tell us what we just can't do without and why bother waiting anyway when you can have it now. Did you know the number of credit cards in circulation has doubled in twenty years? Credit card companies now allow limits that are two and a half times what a person can conceivably repay. Half of Canadians carry a credit card balance from month to month. That's why today I want us to look at how to break out of the debt trap.

Why is debt a trap? It's a trap because debt enslaves you. When you go into debt, you lose your freedom. Proverbs 22:7 says, "The borrower is servant to the lender." Any time you take a loan or some credit, you in a sense become a servant to those people. You become mentally enslaved to them. You may wake up at night worrying about how you are going to keep up with your bill payments. You become physically enslaved to them. You end up working longer and longer hours to meet your obligations. And you become legally enslaved to them, ultimately responsible in the eyes of the law to make your payments. It becomes a trap that many people never get out of.

Every week, it seems like we're bombarded with credit applications. At Eatons, you can get a credit card at the cash register in twelve seconds or less. You open your mail, and there's an application for preferred, pre-approved credit. If you believe what they write in those letters, you think, "Wow! I'm preferred! I'm prestigious! I'm in the select few!" They mention everything in those letters except for one word - debt. Because what they're offering you isn't financial freedom or customized spending services. What they're really offering you is a word that they'll never use. They're offering you debt.

Not all debt is wrong, but for many people debt has become a trap. Today I want to give you some warning signs that you're either in debt already, or you're headed for trouble. More importantly, I want to give you some biblical steps that you can take to get out of debt if you are. What are some signs that you're headed for the debt trap?

1. YOU'RE LIVING ON CREDIT

The first danger sign that you're headed for the debt trap is if you're living on credit. How do you know if you're doing this? Easy: if your credit card bills are going up. People who live on credit start to use their credit cards for cash advances. They use their savings to maintain their lifestyle. They find that they are living on the overdraft on their accounts, or that they bounce checks from time to time. They only make minimum payments on their credit. They often don't keep and record their credit card slips, and they're frequently surprised when the credit card bill comes. They use their Visa to pay their MasterCard. They're using credit cards to maintain their lifestyle.

The Bible says in Romans 13:8, "Pay all your debts." God doesn't want you to live on credit. God has promised to provide for all your needs. When you start to live on credit, you're making two mistakes. You're saying that you're not content with what you have. The other mistake you're making is that you think you can pay it off later. Proverbs 27:1 says, "Don't brag about tomorrow, since you don't know what the day will bring." You are headed for the debt trap if you find yourself living on credit.

Some people are living off credit because they're waiting for that big break. They think that they're going to win the lottery, or that Ed McMahon is going to show up at their door. Proverbs 13:11 says, "Wealth from get-rich-quick schemes quickly disappears; wealth from hard work grows."

One major problem with living on credit: the interest will kill you. If you have $5,000 on a credit card and only make the minimum payments, it will take you 28 years and over $12,000 to pay down that credit card. Of course the banks want you to live on credit. You can't afford to get in that kind of a trap.

2. YOU MAKE IMPULSE PURCHASES

McDonald's has made millions of dollars with six simple words: "Would you like fries with that?" Stores are designed to get you to make impulse purchases. If you find yourself caving in and buying things on impulse, you're likely headed for the debt trap.

Proverbs 21:17 says, "Those who love pleasure become poor; wine and luxury are not the way to riches." Substitute your weakness there for "wine and luxury." For me it's books and gadgets. I once worked for a bookstore, but I hardly ever took my pay home with me. I spent it all on books. To me, Proverbs would say, "Darryl, books and gadgets are not the way to riches." Whatever your weakness is, if you give in and make impulse purchases, you are on your way to the debt trap.

Jesus said in Luke 12:15, "Beware! Don't be greedy for what you don't have. Real life is not measured by how much we own." The real problem when we make impulse purchases isn't the purchase itself. The real problem is that we expect to get happiness from what we purchase. Most impulse purchasing is based on emotion and results in the purchase of poor-quality, over-priced merchandise. Impulse purchasing is based on greed rather than need. That's the real problem with impulse purchases.

By the way: studies show that people spend 23% in stores when they buy using a credit card. When you don't have to pay the money up front, you're likely to buy 23% more than if you had paid cash. When you make impulse purchases, you are headed for the debt trap.

One more sign that you're headed for the debt trap:

3. YOU CAN'T AFFORD TO GIVE TO GOD OR TO SAVE

If you're not giving God the first and best part of your income, and if you're not saving, then you're spending too much. You're robbing God. In Malachi 3, God says:

Should people cheat God? Yet you have cheated me! But you ask, "What do you mean? When did we ever cheat you?" You have cheated me of the tithes and offerings due to me. (Malachi 3:8)

If you're not giving to God, you're using God's money to pay your bills. And God takes that very seriously. How can we expect God to take care of our finances when we're stealing from him?

One of the richest people of the 1900s was John D. Rockefeller. He was fabulously, incredibly wealthy. His personal wealth peaked at a billion dollars when a dollar meant way more than it does now. Someone asked him one time, "How did you amass such wealth?" He said, "Simple. Save ten percent. Give ten percent. Live on the rest." That's called living on a margin. If you can't save ten percent and you can't give ten percent, you're spending too much money. You need to reduce your lifestyle. You're living above your means, because you can't do what God tells you to do. You're headed for the debt trap if you're not saving and if you're not giving to God.

Now, you may have realized today that you're in the debt trap. You may have seen some of the warning signs that tell you that you're headed for the debt trap. But I didn't come to just give you the bad news today. The Bible has a lot to say about how to break out of the debt trap. Next week we're going to look at how God provides to meet all of your needs. God is bigger than any of your financial problems. He can help you if you follow his principles. What steps can I take to break out of the debt trap?

1. START THE PROCESS TODAY

Not next week, not next month. Start the process today. It alw ays starts with a commitment. Psalm 37:21 says, "The wicked borrow and never repay." God says that if you borrow and don't repay - you're being wicked. It's not an option. So you've got to start the process of getting out of debt today.

It's not going to be easy. It's always easier to get into debt than it is to get out of debt, just like it's easier to gain weight than to lose weight. It takes discipline and perseverance. But it starts today. Don't bother waiting until tomorrow. Start the process today.

You may be thinking, "What's wrong with declaring bankruptcy? That will give me a clean start!" Bankruptcy is not an option for the believer. Bankruptcy is a bandage solution to a much deeper problem. Once again, the Bible says, "The wicked borrow and never repay." Romans 13:8 says, "Pay all your debts." It's wrong to make other people pay for your own mistakes. So personal bankruptcy isn't a good option for a follower of Jesus.

The first step that you can take is to sit down and say, "Beginning today, I will add no new debt to what I already owe." That's going to be a huge step right there. You may decide that you have to stop using credit cards. Some people have found that they've had to put all their credit cards on a cookie sheet and bake them in the oven. Others are a little less dramatic and simply cut them in half. I've heard of someone putting them in a Tupperware bowl of water and sticking them in the freezer. That way you can at least get them back. Is that too much? Jesus said, "And if your hand—even if it is your stronger hand—causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away" (Matthew 5:30). Jesus wasn't talking about mutilation. Jesus was talking about taking drastic action to deal with a drastic situation. Sometimes you have to go cold turkey.

Some of you may need to cut back, but you don't need to go cold turkey. You're making your monthly payments, and financial planners define the debt that you have as good debt. In other words, In that case, your cost to borrow is less than the economic benefit received, and you have a guaranteed way of repayment. You may need to put limits on your debt. You may need to set your own credit limit. I know of one couple that phones their bank and says, "How dare you raise my credit limit! Lower it back down. I don't want that much available credit." You need to set your own credit limit. Whatever step you need to take, start taking that step today.

What's the flip side of starting today? When you stop adding new debt, you can make the decision that starting today, you will enjoy all that God has given you. A Jewish tradition says, "At the judgment seat, God will ask you to account for all the allowable pleasures that you did not indulge in." The Bible says, "True religion with contentment is great wealth...if we have enough food and clothing, let us be content" (1 Timothy 6:6-8). Start enjoying what God has already given you. When you enjoy what you already have, you can start the process of getting out of debt.

2. SET ASIDE MONEY FOR GOD AND YOURSELF FIRST

Getting out of debt doesn't start with repaying all your debts first. Getting out of debt begins with setting your financial priorities in order. And number one has to be putting God in his rightful place in your financial priorities.

Many people say, "I can't afford to give God first place in my finances." What you're really saying is that you don't trust God to provide if you put him first. Deuteronomy 14:23 says, "The purpose of tithing is to teach you always to put God first in your lives" (Living Bible). Next week we're going to look at God's promises to meet your needs. But those promises are based on a premise. And that premise is that you are putting God first in your finances.

What about saving? Is that reasonable when you're in debt? The amount that you are going to be able to save may vary, depending on your financial situation, but Proverbs 13:11 says, "He who gathers money little by little makes it grow" (NIV). It's okay to start with a little. If you spend less than you make, over an extended period of time, that money will grow and become a significant amount. Set money aside for your savings.

I mentioned the 10-10-80 principle earlier. Give God 10%; save 10%; live off the other 80%. If you start this at age 40, and you make $30,000 a year, then by the time you retire you will have given $75,000 to God's work, and you will have saved a quarter of a million dollars. If you started when you were 20, then you would have given $135,000 to God's work, and ended up saving well over a million dollars. This really does work. Start putting money aside for God beginning today. Put him first in your finances. Then start putting money away for your savings. Begin today.

3. SHARE A REPAYMENT PLAN WITH YOUR CREDITORS

The third step is often the hardest one to take - and yet it's often the most rewarding. Share a repayment plan with your creditors. Proverbs 21:5 says, "Good planning and hard work lead to prosperity." Sharing a plan tells your creditors that you intend to repay them. Creditors are usually very interested in working with you if they sense that you want to develop a plan.

What should your plan include? It should probably include some steps that you are taking to sell some of what you have to repay them. In 2 Kings 4:7, Elisha told a poor woman, "Now sell the olive oil and pay your debts." Sometimes you can sell off assets to help pay down your debts.

You can also share your situation with them and ask them for some leeway. Many creditors are willing to waive all or part of the interest if you work out a repayment plan with them. Matthew 18:23-27 gives an example of someone who owed money and appealed to his creditor:

For this reason, the Kingdom of Heaven can be compared to a king who decided to bring his accounts up to date with servants who had borrowed money from him. In the process, one of his debtors was brought in who owed him millions of dollars. He couldn't pay, so the king ordered that he, his wife, his children, and everything he had be sold to pay the debt. But the man fell down before the king and begged him, ‘Oh, sir, be patient with me, and I will pay it all.' Then the king was filled with pity for him, and he released him and forgave his debt.

Just be honest. Tell them you're a follower of Jesus Christ, and you're committed to repaying everything you owe. Tell them what you can afford. If it's only $5 a month, then tell them that. Ask them to give you a break on the interest, because if they don't you'll never be able to repay them. But tell them you're committed to meeting your obligations, and ask them to work with you toward that goal. Proverbs 16:7 says, "When the ways of people please the LORD, he makes even their enemies live at peace with them."

One place in Toronto that help you do this is the Credit Counseling Service of Toronto. It's a not-for-profit, charitable organization that offers a free consultation. They help plan and administer a repayment schedule, and in some cases they arrange for your creditors to reduce the monthly payments and the interest to help you repay faster. Is this the smart thing to do? Jesus said in Matthew 5:25-26, "Come to terms quickly with your enemy before it is too late and you are dragged into court, handed over to an officer, and thrown in jail. I assure you that you won't be free again until you have paid the last penny."

One of the smartest moves you can make is to get help from a financial counselor. It can be the Credit Counseling Service. It can be somebody who does this for a living. But you need to take this step. You need to set up a repayment plan with your creditors. Psalm 37:21 says, "The wicked borrow and never repay." Romans 13:8 says, "Pay all your debts." Share a repayment plan with your creditors.

One more step to breaking free from the debt trap:

4. STICK WITH IT!

The hardest part about being in debt is feeling that it's hopeless. You feel that your little efforts to get out of debt are wasted. It seems like it takes forever to get out of debt. Don't feel that way! If you start slowly, and stick with it, time will be on your side in getting out of debt.

When the Temple in Jerusalem was destroyed, a new one was built in its place. The trouble is that the new Temple was nowhere as nice as the old Temple. But God said to the people in Zechariah 4:10, "Do not despise these small beginnings." You need to hear that. Don't despise small beginnings. A small start can make all the difference in the world.

Galatians 6:9 says, "So don't get tired of doing what is good. Don't get discouraged and give up, for we will reap a harvest of blessing at the appropriate time." Don't give up. Make a start today, and commit yourself to sticking with it, and you will get out of the debt trap.

How does it start? It starts with committing to God's principles for your finances. Don't buy into the lie that finances aren't a spiritual topic. God has given you everything that you have, and if you commit to living out God's principles in your financial life, you will be living a financial life that pleases God. You need to make God the Chief Financial Officer of your life.

One more note: there is one debt that you will never be able to repay. What is this debt? It's the debt of sin. The Bible says that your sins - all the things that you've done wrong - have created a debt that you literally cannot repay. The Bible compares this to a debt that we could not repay. But somebody has offered to repay it on your behalf. 2 Corinthians 8:9 says, "You are familiar with the generosity of our Master, Jesus Christ. Rich as he was, he gave it all away for us—in one stroke he became poor and we became rich" (The Message).

How did he do this? The Bible says that there is a penalty for sin - death. Jesus Christ assumed that debt, and he paid it in full 2,000 years ago. Jesus Christ came to earth, stretched out His arms on the cross and paid for your debt that you will never, ever be able to pay. So you get to go Scott free!

What a deal! Colossians 2:14 says, "He canceled the record that contained the charges against us. He took it and destroyed it by nailing it to Christ's cross." The debts caused by your sins can be totally obliterated by the cross of Jesus Christ.

You need to get your finances in order. But before you do that, you've got to resolve this spiritual debt issue. If you've never accepted God's forgiveness and grace and turned your life over to Christ, you need to do it before you leave this room this morning.

Prayer:

Would you pray this: "Jesus Christ, I accept your free gift of forgiveness to pay for my sins. It's almost too good to be true that you would love me that much, that you would die on the cross for me and wipe out a debt that I had no hope of repaying. I accept that gift today, and pledge to follow you as long as I live. Thank you, Lord!"

Now why don't you talk to God about your finances? Why don't you pray this prayer: "Dear God, I'm discouraged about my finances. But I do believe that what is impossible with men is possible with God. Today, I want to give you my financial mess. I want to do it your way. I am willing to do, Father, whatever you your Word tell me to do to get out of this debt trap. I ask for your help, in Jesus' name. Amen."

How to Avoid a Financial Collapse

About a week ago, we officially passed through one phase of the year and entered a new one. Last week, the Christmas season officially began. Now, some of you probably think that the Christmas season began long before then. But two things make me think it just started a week ago. First, Santa Claus came to town two weeks ago today. Second, last weekend was the American Thanksgiving - the time at which everyone seems to turn their attention to Christmas. If you haven't started thinking about Christmas by now, it's unlikely the Christmas spirit is going to kick in anytime soon.

Christmas time is spending time. American Express Canada recently released a poll revealing that the average person will spend over CDN$1,300 this Christmas on gifts. Many people enter the New Year with what the Credit Counseling Service of Toronto calls a "holiday hangover". Personal Canadian debt has increased by 30% over the past few years. It seems that no matter how much you make it never seems to be enough. Gallup released a poll recently that said 64% of all couples argue over money. It is a major issue of concern in marriages - finances. In fact, they've discovered that it's the number one cause of divorce - 54% of marriages divorce over money. It's almost as if the vows have been changed - "Till dept do us part." So today we're starting a new three-week series I'm calling "Figuring Out Your Finances."

Now, why are we talking about this, especially in the Christmas season? Three reasons. Today, we as a congregation donated and gave money for the Building for Life Campaign. Tonight we are going to be able to announce the results for this campaign. Many of you made tremendous sacrifices and commitments of faith today. We want to give you tools that you can use to be financially successful as you take this step of faith.

The second reason is because, for many of us, we need this yesterday. If you're like most people, you've never been taught what the Bible says about how to handle your finances. If you have, you've likely heard negative or the guilt-inducing messages. As we approach Christmas and go into January, it's possible that many of us are just surviving financially. Laurie Campbell, program manager at the Credit Counseling Service of Toronto, says, "A lot of people are barely managing throughout the year. They go overboard at Christmas, and then they're done in." We need to discuss this because it's a personal issue in most of our lives, especially around Christmas.

The third reason that we need to discuss this is because it's a spiritual issue. The Bible says that God uses money to test you. God uses money to see how spiritually mature you are. He uses the issue of money management, how you handle wealth, as the acid test of whether He can trust you with genuine spiritual blessings. It's all through the Bible but Jesus said this in Luke 16:11. It says, "And if you are untrustworthy about worldly wealth, who will trust you with the true riches of heaven?" Jesus is talking about money management. He's saying that if you're not wise in how you handle your money, why should God trust you with genuine riches - spiritual riches? If you're not wise in how you handle your money, it will severely limit the amount of spiritual blessings you will receive.

Next week we're going to look at breaking out of the debt trap. Then, on December 17, we're going to look at God's promise to meet your needs, both financially and spiritually. This is especially appropriate at Christmas. The Bible says, "Since God did not spare even his own Son but gave him up for us all, won't God, who gave us Christ, also give us everything else?" (Romans 8:32).

Today we're going to talk about how to avoid a financial collapse. A week ago, the National Post did a case study on a man named Robert Moskal. When his marriage and business failed, Moskal began to live off his credit cards. He began to shift debt from higher-interest credit cards to low-interest credit cards. Even though he was earning $70,000 a year, he began to accumulate a mountain of debt that is now sinking him. Today, he has credit card debt of $31,000, and his minimum payments on his credit card statements total $842 a month. He says, "I don't want to go bankrupt, but I don't see any solution to it."

Your financial situation today may not be as serious as his, but there are many of us who are building a financial foundation that is so unstable, it will one day lead to financial collapse. There are practices that you can follow - practices that you probably know about - that will keep you from financial collapse. The interesting thing is that these aren't just human ideas. You don't have to go buy a book on how to manage your finances. The Bible itself contains a lot of wisdom on how to manage your finances.

The wisest man who ever lived was King Solomon. He wrote a book called Proverbs and wrote down the wisdom of God. Solomon was not only the wisest man; the Bible tells us he was the wealthiest man. The Bible says that he drank his drinks out of gold goblets and he ate on gold and silver plates. Not only did they have to wash them after each meal, they had to polish them. This is indulgently rich. Here is the wisest man whoever lived who also knows the most about wealth more than anybody else. He wrote it down in Proverbs.

This past week I read through Proverbs, and every time I came across a proverb on how to handle money, I wrote it down. What does the Bible teach about how to attain financial security? The Bible gives us four keys to avoiding a financial collapse:

1. CULTIVATE THE RIGHT PERSPECTIVE

The first key to avoiding financial collapse is to keep the right perspective about money. The way that you look at money will determine how you spend your money. Your attitude toward money will be the greatest factor in your financial stability. I've noticed that there are three wrong perspectives that we need to correct.

The first wrong perspective is the perspective of PRIORITY. A lot of people make the mistake of placing financial success at the top of their list. You don't even have to be rich to make this mistake. You can be poor and still have "financial success" as your number one goal. A lot of people are putting their financial success ahead of their families, their health, and their spiritual life. But money doesn't come close to being the most valuable asset you can accumulate. Proverbs 8:10 says, "Choose my instruction rather than silver, and knowledge over pure gold. For wisdom is far more valuable than rubies. Nothing you desire can be compared with it." Proverbs 16:16 says, "How much better to get wisdom than gold, and understanding than silver!"

God says that money isn't the most valuable asset on this earth. In fact, his wisdom is far more valuable than any wealth that you can accumulate. In fact, if accumulating money is your top priority in life, you've got problems! Proverbs 30:7-9 reads:

O God, I beg two favors from you before I die. First, help me never to tell a lie. Second, give me neither poverty nor riches! Give me just enough to satisfy my needs. For if I grow rich, I may deny you and say, "Who is the LORD?" And if I am too poor, I may steal and thus insult God's holy name.

Never ask God to make you rich! If you're rich, it's hard to keep your priorities straight. It's hard when you have a lot to remember that God is more important than all the stuff that you have. Most people who win the lottery mess up their lives. Why? Because money can mess up your priorities. Accumulating money should never be your top priority.

The second wrong perspective people have about money is the perspective of SUPPLY. If you're like me, you think that you get your money from your job. If you're really honest about it, you think that your employer is lucky to have you, and that you're worth every nickel that you make. Truth be told, you think that all your money comes from you. But the reality is that everything you have not only comes from God, but it is God's. God takes care of his children, and he can give them more than they need. Proverbs 8:21 says, "Those who love me inherit wealth, for I fill their treasuries." Did you catch that? God fills the bank accounts of those who love him. Proverbs 10:3 says, "The LORD will not let the godly starve to death, but he refuses to satisfy the craving of the wicked." God provides for his people. He is the source of everything you have. This is such an important principle that we're going to spend an entire message on this in two weeks, on how God supplies our needs. You need to cultivate the perspective that everything that you have is God's, and that God will provide you with everything that you need.

The third wrong perspective people have about money is the perspective of PERMANENCE. If you have investments, you know that investments and returns are structured around the idea of risk. Safe investments usually have lower rates of return. Risky investments have higher potential rates of return, but you're never sure if you'll see that return. The Bible tells us that there is no such thing as a truly safe investment.

Proverbs 23:4-5 says, "Don't weary yourself trying to get rich. Why waste your time? For riches can disappear as though they had the wings of a bird!" You can underline, "Don't waste your time. The Message paraphrase says, "Riches disappear in the blink of an eye; wealth sprouts wings and flies off into the wild blue yonder." Proverbs 11:18 says, "Evil people get rich for the moment, but the reward of the godly will last."

What's your perspective on money? I want you to give yourself a score. Rate yourself from 1 to 5. If you feel that you're okay at this level, give yourself a 5. If you're not doing so well, give yourself a 1. Mark yourself on your perspective toward money.

The Bible teaches a second key to avoiding financial collapse:

2. COMPLETE A FINANCIAL PLAN

The second step to avoiding a financial collapse is an obvious one: complete a financial plan. Now, some of you are probably asking, "Where does the Bible say that?" Proverbs 21:5 says, "Good planning and hard work lead to prosperity, but hasty shortcuts lead to poverty." If you want to be financially prosperous, it will require some planning on your part. You've got to take the step of planning your financial future.

How should you plan? This is going to be the meat and potatoes of the action steps you will need to take. I'll give you the information, but then I'll tell how we're going to support you in this. THE FIRST STEP IN PLANNING IS TO INVOLVE GOD. I've made the mistake hundreds of times of planning without involving God. You can't afford to complete a financial plan without involving God in the process. Proverbs 16:9 tells us, "We plan the way we want to live, but only GOD makes us able to live it" (The Message). Unless God guides you in your planning, your plan is going to be worth nothing. Your financial plan has to begin with God.

THE NEXT STEP IN DEVELOPING A FINANCIAL PLAN IS TO KEEP GOOD RECORDS. Proverbs 27:23-24 says, "Know the state of your flocks, and put your heart into caring for your herds, for riches don't last forever, and the crown might not be secure for the next generation." Obviously, a lot of people in that day were ranchers or shepherds. We aren't like that today. Today, God would say, "Know the state of your stocks." Te idea is know where your money is going, know where it's coming from, be conscious, be aware. This is the starting point.

Do you ever find yourself saying, "I just don't know where all my money goes!" That is a giant warning light that you are in trouble if you don't know where all your money goes. You are not keeping good records. People say money talks. It doesn't talk, it just sneaks away quietly. It doesn't tell you it's leaving either! You need to begin to keep good financial records.

What do you need to know? You need to know four things: what you own, what you owe, what you earn, and what you spend. You need to keep good records and write it down. There are computer programs today that make this incredibly easy. But you need to know the state of your flocks.

THE THIRD STEP IN DEVELOPING A FINANCIAL PLAN IS TO PLAN YOUR SPENDING. Proverbs 21:20 says, "The wise have wealth and luxury, but fools spend whatever they get." A seminary professor once told me, "If your outgo exceeds your income, your upkeep will be your downfall." He was just stating this proverb in a different way. Don't spend whatever you get. Have a plan for your spending. If you don't plan your spending, you are headed for financial catastrophe.

If you are spending more than you make, you really only have one of two choices. You can make more money, or you can spend less. Now, there are over a dozen proverbs that connect good work with making a good income. The Bible is full of admonitions to work harder in order to make enough. Proverbs 10:4, for instance, says, "Hard workers get rich." But you will never make enough money to buy everything you want. That's why we need to restrict our spending. Spend less than you make.

"Fools spend whatever they get" (Proverbs 21:20). You could almost close your Bibles and go home. That's our lesson for today. This is God's IQ test. How smart, how intelligent are you. If you are spending everything you've got the Bible has a word for that - stupid. Dumb. Not smart!

How do you break the habit of impulsive buying? Of spending more than you've got? How do you spell relief? You spell relief, BUDGET. What is a budget? A budget is simply planned spending. It's planning your spending. A budget is telling your money where you want it to go, rather than wondering where it went. Everybody needs a budget. You need a financial budget in 2001, telling your money where you want it to go rather than wondering where it went. If you want to break this habit of spending more than you've got, if you want to build resistance to sales and resistance to impulsive buying, you've got to nip it in the budget.

These are steps - Biblical principles - that every single person here can take. Involve God. Start to keep good records. Plan your spending. Now, it may seem overwhelming to think of doing this if you haven't started up until now. But you can start. One of the best books you can buy on this whole subject is called Master Your Money by Ron Blue. It's a book that's been recommended by people like Chuck Swindoll, Howard Hendricks, and Charles Stanley. It's a book that, if you take it and apply it, you will see a dramatic difference in your life. If you want to order a copy at cost - for $12 - just sign your name on a communication card and write "Master Your Money" and we'll get one to you.

Next year we are planning on running a Sunday Night Impact course taught by Lois Tullo on how to handle your finances God's way. Lois has an MBA and is a chartered accountant. You can sign up right now, on the back of the communication card in the bulletin, to enroll in this when we offer it. Just sign your name and write down "finances class" and put it in the offering at the end.

Now, mark yourself on this one between 1 and 5. If you don't have any financial plan, and you sort of spend it as you feel like it, give yourself a 1. If you have a budget, give yourself a 3. If you have a budget and you follow it, give yourself a 5. Mark yourself on this key.

You need to begin to cultivate the right perspective, and then to complete a financial plan. The third key to avoiding a financial collapse:

3. COMMIT THE FIRST PORTION TO GOD

This is the third key to avoiding a financial collapse. Now, most people think that the less I give away, the more that I will have. But the Bible teaches the very opposite. Listen to Proverbs 11:24: "It is possible to give freely and become more wealthy, but those who are stingy will lose everything." The Bible teaches that we become richer by being generous. The world tells us to hold on to as much as possible. The Bible teaches, though, that the more we give, the more God supplies, so that we will have even more to give away. That's why financial success and generosity are inseparable. God wants you to be generous with what you have, because if you are, God will give you even more.

Where should you be generous? You need to be generous with the poor. Proverbs 28:27 says, "Whoever gives to the poor will lack nothing. But a curse will come upon those who close their eyes to poverty." You and I don't have an option when it comes to deciding what to do with the poor. God tells us that we need to develop a compassionate attitude toward those who are poor.

Where else should we be generous? The Bible tells us that we need to commit the first portion of our money to God. Listen to Proverbs 3:9-10: "Honor the LORD with your wealth and with the best part of everything your land produces. Then he will fill your barns with grain, and your vats will overflow with the finest wine." We are commanded to give God the first and the best part of what we make. Many people think that we should give God leftovers. After all the bills are paid, then we should see if there's anything left over. But the Bible commands us to give our first and our best to God.

In fact, this is the one area in which you can test God and prove his existence. Malachi 3:10 says, "Bring all the tithes into the storehouse...If you do...I will open the windows of heaven for you. I will pour out a blessing so great you won't have enough room to take it in! Try it! Let me prove it to you!" This is the only place in the Bible where God invites you to test him. We are commanded to give our first and our best to God, and then God will keep his end of the promise. "I will open the windows of heaven for you. I will pour out a blessing so great you won't have enough room to take it in."

There are three reasons why you need to do this. These reasons have to do with your past, your present, and your future. First, in my past, it's a statement of gratitude. Whenever I give, it's saying, "God, I realize all this came from you and if it wasn't for you I wouldn't have any money anyway. So in gratitude realizing it all really comes from you, I give you the first and the best portion back." I can say I'm grateful but if I don't give God the first and the best, I'm not grateful. I'm kidding myself.

In the present, it's a statement of priority. It says, "God, I want you to be number one in my life so right off the top, the first part of my money goes back to you as a statement of priority that you're number one in my life." I could say God's number one but if I'm not giving him the first and the best, he's really not number one. What I do with my money and what I do with my time really show what's important to me.

It's also a statement of faith in God in the future. "God, you've made all these promises - this is one of them - that you'll take care of me if I put you first in my money. So, I'm going to give. I'm going to give the first and the best portion back to you in a statement of faith that I believe that you will take care of me in the future."

Years ago, when Charlene and I were married, we made a commitment to give God our first and our best. I have to be honest and say that there were times we could have used that money. But God is always the one who has been paid first. And we have never been let down. God has always taken care of our needs.

Whatever you want God to bless, you need to put him first in that area. If you want God to bless your marriage, you need to put him first in your marriage. If you want God to bless your schedule, then you need to put God first in your schedule. If you want God to bless your finances, then put him first in your finances.

You cannot afford not to do this. If you're too afraid, then you simply don't understand God's heart enough. God says again, "Honor GOD with everything you own; give him the first and the best. Your barns will burst, your wine vats will brim over" (Proverbs 3:9-10 The Message). You really haven't seen God provide until you start to commit the first portion to God.

Now, mark yourself on this from 1 to 5. If you know that you're supposed to do this, but you never have, then give yourself a 1. If you give God the first and the best - you're committing your first portion to God, then give yourself a 5.

One more key to avoiding financial collapse:

4. CONTENT YOURSELF WITH WHAT YOU HAVE

This one comes from another book that Solomon wrote - the book of Ecclesiastes. Ecclesiastes 6:9 says, "Enjoy what you have rather than desiring what you don't have. Just dreaming about nice things is meaningless; it is like chasing the wind." Enjoy what you have. God wants you to enjoy everything that he has given you. Some of us are so busy getting things that we don't take time to enjoy what God already has given us. We're so busy accumulating more that we don't take time to enjoy what we have.

Why don't we content ourselves with what we have? We always think that happiness is just one purchase away. We get used to thinking that contentment is a future condition once we have everything we want. When you're single you want to be married. When you're married you want to have kids. When you have kids, you want the kids to leave. When the kids leave you want the grandchildren to visit. When the grandchildren visit, you want the grandchildren to leave. We always something that we don't have. The Bible says, "Enjoy what you have rather than desiring what you don't have."

The Bible also says, "Just dreaming about nice things is meaningless." Did you know that the average person spends six hours a week in shopping-related activities. The more educated you are, the more time you spend shopping. We spend a lot of time dreaming about nice things. And sometimes we end up buying them. Advertising is very effective at getting us to dream about nice things. That's why they spend billions of dollars on advertising. It works! But the Bible says, "Just dreaming about nice things is meaningless; it is like chasing the wind." Start to enjoy what you have already. You don't need to go out and get some more.

Hebrews 13:5 says, "Be satisfied with what you have." The Bible tells us that things will never ultimately satisfy you. Isaiah 55:2 says, "Why spend money...on what does not satisfy?" Only God can really satisfy you. Only God can take care of what really matters in your life. And when you let God take care of what matters most, he takes care of everything else too.

I want you to mark yourself on this one. How content are you with what you have? Give yourself a 1 if you're always shopping for more. Give yourself a 5 if you can say that you're truly content with what you have.

I want to say to you today - especially those under financial pressure - that these principles work. I don't know what situation you're in, but if you begin to follow God's financial principles, you can avoid a financial collapse. You can know God's blessing in your finances. In the next two weeks we're going to look at how to break out of the debt trap, and at how God provides our needs.

As we close, I want to pray for you. I want to pray that God will provide for your needs. You need Jesus as your Savior. You need him to become the Lord, the CEO, the CFO of your life. You need a chief financial officer who is going to look after you and your needs. Jesus says, "Your heavenly Father already knows all your needs, and he will give you all you need from day to day if you live for him and make the Kingdom of God your primary concern" (Matthew 6:32-33).

Let's pray.

I'm going to pray for those of you who are in financial difficulty. Father, you see these people. I don't know their individual situations but you do. Many here today are experiencing financial stress and difficulty today. As they begin follow your principles, I pray that you would turn around their finances. Replace their debt with the light. Replace their pressure with your peace. Help them to get out of the hold and onto your pathway to financial freedom.

Lord, whatever our financial situation, help us to put money in the right perspective. Enable us to develop a financial plan that will work. Help us to give you our first and our best, and help us to enjoy what you have given us.

If you want to receive Jesus Christ as your Lord, your CFO, your chief financial officer, would you pray in your heart, "Lord, I've tried running life my way. Today I invite you to become the Lord, the manager of my life. I thank you that Jesus died for my sins, and I give my life to you. In Jesus' name, Amen."