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Once again, I had the opportunity to offer the sermon for the Sunday after Christmas, since our regular pastor is visiting his family in West Virginia.  So what follows is the essential make-up of what I spoke on, Sunday, December 28th.

There’s an old church joke you may have heard before, I’d like to share with you:

There was an economist who was reading 2 Peter 3:8-9 and was quite amazed by it and decided to ask God about it.

He prayed, “Lord, is it true that a thousand years are just like one minute to you?”

The Lord replied, “Yes.”

The economist said, “Well then a million dollars to us must be like one penny to you.”

The Lord replied again, “Well, yes.”

Thinking he had the perfect plan, the economist then asked, “Lord, can I have a penny?”

To which the Lord replied, “Absolutely.  Just give Me a minute.”

How often do we find ourselves in this economist’s position, praying for what we think we need and struggling when God’s response appears to be, “Wait”

The Gospel passage for this week that churches across the country are teaching from is Luke 2:21-40, often known as Simeon’s Song.  If you could turn in your Bibles to that passage, and if you don’t have a Bible with you, there are some under most of the chairs.  Luke is the third Gospel, in the New Testament.  Just a few days ago, we covered most of the first two chapters during Christmas Eve services…

Luke writes, “On the eighth day, when it was time to circumcise him, he was named Jesus, the name the angel had given him before he had been conceived.   When the time of their purification according to the Law of Moses had been completed, Joseph and Mary took him to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord 23(as it is written in the Law of the Lord, “Every firstborn male is to be consecrated to the Lord”), 24and to offer a sacrifice in keeping with what is said in the Law of the Lord: “a pair of doves or two young pigeons.”

25Now there was a man in Jerusalem called Simeon, who was righteous and devout. He was waiting for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him. 26It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not die before he had seen the Lord’s Christ. 27Moved by the Spirit, he went into the temple courts. When the parents brought in the child Jesus to do for him what the custom of the Law required, 28Simeon took him in his arms and praised God, saying:

29″Sovereign Lord, as you have promised,
you now dismiss your servant in peace.
30For my eyes have seen your salvation,
31which you have prepared in the sight of all people,
32a light for revelation to the Gentiles
and for glory to your people Israel.”

33The child’s father and mother marveled at what was said about him. 34Then Simeon blessed them and said to Mary, his mother: “This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be spoken against, 35so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your own soul too.”

36There was also a prophetess, Anna, the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was very old; she had lived with her husband seven years after her marriage, 37and then was a widow until she was eighty-four. She never left the temple but worshiped night and day, fasting and praying. 38Coming up to them at that very moment, she gave thanks to God and spoke about the child to all who were looking forward to the redemption of Jerusalem.

39When Joseph and Mary had done everything required by the Law of the Lord, they returned to Galilee to their own town of Nazareth. 40And the child grew and became strong; he was filled with wisdom, and the grace of God was upon him.”

This entire reading is about waiting.  Jesus waits a week to be circumcised, Mary waits 33 days from the circumcision to be purified and reenter the temple, according to the Levitical law.  Anna had been worshipping at the Temple for probably more than 60 years, waiting for something.  Simeon had been waiting for many years, for he had been told by the Holy Spirit that he would not die until he had seen the Christ.  Now, we don’t know how old he was at the time, although there is a traditional Eastern Orthodox story that would place his age at somewhere around 200+ years at the time he met the Holy Family at the Temple in Jerusalem.  Imagine waiting for almost two centuries for a promise to be fulfilled.  But not only that, it says that Simeon was waiting for the consolation of Israel.

It’s probably not news to you that we as Americans, hate to wait.  We buy microwave dinners, TiVo our favorite shows to watch them commercial-free and logon to the Internet to get our news, rather than waiting for the paper or even the 6 o’clock news.  Yet, we just finished a time of waiting – the season of Advent, a time of waiting and anticipation of the birth of Jesus.  It may surprise you to learn this, but Advent isn’t just a time that commemorates the waiting for Jesus’s birth – it is also the time for anticipating and the celebration of waiting for His eventual return.

So even here in Florida, we’ve been looking forward to Christmas for at least 4 weeks.  Of course, the stores, in a desperate quest for more of our dollars, have been waiting for Christmas since Halloween.  Which just proves that they don’t watch their own sales figures – which show that the last two weekends prior to Christmas are the busiest shopping days of the year.  In fact, Black Friday traditionally ranks as the 8th busiest shopping day of the year, despite all the ads in the Thanksgiving papers.

The season of Christmas, which for the church started on Wednesday night and continues through the next couple of weeks, is about celebrating that the Lord has fulfilled his promise.  It’s reminding us that the waiting is worth it – the promise will be fulfilled in His time, and we will be even better for having waited for it.  I have often thought that when Jesus said in John 14 that he was going to prepare a place for us, he also meant that he was going to prepare us for that place.

Waiting is hard, but it is essential to the Christian walk, which is why some find it so hard to follow Christ, and others preach shortcuts to God’s blessings and peace.  In his book, Waiting: Finding Hope When God Seems Silent, Ben Peterson writes, “What God does in us while we wait is as important as what it is we are waiting for.”

So if we find ourselves waiting, we have to ask, what is God trying to teach me in this place, at the same time realizing that we may not divine the answer or even realize it in hindsight when the waiting we are doing has past.

The second thing this passage teaches is about Reconciliation.  The act of Mary’s being cleansed by the sacrifice is the act of reconciling her body to once again be able to worship God in the Temple.  The consecration of Jesus as the first born is part of God’s reconciliation for the sins of Cain and Adam, both “first” born.

In verse 25, it mentions that Simeon was waiting for the consolation of Israel.  Seven hundred years prior to this instant, Isaiah had prophesied that one would come to reconcile not only the nation of Israel, but also the Gentiles – a portion of the prophecy many in the Temple at the time of Simeon discounted or disbelieved.  Yet Simeon proves he knows his Isaiah – part of his song directly references two passages in Isaiah,

“I, the LORD, have called you in righteousness; I will take hold of your hand. I will keep you and will make you to be a covenant for the people and a light for the Gentiles, (Isaiah 42:6)

“It is too small a thing for you to be my servant to restore the tribes of Jacob and bring back those of Israel I have kept. I will also make you a light for the Gentiles, that you may bring my salvation to the ends of the earth.” (Isaiah 49:6)

And now Simeon knows he can die in peace, dismissed from his service to God.  Even his death, when it comes, will be a sign of hope.

What’s more, the prophetess Anna also proclaims to all that were looking forward to the redemption of Jerusalem, that the child was to fulfill that prophecy.  Unfortunately, I’m sure many of them misunderstood what form the redemption of Israel would take, just as they would 33 years later.

In just a few days, we’ll be celebrating a new year.  2008, for good or bad, will be over and 2009 will begin.  The new year is often a time of change, a time when people have their hopes raised and the future seems somehow brighter, regardless of what may actually happen.  And this year, for many seems like an even bigger and brighter new beginning.

Just three weeks from now, we will be inaugurating a brand new president.  President-elect Barack Obama campaigned on a platform of change, that, whether you agree with him or not, resonated with a large portion of the American population.  A population tired of housing slumps, foreclosures, bankruptcies, economic bail-outs and rising unemployment rates.

Obama promises to eliminate all of those worries in a sweeping, expensive ‘New Deal’ style package that could be the most dramatic start to a presidency since Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s first hundred days in office.  Barack Obama is promising a redemption of the United States, a return to its greatness.  Will Obama truly bring about a change like many hope?  I don’t know, although if history is any reflection, then the answer is probably no.

But regardless of the success of our new president, we have to ask ourselves, where does our hope lie?  Does it lie in politicians and presidents?  Does it lie in money or possessions?  Does it lie in relationships – families, friendships?

Humans have a tendency to look in the wrong places to find their answers – or to forget what sustained them when they had no answers.

When God led the people of Israel out of Egypt under Moses’ leadership, he set them free from a life of slavery, building temples to other people’s gods.  He brought them, eventually, to the Promised Land – or at least their descendants.  Yet, just a few generations later, in an eerie reflection of their slavery in Egypt, Solomon, the son of David, is using slave labor to build the Temple of the Lord, among other things.  After the dedication of the Temple, God comes again to Solomon to warn him what will happen if the Israelites forget their deliverer and turn to serve other gods.  Solomon promises to obey, but halfway through his reign, he has gotten comfortable, disobedient and forgets who gave him the power he wields, prompting God to punish his descendants and once again tear the Israelites from their home, this time culminating with the destruction of the temple, losing the Ark of the Covenant, and more.

In his latest book, Jesus Wants to Save Christians, Rob Bell points out,

“That’s always the danger, isn’t it?  That we’ll be broken, our empires will collapse, we’ll cry out for help, and when that help comes, when we get back on our feet, when there’s money in our account again, and things are back to how they were, the danger is, once we get it back – whatever ‘it’ is – we’ll forget what just happened.”

We’ll forget that Jesus is the one who saves us, who gives us hope, even in the darkest times, even in the deepest recessions.  I don’t have any figures to back this up, but it looks like church attendance is up across the nation over the past few months.  Not just Christmas Eve, but every Sunday, as people search for answers to the problems in their lives.  The question is, once they have some answers, once they are back on their feet, once their investments start performing again, will they continue to serve God, or will they forget where their hope came from in light of their new-found blessings?  And are we any better?

Our church body, small as it may seem, sponsored two families for Thanksgiving and two more families for Christmas.  In this time of struggling economy, we looked at our blessings, even the small ones, and chose to give, in some cases sacrificially, some of that back to members of our community that were struggling even more than we were.

The challenge is, when things turn around – when we do see better days – and we will see better days – history has taught us that – the United States still holds 90% of the world’s wealth, not to mention other benefits that the rest of the world can’t even imagine – when the waiting is over and the promise comes true, will we still be focused on the One who gives us hope?  Will we remember who He is and what He has called us to do?  Or will we be more like the Israelites, turning our back on the One who saved us and sustained us.

My prayer for you is that you patiently and prayerfully endure the waiting, while seeking to learn and grow, so that when the promise is fulfilled, you remember He who gave you all things, even the very ability to work and earn money.  Reconciliation that leads to hope.  Amen.

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I’m going to start out with a very controversial statement: God wants you to be rich.  Yes, you read that right.  God’s desire for you, is for you to have money well beyond your current means.  I’ll explain why in a moment.

 

Let me give you an easier statement first.  God wants you to be financially free.  When we started talking to you about God’s perspectives on finance, we started with the tithe.  The tithe is the foundation for everything involving money and resources, because it is God’s first evaluation of our obedience.  Until your giving is in line with God’s call on your life, you are living in sin and preventing yourself from receiving God’s full blessings.  Giving is the first step to becoming financially free.

 

God wants you to be financially free.  Debt keeps you from being financially free, because you are in bondage to the people or companies you owe money to.  Debt keeps you from giving your resources to God.  Debt causes health problems.  Debt causes fear.  Debt hurts your family, and debt keeps you from hearing from God.  Becoming debt-free is the next step to becoming financially free.

 

Today, we’re going to talk about God’s Provision for Your Family’s Future and What He Expects You to Contribute.  God wants you to be financially free.  The Scriptures say that He provides for His children.  His first provision for you is right in front of you.  God has provided for you the means to earn money.  And He expects you to work.  Paul told the Thessalonians, “we gave you this rule: ‘If a man will not work, he shall not eat.’  We hear that some among you are idle. They are not busy; they are busybodies.  Such people we command and urge in the Lord Jesus Christ to settle down and earn the bread they eat.”  Yes, there are some people who are unable to work.  However, if you are able to work, God requires you to.  God expects us to work as if we were laboring for Him.

 

Likewise, you should teach your children to work when they are of a responsible age.  Work is God’s first provision for you and your family.

 

Our response to that provision should be gratitude.  Gratitude that leads to personal responsibility.  I told you before that the tithe is never mentioned in the New Testament.  In fact, the writer of Hebrews does mention the tithe.  That letter was written to the Jewish Christians.  Christians who were wondering what parts of the Jewish Law they should obey.  In Hebrew 7, the Apostle Paul explains that in Jewish history, recorded in the book of Genesis,  Abraham offered a tenth of his spoils from war to Melchizedek.  Melchizedek was a priest-king, and Paul suggests that Melchizedek is, in fact, Christ.  So by offering Melchizedek a tenth of his resources, Abraham fulfilled the law before it became the law.  The point made in Hebrews is that the tithe was voluntarily given, not because of a rule or requirement.  Giving back to God is a voluntary response to God’s blessings.

 

And that response does not stop or change simply because you are in retirement.  I do not believe God intends for us to work for money our entire lives.  I believe that at some point, God plans a different work for us.  A lot of Christians hold a hope for heaven in the next life.  I believe that God wants us to bring heaven into existence here on earth.  This is not a new age idea.  Read Revelations 21 & 22.  Jesus comes back and takes up residence here, on earth.   A new earth – an earth renewed by His people working as He has called them to.  God wants you to be financially free so that you can devote more of your time, money and energy to bringing about His kingdom on earth.

 

When we talked about a spending plan, 10% was to be dedicated to saving for your family’s future needs.  In practical terms, there are four areas you need to be saving for.  The first is an Emergency Fund.  We don’t know what the future holds.  Regardless of your health or work situation at this point.  There is always a chance you could lose your job or become disabled.  How would your family cope if your income stopped?  Having an Emergency Fund protects them and gives you time to recover.

 

Next, you should save for your short term goals.  These include vacations, appliances or a new vehicle.  Saving now eliminates the need for debt later.

 

The third area you should save for is your child’s college education.  Some people believe that they should pay all of that expense.  Others feel that the child should work to pay for school.  Either way, there is one thing to consider.  If you have the capability to help your children, you should.  It is irresponsible to allow your child to go into debt, when you have the ability to help them avoid it.

 

Second Corinthians 12 points out that, “children should not have to save up for their parents, but parents for their children.”  That’s not to say they shouldn’t earn the help – with good grades or even repaying a non-interest loan.  But until they are no longer under your care, they are your responsibility – and part of that is educating them properly – in word and deed.

 

The fourth area you should save for is retirement.  In the old days, you could rely on your employer.  That’s no longer the case.  Between 1983 and 1998, two-thirds of the defined benefit or traditional pension plans in the US were terminated.  Most of us don’t remember a time without Social Security.  But the government can’t help much anymore, either.  The Social Security Administration has even told us, “Social Security was never intended to be your only source of income when you retire.”  But people aren’t saving.  USA Today reports that, “10.6 million people live on social security alone.”

 

God wants you to be financially free.  And He expects you to know what it will require of you.  Lack of proper retirement planning leads to the same stress as debt – and the same consequences.  Yet, almost three-quarters of workers surveyed had not done a calculation, but only guessed to determine how much money they would need at retirement.

 

USA Today found that “54% of people in the workforce think they’ll still be working at 65 or older.”  Not because they want to.  Because they don’t have a choice.  40-percent will need to work, but won’t be able to, for health reasons.  And one-third of workers did not save anything for retirement last year.

 

God teaches us that we should be saving money for the future.  In Proverbs, King Solomon wrote a lot about our financial future.  “In the house of the wise are stores of choice food and oil, but a foolish man devours all he has.”  “Go to the ant, you sluggard; consider its way and be wise! It has no commander, no overseer or ruler, yet it stores its provisions in summer and gathers its food at harvest.”  “A faithful man will be richly blessed, but one eager to get rich will not go unpunished.”

 

The biggest challenge for most families is getting started.  Procrastination kills the future and leaves us a double burden to bear tomorrow.  Take for example a plan to save $500,000.  If you start at age 25, you need to only save $78 a month.  Wait 10 years and you have to save 3 times as much.  Wait until you’re age 45, and you need to save $653 a month.  And waiting until you’re 55 is a serious expense.  You have to save almost $2500 a month – 31 times as much as you could have saved 30 years sooner.

 

But where do you put your money?  I recommend that everyone puts their long term savings into the global economy, in the form of mutual funds.  Although some funds existed in the late 1800’s, the concept of mutual funds was expanded in the 1930’s following the stock market crash.  Mutual Funds protect their owners by spreading the risk of the stock market out across hundreds of companies.  They also increase the benefit to their owners by allowing them invest, even if they start small.  I believe that the use of mutual funds is supported by the Scriptures.  Solomon wrote in Proverbs that “Dishonest money dwindles away, but he who gathers money little by little makes it grow.”  And in Ecclesiastes, he encourages his readers to “Cast your bread upon the waters, for after many days you will find it again.  Give portions to seven, yes to eight, for you do not know what disaster may come upon the land.”

 

Rule of 72

 

I started off tonight by telling you that God wants you to be rich.  As I said, that is a controversial statement.  But it shouldn’t be.  As you know, greed is a sin.  But once you get adjust your perspectives on finance to agree with God’s principles, you are on the road to financial freedom.  And we know that God wants us to be financially free.  But for a Christian, that freedom comes with a price.  God wants you to be financially free – not so you can sit back and relax, line your pockets, or hoard wealth.  No, God wants you to be financially free, so that you have the freedom to serve Him in everything you do.

 

God wants you to have enough money that it no longer dominates your life.  God wants you to have so much that your family is cared for.  So much that you can give it away without worrying that you are going to run out.  So much that you can move to a higher level of obedience and trust.

 

Bill Orender says that, “You should earn as much as you are capable of… not necessarily to make your standard of living higher, but to have the freedom to help others when God calls on you.  Rather than saying, ‘someone should do something,’ you can be the one glorifying God in the doing.”

 

The King Solomon agrees: “A man can do nothing better than to eat and drink and find satisfaction in his work. This too, I see, is from the hand of God, for without him, who can eat or find enjoyment?  and “So I commend the enjoyment of life, because nothing is better for a man under the sun than to eat and drink and be glad. Then joy will accompany him in his work all the days of the life God has given him under the sun.”

 

A man named Larry Stewart, from Kansas City, recently died of cancer.  Shortly before his untimely death, he admitted to the world that he had been giving away money for 26 years, as a “Secret Santa.”  In all, he personally handed out more than 1-million-dollars, anonymously.  In addition, he publically gave thousands of dollars to various charities.  His story is even more interesting.  In December of 1979, he had lost his job – for the second year in a row – the week before Christmas.  He was feeling sorry for himself while eating at a drive up restaurant.  Then he noticed that the girl who was bringing him his food was wearing a thin coat and shivering from the cold.  He tipped her $20.00.  Every year after that, every December, he would give away money to people he felt needed it.  When he died, he was a millionaire.  But when he started giving money away, he was out of a job and close to broke.  What lesson can we learn from this?

 

There is a popular misconception that many Christians labor under.  It’s called the ‘scarcity mentality.’  They believe that there are limits to God’s generosity.  They believe that there is not quite enough to go around, so they have to hold onto what they have.  I’ve even heard one person say that they were careful not to be too generous.  There is an old saying that is still true today.  You cannot out-give God.

 

Bishop Larry Goodpaster puts it this way: “This abundant outpouring of God’s Spirit is not to be wasted, hoarded, protected, guarded, or saved.  It is to be shared, believing that there will be more than enough for any and every good work undertaken in the name of Jesus.”  And Jesus himself is quoted by Luke, “Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.”

 

Which measure would you like for God to use when He blesses you?  A measure of fullness and generosity or one of greed and stinginess?

 

In 2 Corinthians, Paul writes, “Now he who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will also supply and increase your store of seed and will enlarge the harvest of your righteousness. You will be made rich in every way so that you can be generous on every occasion, and through us your generosity will result in thanksgiving to God.”

 

Your generosity will result in thanksgiving to God.  How would you feel, knowing that God was praised as a result of your giving?  Wouldn’t that be a legacy to leave behind?  Imagine not being remembered as a man who earned millions of dollars in his lifetime.  But instead, as a man or woman or family or church who gave away millions of dollars?  This is a spiritual law we can depend on.  “One man gives freely, yet gains even more; another withholds unduly, but comes to poverty.  A generous man will prosper; he who refreshes others will himself be refreshed.”

 

You see the greatest legacy you can leave behind is your example to others.  If you have no debt, there is nothing monetarily keeping you from obeying God’s commands.  If you give at the level you are called to give, God will bless you in many ways.  And if you do your part to preserve your family’s future.  If you save what you can when you can so that at some point your life can change.  If you dedicate yourself to becoming the man or woman of God that He has called you to be.  If you do all these things, your life will change.  Your children’s and grandchildren’s lives will change.  Your church, your neighborhoods, your cities, your states, your world will see the glory of God reflected in hearts that are truly devoted to Him.

 

God wants you to be financially free.  God wants you to be rich.  He wants to be able to bless you far beyond what you can imagine.  He wants to do all this so you will be free to serve.  He wants to use you to enact His will upon this world.  His good, pleasing and perfect will.

 

I work everyday with families that want to get on that road to financial freedom. 

 

Are you ready to begin?  Are you ready to take the first steps towards financial freedom?  Are you willing to do whatever it takes to open the doors and allow Christ to influence the way you think, feel and act about money?

 

I hope you have learned something along the past three weeks.  But knowledge is pointless without action.  If you truly want to make a change…  you must put your beliefs into action.

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