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Oct 01, 2017

Developing a Plan

Passage: Genesis 41:25-36

Speaker: Michael E. Karunas

Series: Enough

Do people who give generously to charities make more money?  That was the suggestion of a book given to me in my first year of ministry.  Written by a pastor of a large and thriving church, he claimed “You have to give everything that you have.  If you want God to bless you with a financial miracle you must first give everything to God” (meaning, of course, to his church).  ‘Empty your storehouses’” was how he put it.  “Unless you give everything you have and truly empty your storehouses, you can never really expect God to bless you.”

I felt ashamed just reading that book and would never preach or even imply that.  But about 10 years after I read it I came across an article in the Wall Street Journal with this headline: “People who give to charities make more money.”  But this article did not state that people make more money after they give to charities.  As in, because they gave to charities they were rewarded with greater income.  Rather, it suggested that the people who tend to give generously, tend also to be the kinds of people who have good saving habits and who spend wisely, living below their means.  Because of their saving and thrifty spending, they end up with “more money.”  All three things are connected, the article stated – a kind of holy trinity of faithful stewardship: spending wisely, saving aggressively and giving generously.

Today is week 3 of our sermon series based on the book Enough by Adam Hamilton.  The book and the sermon series focuses on the question: How can we make sure we are faithful recipients of all that we have received from God?  Are we using our money and material things to serve our purpose as God’s people?  Or are our possessions possessing us?  Our purpose, which we highlighted last week, is to serve God and our neighbors created in God’s image.  And we said that one way to do this is by saving and giving.

That is also the theme of part 2 of chapter 2 of Adam Hamilton’s book.  In it he offers 6 principles that make up a spiritually sound, financial lifestyle.  These principles allow us to keep the holy trinity of saving aggressively, spending wisely and giving generously connected.  And that helps us live out our purpose as God’s people more faithfully.  I’ll just mention the 6 today without giving too much detail.

#1 is Tithe First.  Make an offering to the church of your choice first.  It may seem obvious that a pastor would begin with this one, but it’s also biblically sound.  Giving the offering first is a way of “seeking first the kingdom of God” as Jesus instructed in MT 6, and also of giving the “first fruits” of our harvest to God, DT 26 teaches us to do.  #2 is Keep a Budget and Track Expenses.  A budget is like a shopping list for the household and last week we said that we tend not to overspend when we stick to our shopping list.  This helps us do #3 – Live Below Your Means.  Paul said in I Cor 6:12 that just because we can do something doesn’t mean we should.  All things are lawful, he said, but not all things beneficial.  From a financial perspective the same holds true: Just because we can afford something doesn’t mean we need to buy it.  If we follow #3 we can do #4 – Save for college (if we have children) and/or retirement.  This allows to continue serving others over the course of our lifetime.  And #5 is Pay off Credit Cards Bills each Month.  Strive to carry as little debt as possible.  Credit card debt is the one most within our control.  Finally, #6 is Set up an Emergency Fund and our scripture reading tells a story that illustrates this and ties these principles, and our sermon series themes, together.

In the Old Testament, Jacob was the grandson of Abraham, the founding father of our faith.  He had 11 sons and Joseph was not only the youngest, his father loved him best.  And Jacob didn’t hide his love for his favorite son.  Joseph didn’t have to work in the fields with the other brothers and his father gave him special gifts.  Eventually out of jealousy and anger, the brothers sold Joseph into slavery in Egypt and told their father that he had been killed.  In Egypt Joseph ended up in prison and while there the king had a dream that he couldn’t understand.  Really it was two dreams.  First, the king dreamed that 7 cows, sleek, healthy and well-fed were eating grass on the banks of the Nile river.  Suddenly 7 other cows – thin, wretched, and poor – came up out of the water and ate the 7 healthy cows.  Then, 7 ears of corn – lush, plump and healthy – grew on a stalk.  But 7 other ears emerged – withered and blighted – and devoured the healthy ears.  The king was disturbed by what this meant.  Joseph was good at interpreting dreams so he was brought to the king who told him the dream.  Here is what happened next.  (Read Gen 41:25-36).

The story goes on to say that Joseph was the one chosen to oversee this food savings program and everything happened just as Joseph foresaw.  During the 7 years of plenty, the people saved 20% of their harvest and when the famine came, it was enough to feed them.  Not only that, it was more than enough, because Joseph’s brothers, who had sold him into slavery, had no food of their own.  The famine affected them too.  But they heard Egypt had enough food to spare so they ended up begging Joseph for some grain, without recognizing who he was.  He recognized them, though and gave them food.  When they understood who he was, they begged for forgiveness and he eventually forgave them, and the family was restored.

But the point we don’t want to overlook is that Egypt, because they saved during the good years, not only had enough for their own people, they had enough to give away to their neighbors in need.  Saving and giving go hand in hand, and they are two ways we show our gratitude to God for what we have been given.

Moreover, all that we’ve covered in our sermon series so far is evident in this story.  First, there is an emphasis on saving.  Joseph forced the people to save during the good years.  We can think of saving as “paying ourselves first.”  And even a little bit (20%) saved over a long period of time adds up to a lot (Note: Before I start paying bills each month, I pay 10% to the church, 10% to Amy and my retirement and our 3 children’s college funds, and 10-15% to a savings account for emergencies.  I’ve been that for years now and it’s really not that hard to keep doing once you get into the habit of it).  Second, because they people saved, they had to live below their means.  They could have eaten, consumed or sold all the grain they harvested, but they didn’t.  Because they resisted the urge to consume all they could have, they avoided the sins of gluttony and greed, which is excessive and unnecessary desire.  They exercised restraint and self-control.

They also avoided, fourthly, the temptation of instant gratification.  They were willing to make a short-term sacrifice (saving and not spending in the present) for a long-term benefit (more resources in future).  Fifth, they had to live by a budget.  That’s the first thing the Egyptian King realized, and why Joseph was given the position of Secretary of Agriculture – they needed to have a thought-out, intentional, conscientious plan.

And most importantly – sixth – in doing all of these things, they discovered that they not only had enough for themselves, they had enough to share; to give in generosity toward others.  So we come full circle and see that there is biblical and spiritual truth (oddly enough) in that WSJ article: Spending wisely, saving aggressively, and giving generously all go hand in hand.  With thoughtful planning, as Genesis 41 shows us, there is a lot we can do – for ourselves; for our neighbors; and for God.