Money impacts everyone, but many of us don’t have the right view on how to use it. We can either let money define us or decide to see it the way God does. In this message, we learn three must-do money moves that will impact our lives for years to come.
Welcome to The Porch, everybody. Glad you guys are here tonight. I want to welcome everybody watching online and at all of the Porch.Live locations. My name is Adam Tarnow. I'm excited to be with you guys today as we continue on in this Roaring 20s sermon series. I want to start off with a little story. A little over a month ago, my wife and I celebrated our sixteenth wedding anniversary. Sixteen years in a row we have been married, consecutive years. It has been awesome.
I have a little picture of what we looked like on our wedding day. I always get different reactions to that. I think we have a predominantly female crowd here today, because you guys "Aww-ed" at that. Usually if it's guys they just laugh. I don't know what that pose is that we are in right there. We don't hold hands that way. Never once in 16 years have we gotten in a pose like that.
A picture can tell a thousand words, but there is something you cannot tell from that picture. What you cannot tell from that picture is at that moment, on the day we said, "I do," my wife Jackie and I were in the middle of a financial crisis. At that moment, when that picture was taken, our combined net worth now as a married couple was -$120,000, yet we were still smiling and still excited to be married.
Now, just to be clear, it wasn't a surprise to us that that was what our net worth was. We both knew about this. Thirteen months earlier, when I met her, I would have been surprised if you would have told me that's what our financial situation was going to be if we ended up getting married. Thirteen months prior, I had just moved here to Dallas to go to seminary to study God's Word so I could maybe go on staff at a church or be in full-time ministry and had gotten plugged in here at Watermark and started to go to church here and met Jackie.
We started going out, and I knew a couple of things about her early on in dating. You just know a few financial things. You just kind of know what somebody's job is. I knew Jackie's job was that she was an attorney. I don't know what you learned growing up about attorneys, but I watched a lot of television shows and movies and read some novels.
I watched TV shows like Suits about all of these high-powered attorneys, and I had developed this expectation in my mind that all attorneys made a tremendous amount of money and their financial situation was they were really well off. Well, I'm in seminary, and I don't know what my financial future is going to be, and I'm looking at this relationship and kind of putting two and two together as I'm studying God's Word.
I'm reading things like Psalm 37:4 that says, "Delight yourself in the Lord, and he'll give you the desires of your heart." I'm like, "Lord, I did not know that I desired a sugar mama right now, but this makes sense to me. This is what a good God would do. You uproot your life and go and move halfway across the country and start to give your life to you, and then you bless me with a beautiful attorney wife. I like the way this is going." I never said any of that to her. This is just stuff I'm thinking.
The relationship progresses, and we start to realize, "Okay. This is probably going to move toward marriage," so we realized, "We need to have this conversation. We need to share some of our financial details with one another." I will never forget that night. We met over at her duplex. She was sharing a duplex with a roommate. I remember the green couch we were sitting on. I remember where I was sitting. I remember where she was sitting. I was like, "I am pumped for this conversation."
I said, "I'll go first. Here's the thing. I have about $20,000 in student loan debt. I have a car with over 100,000 miles, but it's paid for. I have a couple thousand dollars in the bank. I tutor accounting part time." That was what I did before I went to seminary. "I tutor accounting part time. That's my part-time job. I get paid hourly for that, and I think I might be a pastor, so I have no clue what my financial prospects are in the future. Your turn."
She said, "Okay. Well, the car I drive right now is a lease." I was like, "Okay. Maybe the firm or the organization pays for that. So it's a lease." She said, "I have a couple thousand dollars in credit card debt. I have no money in the bank, no real savings, and this is my income number." She told me her income. It was like, record scratch. "Hold on. That's your bonus, right? Like, that's not the income number, right? That number is a little bit lower than I was expecting."
She said, "Well, yeah. I work for a nonprofit, and that's what we get paid." I was like, "Oh, okay. That's right. Television shows are fiction. That's not necessarily reality." Then she took a deep breath, and she goes, "But that's not what I'm most embarrassed about." She goes, "Here's the deal. I financed my undergrad, I financed law school, and right now I'm sitting on student loans totaling $100,000."
So we're sitting there, and I was really excited about this conversation. I'm like, "All right. I thought you were going to be sugar mama," and she maybe thought I was going to be sugar daddy, and we're like, "There's no sugar in this relationship at all." So do you know what we did? We got engaged. That's what we did, because we were in love. "We'll deal with that later." I don't know if you should be clapping at that, but that's what we did.
Our friends and our family knew about this situation, and they said, "Hey, here's what we think you should do. The church you're a part of…" We were at Watermark. "The church has this thing called Moneywise, which is this ministry that teaches God's Word and God's perspective on how to deal with your finances. Maybe you should call up a leader at Moneywise and meet with them before you get married, just to get their advice on what to do." We said, "Great. We'll do that."
So we sent an email and got a meeting set up with somebody, and they sent us a worksheet. I'll never forget filling out that worksheet. They said, "Before our meeting, I want you to fill out this worksheet." At the top of the worksheet it said, "List all your assets here." So we listed two or three things. Then it said, "Now list all your liabilities," and we listed a lot of things. Then it said, "Take your assets, subtract your liabilities, and this is what your net worth is."
I remember I had to fill it out as a negative number, -$120,000. I remember meeting with this person. It was a gentleman who was serving in Moneywise who was one of the elders here at Watermark, a guy by the name of Kyle Thompson. One Sunday before church he met us for coffee. I remember that shame and that embarrassment as I slid that sheet of paper across the table to him and said, "This is our situation. What do you think?"
He was so kind to us, and he sat there and helped us brainstorm some things. He basically had one idea. He said, "Listen. I'm not going to tell you that you shouldn't get married with this amount of debt, but I am telling you right now you guys need to come up with a plan, because this debt is not going to be easy to get out of, and it's not going to take care of itself. You have to have a plan and a way to get out of that." We said, "Great."
So we thanked him, and we got in the car, and we came up with a plan. The plan was to ignore it. We followed that plan perfectly. We got married, and for the first six months of our marriage, we just completely ignored this. It was like this sleeping giant that was in the corner of our small apartment, and we just wanted him to stay asleep. Like, "Just don't talk about debt, and let's just make sure he stays asleep."
For six months we sat there and ignored it, and then June 20, 2004, we show up to church that morning, and a gentleman gets onstage to preach, and it's that same guy we met with six months earlier. Kyle Thompson gets onstage, and he is preaching a message called Debt: A Biblical Perspective. Twenty-seven minutes into that message, he opened up and turned to God's Word, and he went to Proverbs 22:7. This is what he read: "The rich rule over the poor, and the borrower is slave to the lender." He went on and talked about how when you're in debt you feel like you are in this prison.
My wife and I were sitting on this side of the auditorium, and 27 minutes into that message, that Scripture pierced our hearts, and we said, "We have to do something about this. That is exactly what we're feeling right now. We feel stuck." The church service ended, and we got back in our car and drove back to our apartment, and we had, what I can tell you now 16 years later, one of the most significant conversations we'd ever had and still, to this day, have ever had in our marriage. We decided we were going to do something about our debt.
I start with all that because at the time when we heard that message and when Jackie and I first got married, we were 28 and 29 years old. We were ending this decade of our 20s, we were ending these roaring 20s, and the way our 20s were ending was very different than the way they began. It was ending, and the predominate emotion we felt was fear, uncertainty, shame, hopelessness, and that is not the way our 20s started.
Our 20s started with a tremendous amount of hope. The future seemed to be pregnant with possibility. Anything could possibly happen. The difference between when we entered into our 20s and when we were leaving our 20s, why it went from hope to shame and fear and uncertainty, was because all throughout our 20s we made some really poor financial decisions. We made some poor choices.
As we continue on in this series, The Roaring 20s, it really makes sense that this is something we have to talk about, especially given this decade of decisions that so many of you guys are living in right now here in your 20s. I think this is a really, really important message for all of us, because here's what we all know is true: money impacts every single person in this room tonight. All of us are impacted by money.
It does not matter where you are on the financial spectrum, if you're in here and your net worth is a negative and it's like six or seven digits or your net worth is positive and it's positive six or seven digits. It doesn't matter where you are on that spectrum. Money impacts your life, and if you don't have the right perspective and a healthy relationship with money and possessions, then money is going to rob you of life. So we have to take a look at this.
So tonight, what I want to do is just talk about three really simple decisions every single one of us needs to make when it comes to money. We're going to open up God's Word and look at how God's Word informs the way we think about money. Some of you may even sit there and are just scratching your head a little bit at that, going, "Hold on. The Bible talks about money?" I just want to let you know: yeah, the Bible has a lot to say about money. In fact, it says some very countercultural things about money.
Here are two of them really quickly, because this is going to help frame up the rest of our conversation for this evening. The first countercultural thing Scripture says about money is that money is primarily a heart issue, not a numbers issue. Jesus, in Matthew 6:21, says where your treasure is, that's where your heart will be. Jesus makes it really clear that your heart is what determines the kind of relationship you have with money and possessions.
The numbers don't tell the whole story. What tells the whole story is where your heart is in this relationship with money and possessions. So, that's the first countercultural thing the Scripture says about money. The second one is that our relationship with money and possessions is to be a relationship that's primarily defined by stewardship, not defined by ownership. Let me unpack that a little bit, because steward and stewardship are words many of us don't use very often.
When I say steward, here's what I mean. A steward is somebody who manages another's property according to the owner's vision and values. A steward is somebody who has been given somebody else's property, and that steward is responsible for managing that property, not according to their own vision and values and according to what they want to do but according to the owner's vision and values.
That is the relationship you and I are to have with money and possessions according to God's Word. You see that in 1 Chronicles 29:10 all the way through verse 20. You see it in Psalm 24:1. It talks about "The earth is the Lord's and everything in it." It means we are stewards of everything and owners of nothing. So, our relationship with money and possessions is driven primarily by our heart and our relationship with God, and the relationship God wants us to have with money and possessions is the one of stewardship, not one of ownership.
So, if we want to be faithful stewards, there are some decisions we're going to need to make, especially in this decade of decisions you guys are navigating right now. These decisions we're going to make are going to keep our relationship with money and possessions healthy, ultimately keep our relationship with God healthy, and help you and me to be faithful stewards.
If you have your Bibles, here we go. Let's jump in first to Proverbs 27:23-24. Here's what the author of Proverbs 27 says: "Be sure you know the condition of your flocks, give careful attention to your herds; for riches do not endure forever, and a crown is not secure for all generations."
Again, some of you may be sitting there going, "Adam, I don't know where you live right now, but I just want to inform you I do not live on a farm, so I'm having trouble connecting the dots here, because I think he's talking about farm stuff. 'Know the condition of your flocks. Give careful attention to your herds.' Like, what's up here? What am I supposed to learn from this?"
Let me explain. The author of this proverb was writing to an audience that was living in an agrarian culture. Meaning, everybody kind of lived on a farm at that point. That was the way they were taking care of themselves and taking care of their families. The author of this proverb is reminding the readers, "Hey, give careful attention to your flocks and to your herds. Know the condition of those."
What he's basically saying here is "Be diligent. Be diligent with your sources of income. Track your sources of income. Make sure you have a good understanding of your sources of income, and the reason is because those riches don't endure forever and a crown is not secure for all generations." Just because you have some money or some sources of income today doesn't mean you're going to have it tomorrow.
1 . Decide to be diligent. You need to decide to be diligent for the exact same reasons the author of this proverb was encouraging the readers to be diligent. It's because if you're not diligent things can quickly get out of control. You have to be able to watch and know the conditions of the source of your income so you can take care of yourself and take care of maybe your family one day. You have to be diligent with that.
So how are we diligent today? The primary way we are diligent today is this. This is not going to be very popular, but this is how you do it. You have a budget and you have a system for tracking your expenses. That is the best way to be diligent. That is the best way to know the condition of your flocks and the condition of your herds: to know and track those sources of income, where those dollars are coming, where they are going.
You just need to pick a tool. Pick one that will work for you. My wife and I love this one called YNAB (You Need a Budget). It judges you every time you open it and just commands you, "Hey, let me remind you: you need a budget." "Preach. You're right. I do. I need one." It just reminds you every day. It's this great system, and it connects to your bank and tracks your expenses and helps you set up a budget.
There's Mint.com. You can use an Excel spreadsheet. You can use the register in the checkbook if you want to. Just use a system that works for you to know well the condition of your flocks. The reason we are to do this is because if we don't do this, things can get out of control in a hurry. So yes, we may not live in an agrarian culture right now where we're on farms and we have to know, "That pig last year got me this much money, and that one last year got me this much."
It may not be that, but we do live in a strange time right now where it really is a challenge to continue to be diligent. The time you and I live in right now is we live in a cashless culture. Spending nowadays is so easy. I don't know about you guys, but I remember back to when I first started making money. I was mowing grass at 14 or 15 years old.
I would be done mowing the grass, and I would go knock on the door of the person whose lawn I just mowed, and do you know what they did? Do you know how they paid me? They gave me this paper. It was cash. They just gave it to me. They said, "Here. This is cash for what you just did." I would take that cash and put it in my wallet. So all I had to do to know the condition of my flocks and give careful attention to my herds was not lose my wallet. That's all I had to do.
When I first started making money and there was cash in there, every transaction felt like losing. I would go to the movies with my friends or go to restaurants with my friends or I'd go to the baseball card shop or something like that, and I would take money out, and every single time I took that cash out and put it across to pay for the movie or pay for the food or buy the baseball cards, it felt like I was losing something. There was an emotion attached to that cash transaction.
Nowadays, I'm just trying to keep my wallet as thin as possible. I don't want cash in there. I don't want to lug all that around. Nowadays, we have credit cards and debit cards and Venmo and PayPal and Apple Pay and things on your watch and all that kind of stuff. You have all of these digital cash transactions. Nowadays, the emotion with spending is gone.
Spending used to feel like losing. Now do you know what spending feels like, especially if you use a credit card? Spending feels like earning. Do you know why? Because the banks have played this Jedi mind trick on us, and they've gotten us to believe that points are somehow more valuable than dollars. We'll go, "Yeah, that cost $45. Oh well. That's 45 points, and points are more valuable than dollars."
So you'll walk away from a transaction, and you don't feel like you lost anything; you feel like you just gained something. It is so easy nowadays to not only spend the money you have but also to spend the money you don't have. Things can quickly get out of control, which is why every month, when you get that email from your bank that says, "Here's your credit card statement for the month," you brace, because you've been ignoring all of those transactions, just trying to fit in and have fun and just swipe, swipe, swipe, going, "I'll deal with that later."
Then the day of reckoning has come in the middle of the month, and you have to open up that statement, and you feel what so many people feel, where you just go, "Phew! It did not feel like I was spending that much." You're like, "But I got a bunch of points, so that's okay. I get a free flight to go somewhere and spend a bunch of other money I don't have. We'll just keep this cycle going over and over and over again."
We have to have a plan. We have to be diligent. You have to decide to be diligent, because if you don't, things will get out of control, and then you won't be able to catch up. The other reason we need to be diligent is what we just talked about with stewardship. Do you know why? Because it's not your money. It's not yours.
Imagine this. Imagine I had $1,000 in my pocket right now and I brought one of you up and said, "Here. Here's $1,000. You do one job, and that is just go invest it." You go home, and then you wake up tomorrow morning and go into the bank and go, "Listen. I was given this $1,000. I just need you to invest it in something." You hand it over to the bank teller and say, "Please invest it."
Then imagine you leave and come back a month later, and you're like, "I want to see how the investment is doing." You go up to the exact same bank teller and go, "Hey, last month I was in here, and I gave you $1,000 and wanted you to invest it. I entrusted my money to you, and I wanted you to invest it. I'd like to know how that investment is doing."
Imagine what you would feel like if the bank teller looked at you and was like, "Oh, yeah. I think I kind of remember you. Was it $100? No, it was $1,000?" And then they just start looking around and lifting up papers and looking for that money and getting online and trying to check different things.
They're like, "I know we didn't spend it, but I don't know exactly where it is right now. What's your phone number? Can I call you later and try to let you know?" You would not walk out of there feeling very comfortable and trusting that bank. Right? You would not say they're being diligent. You would be frustrated. The primary reason you would be frustrated by that is because it's not their money and they were being careless with it.
I would imagine there are some of you in the room here tonight, and you're sitting there going, "Listen, Adam. I get it that I need to have a plan and track expenses and have a budget. I think I'm doing okay. I log on to my bank app every single day, and I monitor that balance of my bank account. I never bounce a check, and I never overdraw. I'm always paying off my credit card bill. I pay all of my bills on time. I don't think I need a budget. I don't think I need to track anything. I think I'm doing okay."
I just want to remind you that just doing okay is not okay. That's not being diligent. If you want to be a faithful steward, if you want to have a good relationship with money and possessions, then you will make that decision to be diligent, because it's not your money. If you're not diligent… Riches don't endure forever. Things can get out of control in a hurry. So, that's the first decision.
2 . Decide to deal with debt. Let me be really clear here about a couple of things, specifically with the way Scripture talks about debt. I want to be clear that God's Word does not say that debt is a sin. It does not command you that you cannot enter into debt or go into debt. God's Word cautions us to be careful with debt, but it does not command us to completely avoid debt.
The best way I know how to think about this from a word picture perspective that we all understand is that debt is like a porta potty. We are cautioned to avoid porta potties as often as we possibly can. We are to use them as a last resort, and then if you do have to use one, you want to get in and get out as fast as you can. Right? It's the same thing with debt. We're cautioned against it. If you have to use debt, use it as a last resort, and if you have to enter into debt, just try to get in and get out as fast as you possibly can.
So, if you want to be a faithful steward and if you want to have a healthy relationship with money and possessions, if you want money not to rob you of life, then you have to make a decision to deal with debt. The reason God wants you and me to be cautious with debt is because of that verse Kyle Thompson read 27 minutes into that message back in June of 2004. "The rich rule over the poor, and the borrower is slave to the lender."
When we are in debt, we are not free. There are things we want to do that we can't do. There are things we want to plan for the future that we can't plan for the future. It's just this cloud that follows us everywhere. God doesn't want this cloud to follow us everywhere. He wants us to be free, so he wants us to decide to deal with our debt. I just want to be a friend and remind you of something. There is no easy way out of debt.
Nobody is going to force you to do anything with it. Nobody is going to push you to do anything with it. You have to make the decision, "I want to do something with this debt." You have to do it, and there's no easy way out. I've been on staff here at Watermark for almost 10 years, and I had a couple-of-years run where I was leading Moneywise, that financial stewardship ministry I was telling you guys about.
I had a chance to lead that, and I had countless conversations with people who were in debt and just felt stuck, countless conversations with people who were like, "Listen. I want to get out of debt. I'm motivated to get out of debt. I'm looking at the budget right now, and I don't know where I'm going to find any extra money to be able to get out of debt. Will you help me look at this budget and help me find some money?"
This conversation happened over and over and over again. I'd meet with somebody, and they'd show me their budget. They'd go, "Look. Here's the income. Here are all of the expenses. I don't know where I'm going to be able to find any money. I feel like I'm barely making ends meet right now. How am I going to find more money to throw at the debt?"
They would start to pick on the exact same two categories. So many people did this. They'd go, "I bet I could eat out less, and I bet I could cancel Netflix or DirecTV or something like that. I bet if I did that, that would free up some cash so I could start to throw it at the debt and get out of it."
I would have the same conversation, going, "Yeah, that might be the right move, but what you need right now is you don't need dozens of dollars; you need hundreds of dollars. Dozens of dollars are going to be helpful to get you out of debt, but when you're really drowning in debt right now, you don't need dozens of dollars; you need hundreds of dollars a month that you can throw at that debt so you can feel like you're starting to make progress."
If that's you here tonight, if you're sitting there and you're like, "Listen. I feel that. I feel stuck. I don't know where to start. I'd love to try to find hundreds of dollars in my budget right now if I could," here are the three categories you have to look at. It's not just food and entertainment. That'll get you maybe a little bit of the way there.
The three categories are these: housing, transportation, and income. That's usually where you can find hundreds of dollars. Let's unpack that a little bit. Here's what this means from a housing perspective. What this means from a housing perspective is that some of you might need to make a really difficult decision about your current housing situation to free up some cash so you can deal with that debt.
What this means is that some of you in here tonight might need to call your parents on the way home and go, "Listen. Can I move back in right now? Because I'm paying so much money to live in this apartment right now in this cool part of town where all of the cool people are, and I think if I could free that money up I could be out of debt in a couple of years. Can I move back in right now?"
Or if you don't want to call your parents or your parents live out of town or you don't want to move, then you need to start to call some friends and go, "Listen. Let's just be roommates. Let's squeeze as many people in here as we can, and let's just try to reduce as many costs as possible so we can all deal with this debt."
I know what you're thinking. You're sitting there going, "Yeah, Adam. Roommates. That was college. I'm not doing that right now. Do you think I'm going to be having roommates and deal with them always leaving their dishes and being loud and sharing a bathroom and sharing a bedroom and all that kind of stuff? Do you think I'm going to do that anymore? I am done with that. Is that what you're telling me to do, Adam?" Yeah, that's what I'm telling you to do. That's what I'm encouraging you to do.
Here's the thing. This whole thing with roommates, if you do that, there's going to be a little benefit in there. One of the benefits is if you deal with roommates, it'll make you a better spouse one day. So if that's in your plans, if that's in your desires, that you want to get married, guess what: that'll make you a little bit better.
I don't mean to burst anybody's bubble. Marriage is primarily a roommate situation. There are a lot of chores and making sure that everybody is living together fine, so having a roommate is a great way to get ready for that. So look at your housing situation. Look at that and think about, "All right. What can I do if I could cut my rent in half?"
Transportation. I know for some of you, this may be the first time you've heard this. It is not normal to always have a car payment. That's not normal. That's not what everybody else does all the time. For some of you, what you might need to do is sit there and go, "Listen. I'm always in a new car. I don't need to be in a new car all the time."
I have some news for you. I don't know if you guys know this, but cars often still work after 10 years. They drive fine. I don't know if you guys know this too, but auto manufacturers make all kinds of cars. They make more than just trucks and SUVs. They make smaller cars that are cheaper. It's like this feat of engineering. They're cheaper to buy, and they're cheaper to drive.
So for some of you, what you may need to do is sit there and go, "I don't need to always have this new car, this $500- or $600-a-month car payment. I'm going to sell that car back, and I'm going to take whatever I have in my savings and just go to Craigslist, and I'm just going to sort by $1,000 and buy whatever is out there and just do that" or "I'm going to get into a cheaper car."
So, housing, transportation, and then here's another one I don't think many people look at: income. A lot of times, people think they have an expense problem when, really, they don't have an expense problem. The expenses are what they are. Life is expensive. A lot of times what people have is an income problem.
For you, what you may need to do if you're going to deal with debt is you need to start thinking about your weekends differently, thinking about your nights differently. The weekends are now not a time for you to go live your Michelob Ultra commercial life or something like that. Maybe what you need to do on the weekends is instead of going to the restaurants with your friends you just need to work at that restaurant.
Instead of taking Uber all around all week, you need to drive for Uber. Just look for that couple of hundred dollars extra a month. Just start to think differently about this, because nobody is going to do this for you. There's no easy way out of it, and you have to deal with your debt. So, you have to decide to be diligent, and you have to decide to deal with debt.
3 . Decide what will define your story. Let me illustrate what I mean by this with a little story of my buddy Paul. He's a buddy of mine who I've known for years. When he graduated from college… He got married right after college, and he and his wife were young, starting their careers, had no kids, and they were ready to live an adventure married together, so they did what a lot of people did and where they go seek adventure, and they moved to Colorado.
They loved moving to Colorado, and they went out there because they love everything Colorado has to offer. They love the hiking and the camping and the skiing and the mountain biking. They love that whole outdoor vibe. So that's where they wanted to go as they were starting their life together, so they got jobs and moved out there to Colorado.
Shortly after they got out there, they decided they needed to buy a vehicle. So, what vehicle did they buy that was going to fit this lifestyle they were living? They got a Subaru Outback, put the bike rack on it and everything, got the stickers on the back. He talked about how he loved that Subaru. So, they're out there a few years, and that car fit their lifestyle perfectly.
Now it was time for him to make some career moves, and he was going to be going back to grad school, so he moved back here to Dallas. At this point, his family had started to grow. He had had a couple of kids, and he realized the Outback wasn't really practical anymore. He needed a little bit bigger car. His in-laws came to him with an opportunity.
They said, "Listen. We know you need a bigger car. You can't fit all of those car seats in the back of the Outback right now. We have a full-size Lexus SUV with less than 100,000 miles, and we're going to sell it to you for $5,000." It was a steal of a deal. He was like, "My family needs this. I'll take it." So he sold the Outback. He starts driving the Lexus.
I talked to him a few months after that. I'm like, "Man, how's that Lexus? Do you like that thing?" He was like, "I hate it." I'm like, "What do you mean you hate it? Why do you hate the Lexus?" He said, "I hate the story the Lexus tells the world about me. I loved that Outback. That Outback told the story to the world that I wanted the world to know about me.
That Outback told everybody that I was an outdoorsman, that I knew how to mountain bike and I liked hiking and I liked camping and I wore a lot of Patagonia and I made my own granola. I loved the story the Outback told." He goes, "This Lexus tells the story like I'm in commercial real estate and I wax my eyebrows and I graduated from UT." He didn't like the story.
As he's telling that, I'm sitting there and laughing, because I so identify with what he's saying. What my buddy Paul realized is what so many of us in here… We maybe haven't connected the dots like my friend Paul had, but we think stuff is going to change our story. This drives so many decisions we make when it comes to purchasing things.
We want to be known as somebody who goes to those restaurants. We like the story that our apartment and the part of town we live in tells, and we like the story it tells that we wear this brand of shoes or this brand of clothes or we go to this part of the world for vacation. We just think stuff is going to tell our story better than we can tell the story, because secretly, what's going on inside all of us is we're all a little discontent with our story.
We compare our story to everybody else's story, and we're like, "Everybody else seems to have a better story than me. I know how I can change my story, because I'm a little discontent with my story. I'll just get more stuff" or "This brand will tell the story better than I can tell the story." If we want to be faithful stewards, if we want to make good decisions, then we have to decide what we want to define our story.
Thousands of years ago, there were other people who were dealing with this, with an older apostle Paul talking to a younger Timothy. He had some very helpful words he shared with him in 1 Timothy 6:6-10. Let's look at this. "But godliness with contentment is great gain." Paul is telling Timothy, "Listen. You're following after God with contentment. You're winning if you have those." Then he gives some warnings. Look at verse 7.
"For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it. But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that. Those who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction." Look at that language. It is amazing, clear, scary language.
Verse 10: "For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs." Paul is reminding Timothy and still reminding us today that "You're following God in contentment. You're winning." Every single one of us struggles with discontentment, and all of us will look to stuff to try to change that story.
We think stuff is going to change that and, somehow, it's going to satisfy us. Paul says if that's the case, it's going to be really dangerous, because if you think more stuff is going to change your story, then you're going to have to go get more money, and if you keep going after more money, it is an endless pit. You will never, ever get to the finish line, and you will never win. This impacts all of us.
I just think about my own life with all of this and how I need this personal reminder.Just to bring this story full circle… Last year, I saved up a bunch of money and bought a different vehicle. I bought a used vehicle, and guess what I bought. I bought an Outback, and guess what I feel every single day when I drive that Outback. I feel like a fraud. Look at me. I hate camping. I don't wear a lot of Patagonia. I don't even have a real beard, for crying out loud. I feel like I'm out there trying to be some outdoor poser.
Just to be vulnerable, I've literally had this conversation of going, "This car is telling the wrong story. I need to go get more money so I can change my story. I think I'm kind of a Camry guy, nice and boring. That's probably me." I'm buying the lie that stuff is going to change my story and tell my story better than I can.There's this discontentment in all of us, and what Paul goes on to say is there is a cure for discontentment. The cure for discontentment is Christ.
Look at what he says in verse 11. He says, "But you, man of God…" Reminding Timothy of his story. "You are a man of God. That's your story." "…flee from all this…" Flee from this endless pursuit of money. Turn your back on that, and here's what I want you to pursue: "…righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance and gentleness. Fight the good fight of the faith." I love that language.
If you're going to try to live counterculturally when it comes to this relationship with money and possessions, it is going to be a fight. It is not going to be easy. He says, "Fight the good fight of the faith. Take hold of the eternal life to which you were called when you made your good confession in the presence of many witnesses." He's saying, "Listen, Timothy. The cure for your discontentment is Jesus."
So, you decide to be diligent, you decide to deal with your debt, and you decide what's going to define your story. Stuff is not going to define your story. You make those decisions, and this decade can be really, really different.
On June 20, 2004, my wife and I get in that car and head home, and we start running some numbers and just go, "Okay. We want to do something about this debt. We want to deal with it." We ran some numbers and came up with a bunch of different scenarios of what we could do. We gathered some friends together, and we got in the living room.
We slid another sheet of paper across the table to some people and said, "Listen. This is what we can do. Option A right now is I'll drop out of seminary. I'll go back into accounting. Jackie will leave the nonprofit world. That would be option A. It would be a lot of change, but we're willing to do that. We think if we did that we could maybe throw this much." We were looking primarily at that income number, going, "I think we can change that, so let's try to change that."
"Option B is I'll finish seminary, and then we'll deal with it later. Option C is we'll hope that I have some long-lost relative who's about to die who I don't know who's going to leave me some money. What do you think we should do?" Our friends looked at us and said, "If you're willing to do option A, we'd say do option A." We said, "Great. We'll do that."
So, from June 2004 to November 2004, by the grace of God, I was able to find a job back in accounting and dropped out of seminary. My wife was able to find a job in corporate America. She went from being an attorney to being a legal secretary. She took this huge title cut, but it gave a little bit of a pay raise, and that's what we needed.
November 2004, when our net worth was -$120,000, we made our first aggressive debt payment, and then in March of 2008 we made our last debt payment and our net worth was zero. I'm telling you guys, it never felt so good to be worthless. Our relationship with money and possessions is not just a numbers issue; it's a heart issue, and we want to be faithful stewards.
If we're going to be faithful stewards, we have to decide to be diligent, because it's not ours and in this culture we live in, things can get out of control. We have to decide to deal with our debt, and we have to decide what's going to define our story. One of the best financial decisions you could ever make is to root your story and your identity in the person of Jesus Christ. Amen? Let me pray that we'll do that.
Lord, we thank you. We thank you that your Word is so practical for our lives and so helpful for our lives. I pray, God, that you will help us to be diligent, that you will help those of us in this room here tonight who are in debt to deal with that debt. God, I pray you will help us to root our identity in who you are and that we will understand that stuff doesn't tell our story; Jesus tells our story. So, God, I pray that you will help our hearts that are so prone to wander in discontentment. We need you to do that. So this is what we pray. In Christ's name, amen.