E-pistle February 19

How Rich Were We?
On Sunday we begin a two-week look at the ways that financial pressures complicate our quest for a more simple and Christ-focused life. The research for the sermon has been fascinating, though at times I came close to drowning in a sea of statistics. But I dog paddle well enough and made it safely to shore before the last wave of numbers threatened to pull me under.
I’ve read about the national debt and consumer debt (non-mortgage debt such as car loans and credit card debt), and the metaphor of drowning becomes more serious as we measure our situation. We’re in trouble. No wonder finances are among the big three stressors in our lives (along with time and relationships).
I’m no economist, but it seems pretty simple. We have debt because we borrow. We borrow because we want something we can’t afford. And some – not all – that we want and for which we borrow, we want a lot more than we need. Simple to describe, difficult, nearly impossible, for some to escape.
Becky and I have a car payment, so we are adding our share to the 13 billion dollars in national consumer debt (not to be confused with the 12 billion dollars in government debt). But, thanks be to God, we do not have credit card debt and never have. Debt has not swept over us like a wave that threatens our very lives. I make the statement with all humility and pray God would save me from pride.
If the statistics are accurate, half of you reading these words are not so fortunate. The stress of unmanageable debt goes with you to bed at night and is there beside you the minute you wake up. It is a dreadful companion who will not leave you alone.
So, what is the alternative to being in debt or going into debt? Going without. Going without an expensive cell phone plan or too many channels of television. Going without fast food or family vacations. Going without name brand clothes or designer coffee. Yes, going without.
Again, if I may say so, we know something about going without, seriously going without. We did it for a long time during those early years of our marriage – and beyond. In fact, God was calling us to go without and he had his reasons, one of which was to keep us from downing in debt.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics has an inflation calculator and the Social Security Administration sends us those summaries of our earnings every year. So I’ve looked back to the years when our kids were young and my salary slim. I’ve fattened the numbers up a bit to see what they would like in 2010 terms and they still don’t look too healthy.
As I recall it, going without was no fun. Nothing fun about it at all. I hope never to return to those days.
But there was something about those going without days that was very rich. I’d be much less than honest if I did not admit that we lost sight of it some days, but we saw it often enough to know it was true. We saw what the Apostle learned and shared with the Philippians, “I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do everything through him who gives me strength.”
Debt and the financial stress it causes is serious and it is complicated. Going without as God’s call for a season, perhaps a long season, also brings its share of stress, no doubt about it, but it is less complicated. It hears what Paul reminds the Philippians, “My God will meet all your needs according to his glorious riches in Christ Jesus.”
I will accept the charge of sounding arrogant with humble apologies and the charge of being hopeless naive only by saying that he who promised is faithful.
I would encourage any of your who feel lost in a sea of debt to please let me know. There are solid, biblically based, resources to help.
I’ve looked, and the BLS does not have a calculator for an inflation-adjusted reckoning of the riches of God’s grace. Our computers would crash before the calculation could be done.