Sunday, March 19, 2017


Matthew 8:5-13

When Jesus had entered Capernaum, a centurion came to him, asking for help. “Lord,” he said, “my servant lies at home paralyzed, suffering terribly.”
Jesus said to him, “Shall I come and heal him?”
The centurion replied, “Lord, I do not deserve to have you come under my roof. But just say the word, and my servant will be healed. For I myself am a man under authority, with soldiers under me. I tell this one, ‘Go,’ and he goes; and that one, ‘Come,’ and he comes. I say to my servant, ‘Do this,’ and he does it.”
10 When Jesus heard this, he was amazed and said to those following him, “Truly I tell you, I have not found anyone in Israel with such great faith. 11 I say to you that many will come from the east and the west, and will take their places at the feast with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven. 12 But the subjects of the kingdom will be thrown outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”
13 Then Jesus said to the centurion, “Go! Let it be done just as you believed it would.” And his servant was healed at that moment.
New International Version (NIV) Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® Copyright ©1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission.

In reading this passage, I am always struck by the implications of verse 10 -- when Jesus heard the belief of the Centurion that his servant could be healed by just a word from Jesus, even at a great distance, Jesus was astonished.  How remarkable it is that God, the knower of all things, is astonished at the words of a Gentile Centurion!

What is it that astonishes the King of Kings and the Lord of Lords?  Faith!  True, believing faith.  Faith that is more than lip-service.  Faith that is more than just the matter of Sunday morning worship or weekly Bible study.  Faith that is more than just an anthem we sing.  But true, honest faith that believes.

So, what is astonishing faith?  As Hebrews 11:1 says, “Faith is being sure of what we hope for, certain of what we do not see.” This verse shows us that faith is made up of two components.  The first component of faith is being sure of what we hope for.  This means that we believe that something that has been promised will come to pass. That we trust in hope for what is to come that has been promised through Jesus.  

The second component of faith is being certain of what we do not see.  This means that we believe something to be true even though we have not seen it ourselves.  Jesus referred to this in John 20:29 when He told Thomas, "Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed."  Jesus is referring to those who believe in faith based on His word and His promises, even though they haven’t seen the risen Lord in physical form and didn't put their hands in the nail holes and the wound in His side as Thomas did. 

This would also apply to the faith of the Centurion here in this passage and to the faith of the leper in the verses preceding these (Matthew 8:1-4).  Both the Centurion and the leper believed that Jesus could heal simply as an act of His will.  Time and distance did not matter.  Just the word of Jesus was sufficient to bring healing to others.

This contrasts the faith of most of those who were following God in Israel at this time.  Their belief was by sight and not through faith.  We see this in the response of the people asking Jesus for a sign to prove His words time and time again.  We see this today in our churches and in our mirrors.  This is not faith.  And, certainly, this is not astonishing faith.

True faith is faith that believes although it hasn’t seen.  True faith is faith that believes despite what the eyes tell them.  True faith is faith in Jesus regardless of what our senses or the world tells us.  True faith is belief in Jesus as the sole answer to the promises of God in our lives.  True faith is belief in action, belief that we trust enough to depend our very lives and our souls on.  True faith is astonishing faith, a very rare commodity in Jesus’ day and just as rare in ours.

Here’s the question we must ask:  Are we astonishing God with our faith? 

Sunday, March 12, 2017


5 March 2017

I.  Introduction
            -- turn in Bibles to Proverbs 22:7

            “The rich rule over the poor, and the borrower is slave to the lender.”

            -- I heard a story about a woman who called her husband while he was driving to work one day -- she told him to be careful, because the news said there was an idiot who was driving the wrong way on the freeway -- he replied, “I know.  It’s not just one, it’s hundreds of them”

            -- this evening, we’re going to be talking about driving the wrong way -- about heading in a different direction than most people around us, even if it makes people think we’re idiots
            -- we’re continuing in on our sermon series called, “Making Change,” a play on words about making changes in our financial lives based on what the Bible has to say about finances and to quit going the direction the rest of the world is going

            -- just to remind you, in this series we’re focusing on four things to remember when we’re getting our finances on track: Less is More, Stress is Bad, Giving is Good, and Tomorrow Matters.
            -- last time we met, we talked about the concept of Less is More -- about living with less -- living below our means so we could enjoy our lives more -- about not getting caught up in the world’s concept of needing the newest and the fastest and the biggest and the most but being content with having our needs met and taking charge of our financial lives rather than letting our stuff control us -- to stop chasing after the wind, as Solomon put it, by accumulating possessions that have no eternal value
            -- this week, we’re continuing in Part 2 of this series by looking at the idea that “Stress is Bad” and focusing on the problem of debt in the life of the Christian and in the life of the church

II.  Stress is Bad -- Debt causes Stress
            -- everyone knows that stress is bad -- stress impacts your physical, your emotional, and your mental health -- stress can affect your body, your thoughts and attitudes, and it can affect our behavior -- what we do and how we interact with others
            -- studies show that a person under constant stress doesn’t live as long as people without that stress -- stress causes our blood pressure to rise -- it affects our immune system and causes people to get sick more often than others -- it increases the amount of cholesterol and triglycerides in our blood stream -- it has been linked to migraines and headaches and to other physical maladies -- constant stress wears on a person’s physical and mental health, and it affects our relationships with other people, especially our marriage relationships

            -- one of the major causes of stress in our lives today is financial stress -- when we think about stress caused by money, most of the time we’re talking about the stress that comes because of debt
            -- we have become a society of debtors -- it is rare to find a family who is not holding some kind of loan or under some form of debt -- not counting mortgages, the average American family is about $5,700 in debt -- but if you are one of the 38% of Americans who have credit cards, that average goes up to about $10,300 per household -- but that doesn’t tell you the whole story -- the average person with credit cards is carrying a balance of over $16,000 on those cards, and because you are paying somewhere between 15 and 19% interest on those credit card balances, you rarely can get out of debt without some help because it can take you decades to pay them off if all you pay is the minimum monthly payment1
            -- and with the lower interest rates that we see at the car dealerships now, more and more people are buying cars they really can’t afford -- the dealers have started stretching out the car loans out to 72 months, and in some cases I have seen them advertised for 84 months, to get the payments to the level that people can afford -- that means you’re in debt on a car for six or seven years in some cases -- and even though the interest rates are low, you’re still in debt and every year you own that car, you’re losing money in depreciation -- at the end of 72 months, that $48,000 truck you bought is going to be worth less than $10,000
            -- I really worry about our young men and women -- those kids in high school and college who are just starting to work on their finances -- young men like Ben and Tucker -- they are constantly preyed on by credit card companies with offers for free credit cards and low introductory rates -- these free credit cards are gateway drugs to a lifetime of debt
            -- and I haven’t even mentioned the problem with student loans -- as college costs have continued to rise and rise, the debt that a student accumulates in college has gotten greater and greater, even with the Hope scholarship that is available here in Georgia -- and while those loans look like a good idea and have low interest rates, they saddle a newly graduated person with another debt and another debt payment for 10 years or more
            -- I remember when Kim and I were getting out of school and starting life that one of the major stressors we had was paying back those student loans -- it affected what we could do and where we could go -- we didn’t have any extra money because it was all going back to paying off those loans -- and while we were making enough money to live on, we couldn’t afford to go out to eat or to do things because all the extra money we had were going to pay those student loans -- it took 10 years to get those paid off, and one of the happiest days in my life was the day I mailed my last loan payment to Tucker, Georgia, to get that burden off of us

            -- here’s the thing -- debt is killing us -- one out of every six Americans says they are under serious financial debt2 -- and this debt primarily comes from a need for instant gratification -- the “I need it now and I don’t want to wait” syndrome -- and it’s affecting our health, our relationships, and our spiritual lives
            -- fewer people are tithing or making donations to charitable organizations because of financial concerns -- debt is keeping people from pursuing ministry opportunities -- the Barna Research Group did a study and found out that few people go on short-term mission trips even though they feel that call and know the benefits from going and helping others, partly because of the cost of going
            -- being in debt keeps us from being free to help those around us -- from ministering to those in need -- as Proverbs 22:7 says, “the rich rule over the poor, and the borrower is servant [or slave] to the lender” -- when we’re in debt, we’re not free to serve God because we are slave to our lenders

            -- can you imagine what your life would be like if you didn’t have debt? -- the freedom you would experience? -- the changes you would be able to make?
            -- instead of using plastic to buy things, you’d just pay cash -- instead of paying a lot more for something over time because of the interest payments, you just pay what something is worth
            -- when an emergency comes up, you’d be able to take care of it without obligating yourself for years to come -- if somebody you knew needed help, you’d be able to help them without it hurting you -- you’d be able to take time off of work for vacations or to spend more time with your family -- you’d be able to downsize and not work as much -- you’d be able to minister more freely -- to do what God was calling you to do -- to go on those mission trips and to help others find freedom in their lives
            -- you’d have less stress and less worry -- your relationships wouldn’t be strained because of your finances, and you would have more freedom in your life to enjoy life and to live out the abundant life Jesus intended for us to live

III.  Getting Out of Debt
            -- so what do we do? -- how do we begin to get out of debt?
            -- it’s not going to be easy -- it’s going to take work and it’s going to take sacrifice and it’s going to take relying on God to get you out of debt -- but the good news is that God will bless you as you start this process -- the Bible tells us that whoever if faithful with a little, God will trust with more -- God is pleased when we start managing the resources He has given us wisely, and as we begin making steps to get out of debt, He will bless those efforts accordingly

            -- rather than going over the practical ways to get out of debt, I want to focus on the spiritual aspect as we close this message -- if you’re in debt and you’re looking for a way out, I think you need to begin by realizing that debt is a spiritual issue -- debt is usually a consequence of sin -- of not being a good steward and taking care of the money and the resources that God has given you -- not being patient with God and waiting for Him to provide -- not living within your means but trying to follow the world’s pattern of wanting the best and the newest and the biggest and wanting it now -- allowing yourself to be bound up by others and by becoming a servant and slave to the lender rather than serving God with your whole heart -- these things are part of a spiritual sickness that needs to be addressed before the overall problem of debt can be solved

            -- I’m not a financial expert, so I do encourage you to look up the resources available from Christian experts in this field -- Crown Financial Ministries out of Atlanta has great resources available to help you begin to get out of debt -- they’ve got a radio segment that is aired on WAFT 101.1 here in our area every afternoon you can listen to and call into with your questions -- you can find books at the library from the late Larry Burkett, who was part of founding Crown Financial Ministries
            -- and you can’t go wrong by following Dave Ramsey’s advice or taking his Financial Peace University class, which is occasionally offered by churches and ministries in our area -- Dave Ramsey’s concept on debt is “live like no one else now so you can live like no one else later” -- meaning make the sacrifices now to get out of debt so you can live debt-free and really enjoy life later while others continue to live their stress-ridden debt-burdened lives -- Dave Ramsey has a daily radio show, too, but I don’t think it airs in our area -- but you can find it online and you can find his books and resources at Lifeway or at the library
            -- I do want to tell you to stay away from secular financial counselors and to seek advice solely from Christian counselors on debt issues -- not that secular financial counselors are bad people, but they have a different way of looking at finances that may not be in accord with what the Bible tells us, and they can steer you wrong in regards to biblical foundations of financial freedom -- so be careful in that regard -- stay with Christian financial experts like Crown Financial Ministries, Larry Burkett, and Dave Ramsey and listen to them

            -- so let’s get back to the spiritual way out of debt -- like I said, this is going to take God’s help to get our minds and our spirits back in alignment with His principles -- and the way we seek God’s help is through prayer and through the study of His word

            -- I’m going to close by giving you three prayers to constantly pray as you seek to improve your financial situation and reset your thinking and your attitude towards the proper way to handle God’s resources

            -- the first is “God, give me self-control” -- let me read Proverbs 25:28 for you

            “Like a city whose walls are broken down is a man who lacks self-control.”

            -- like I said, debt is primarily a function of a need for instant gratification -- “I want it and I want it now” -- and the key to defeating this siren call of instant gratification is self-control
            -- self-control sounds easy, but it’s not -- it takes effort and it takes help from outside of us -- self-control is more than willpower -- it’s relying on God to help you make the right choices when it comes to financial matters
            -- a lot of people forget that self-control is one of the fruits of the Spirit from Galatians 5 -- we only are able to experience and implement self-control when we rely on God’s presence and power within us
            -- in regards to financial self-control, this means we really adopt the Less is More Lifestyle -- before we hit the stores, we make a list of what we need and just buy what we need -- we don’t go out and make impulse purchases -- yes, I know it’s on the clearance rack and you’ll save a lot of money if you buy it, but the question is “do you really need it in the first place?”
            -- cheap doesn’t mean free -- and cheap can land you in debt just as quick as anything else -- we need to learn to say “no” when it comes to immediate purchases and “no” to frivolous things, like $5 coffees
            -- I used to buy a coke every time I was in line at the checkout until one day I realized I was paying more for a 20 oz coke than I could buy a whole 2-liter coke for -- and I realized this was adding up -- it was costing more and more to go shopping every week because of these little impulse purchases -- the cokes and the candy and the other things they so conveniently put right at the register for you
            -- so I quit -- I started keeping a water bottle in the car with me, and if I was thirsty, then I went and filled up my water bottle at the water fountain and kept my $1.78 for something I truly needed or wanted
            -- and, men, don’t think this is just a woman’s issue -- men are the one who really have an issue with self-control because we’re not just hitting the clearance racks -- no, when men make impulse buys, they make big impulse buys -- I’m talking boats, trucks to pull boats, new fishing equipment, Jeep Cherokees they can’t really afford
            -- so everyone needs to pay attention and pray this prayer -- God, give us self-control -- don’t let our walls fall and let us get invaded by the enemy of instant gratification

            -- the second prayer comes from Hosea 4:6, “My people are destroyed from a lack of knowledge” -- “God, give us knowledge -- God, give us wisdom”
            -- one reason why America has turned into a debtor nation is because we just don’t know any better -- no one’s ever taught us -- we didn’t have any classes in school about finances -- I was taught how to balance a checkbook, but no one ever taught me about credit cards or interest rates or debt -- even in college economic classes, we didn’t get this type of practical information
            -- no one told me that if put $16,000 on a credit card and make a monthly payment of $250 with an interest rate of 19% that it would end up costing me $105,000 in interest and take 40 years to pay off!
            -- and no one told me that if I took that same $16,000 and invested it at just 12% interest for 40 years, I would have over $1 million dollars at the end of that time -- and that’s not counting the $250 per month I would be saving -- if I took the $250 each month and added that to the $16,000 and invested it monthly, I would have over $4 million dollars at the end of 40 years
            -- think about it -- what’s better? -- giving our money away monthly in debt payments or using that money to invest in the future?
            -- we need wisdom -- we need knowledge -- we need people to tell us this kind of stuff and to give us guidance on our finances -- that’s where people like Larry Burkett and Dave Ramsey and Crown Financial Ministries comes in -- we live in an information age, and we need to take advantage of the information we have available on the internet and in our libraries and learn how we can use God’s resources in a way that is pleasing to Him
            -- so the second prayer is “God, give us knowledge -- God, give us wisdom”

            -- the third prayer I want you to remember is simply “God, give me a plan”
            -- Proverbs 21:5 -- “The plans of the diligent lead to profit as surely as haste leads to poverty”
            -- remember the old saying, “if you don’t plan, you plan to fail” -- if we’re going to get out of debt, we need to plan ahead -- you can wander into debt, but you can’t wander out -- it takes a plan and a path to find our way out of debt and into financial freedom -- we need to know the path God wants us to follow so we can find freedom through Him
            -- one thing in this regard that I do want to encourage you to do is to set up an emergency fund -- a lot of people find themselves without the money to handle an emergency, whether that’s a car breaking down or a refrigerator going out or a sickness or some other type of emergency -- and then they have no other recourse except to go into debt to handle the crisis, which then causes another crisis in their lives
            -- this is one thing that all those financial advisors say -- start an emergency fund -- set aside money for a rainy day and don’t use it for anything except for an emergency
            -- start with just $100 -- even if it takes you a year to set aside $100 as an emergency fund, do it -- so when you have a $100 emergency, you’re ready -- and once you have $100 set aside, then make it $500 -- and so forth, until you have the funds available to handle emergencies without having to go into debt
            -- this is critical -- and it’s part of planning ahead -- we know emergencies are going to happen, so we need to get ready for them
            -- so we need to pray, “God, give me a plan for getting out of debt and moving into financial freedom”

IV.  Closing
            -- let me close by sharing with you a quote from the missionary Hudson Taylor:
            -- “If the Word taught me anything, it taught me to have no connection with debt -- I could not think that God was poor, that He was short on resources, or unwilling to supply any want of whatever work was really His
            -- “It seemed to me that if there were lack of funds to carry on work, then to that degree, in that special development, or at that time, it could not be the work of God.”

            -- the Bible tells us that God is more than capable of taking care of our needs -- He owns the cattle on a thousand hills, and He made those very hills the cattle are standing on -- He has the resources to meet whatever need you have -- as Hudson Taylor points out, God’s not poor and doesn’t have to go into debt to take care of us
            -- the problem we have run into is that we’ve gotten our needs and our wants confused -- God meets our needs, but He doesn’t necessarily provide our wants -- and so we’ve gone out and gotten into debt in order to satisfy our own wants and desires
            -- the only way out of debt and out of financial bondage is to recognize this as a spiritual malady, to confess and repent of our sins in regards to finances, and to seek God’s help and His deliverance to financial freedom

            -- remember the three prayers I gave you:
                        1.  God, give me self-control
                        2.  God, give me knowledge
                        3.  God, give me a plan

            -- pray those prayers every day and move forward with the direction and wisdom God gives you -- go to Crown Financial Ministries and Financial Peace University and check out what Larry Burkett and Dave Ramsey have to say and pick up your proverbial financial mat and walk into financial freedom

            -- you can do this -- you can improve your life in regards to finances so that you can do what God is calling you to do for His kingdom and you can be who He is calling you to be
            -- don’t be bound any longer by debt or by any lender, but know freedom through the One who frees us from all our sins and struggles
            -- let us pray


Saturday, March 04, 2017


[Sermon Series based on similar series from Craig Groeschel, Life Church]
19 February 2017

I.  Introduction
            -- turn in your Bibles to Ecclesiastes 4:6 [read Ecclesiastes 4:6]

            -- tonight we are beginning a new sermon series called “Making Change” -- it’s a series on personal finance and on making changes in our financial lives to reflect biblical principles of finances and to help us focus on what is truly important in life
            -- in this series we will learn four things to remember when we’re getting our finances on track: Less is More, Stress is Bad, Giving is Good, and Tomorrow Matters.
            -- this week, we’re focusing on “Less is More” -- living below our means -- learning to be content with what we need and focusing our time and energy on what is truly important in life rather than spending our lives chasing after possessions that have no eternal value

            -- our society has a problem with stuff -- we spend our time working to make money to buy more stuff -- our time and our energy goes into purchasing things -- our focus is on newer and better and more -- and we’re suffering as a result -- it’s impacting our marriages and our relationships with family and friends -- it’s affecting our relationship with God -- and it’s causing unprecedented emotional and physical stress in our lives, resulting in increased health problems and decreased quality of life -- the business of stuff has become an epidemic in the U.S.
            -- in fact, we’ve accumulated so much stuff, that we don’t even have room to store it in our homes any longer -- did you know that the United States now has 2.3 billion square feet of self-storage space -- that’s more than seven square feet of space for every man, woman and child in this country -- to put it into a different perspective, it is now physically possible for every American to stand -- all at the same time -- under the canopy of self-storage roofing
            -- one out of every 10 households in the country rents storage space at a self-storage facility, while many more have storage sheds in their back yards -- as of 2009, there were 51,000 storage facilities in the U.S., more than seven times the number of Starbucks
            -- why is this? -- as one person explained, it comes down to our “great American propensity toward accumulating stuff” -- as our real disposable income per capita has risen over the last few decades, our spending has also increased -- we are simply buying more and more stuff, a lot of which we never really needed in the first place
            -- just as an example, between 1998 and 2005, the number of vacuum cleaners coming into the country every year more than doubled -- the number of toasters, ovens and coffeemakers tripled -- and I can attest to that -- we have three coffeemakers sitting on our counter at home, along with an electric tea kettle, and a couple more French Press machines in the cabinet
            -- as the 2006 UCLA study stated, middle-class families in this country are “battling a nearly universal overaccumulation of goods”1

            -- so if we’re going to make a change in our lives, one of the first things we are going to have to do is fight this tendency to buy more and more stuff -- we have to remember the key:  Less is More

II.  Scripture Lesson -- Ecclesiastes 4:6
            -- this evening, we’re going to look at one verse from the Book of Ecclesiastes as we dig deeper into the theme of Less is More
            -- before we do that, let me give you a little background and context about the Book of Ecclesiastes -- Ecclesiastes is King Solomon’s record of searching for significance -- it records his thoughts on what is truly important in life -- his quest for contentment and his pursuit of purpose
            -- Solomon was, without a doubt, the richest and wisest ruler ever -- before he had taken the throne from his father David, Solomon was granted a request by God -- God would give him whatever he desired -- whatever Solomon felt was most needed to successfully govern God’s chosen people
            -- Solomon didn’t ask for wealth or for victory over his enemies -- instead he asked for wisdom -- and God granted his request, and blessed him with even more because of the unselfishness of his desire -- God made Solomon the richest and wisest ruler to have ever lived -- He gave Solomon and the nation of Israel a period of peace never known before nor since
            -- but Solomon apparently fell into the same trap his father David did when he sinned with Bathsheba -- Solomon became bored -- he became complacent -- life became a quest to see just how much he could possess -- in knowledge, in wisdom, in wealth, in power, in relationships with women -- and despite what he had -- despite what he had amassed -- it was never enough -- he was always seeking just a little more
            -- but here, at the end of his life, Solomon pauses to reflect in the Book of Ecclesiastes on what he had to show for his life -- how others would remember him -- what legacy he would be leaving behind -- and there is deep pain and wisdom in this personal reflection
            -- Solomon looks at all he has gathered -- at all that he has accumulated over a lifetime of striving -- and concludes that all is vanity -- “vanity of vanity,” he writes
            -- now, vanity has two different meanings, both of which we see expressed in this book -- the first, most common, definition of vanity is excessive pride in oneself -- admiration of one’s achievements or appearance -- and I think it was this type of vanity that drove Solomon’s hunger for more throughout his life
            -- but it is the other type of vanity that Solomon expresses when he says in this book, “Vanity, vanity -- all is vanity” -- this type of vanity is the quality of being worthless or futile -- and here, at the end of his life, Solomon is looking around and realizing that all that he has gathered and possesses -- his wealth -- the material things -- the stuff -- his wives and concubines -- his many palaces and all the other items that he had accumulated over a lifetime -- all of these were worthless and of no value in eternity -- as the old saying goes, “You never see a hearse pulling a U-haul” -- and Solomon is realizing that right now
            -- Solomon laments in this book his vanity in spending a lifetime looking for more while accumulating that which was worthless, rather than storing up treasure in heaven for eternity -- he expounds in this book on the vanity of doing -- the vanity of being -- and the vanity of having -- and the worthlessness of striving after that which has no eternal value

            -- look back with me at Ecclesiastes 4:6

Ecclesiastes 4:6  
“Better one handful with tranquillity than two handfuls with toil and chasing after the wind.”

            -- some translations quote this as “two handfuls with toil grasping after the wind” -- which gives us a picture of someone constantly grabbing for more and more but never being satisfied with what they have
            -- Solomon makes the point in this verse that peace and contentment -- that tranquility --comes when you are satisfied with only one handful of stuff -- that it is far better to have one hand full than two -- that with less you actually have more
            -- why is that? -- because the person who is not satisfied with one handful of stuff is never going to be satisfied even when both hands are full -- they will be constantly striving and toiling for more -- their hearts will never be at rest -- they will always be longing for what they don’t have
            -- as William Barrick points out in his commentary on this book, “contentment can exist where the individual actually possesses fewer material goods, but finds satisfying rest”2 -- this is something that Solomon is just realizing
            -- his whole life he had been striving and pushing for more -- he had been doing all he could to accumulate more and more things in his life, but nothing he had gathered gave him peace or tranquility -- his heart was not at rest, because it belonged to things rather than to God and family and friends

            -- why does Solomon say that one handful is better than two? -- isn’t having more always better? -- no, because having more can keep you from enjoying life and from helping those around you
            -- if you have one hand free, you can reach down to help someone else in need -- if someone needs a hand up, you can give them one -- if someone needs comfort, you can comfort them -- living contented and satisfied with your needs, frees you to experience life -- it frees you to minister to others -- to help others -- it frees you from the rat-race and the seeking of more, more, more
            -- while others race around trying to accumulate that which they cannot spend -- to get so much stuff they have to rent storage shelters to keep it all in -- you can rest in the presence of God and family and friends and actually enjoy life
            -- having less allows you to focus on what is truly important

            -- take a moment and just think about that -- what is important in your life? -- what is it that truly defines you and makes you whole and complete?
            -- what if this week you went to the doctor and he told you that you only have three months to live? -- where would you spend your time and focus for the next three months? -- what would be the most important thing to you?
            -- this question has been asked multiple times over the years, and the answers are always similar -- God, family, children, relationships, being with those we love
            -- you know what’s not on that list? -- getting more money, buying stuff, getting the newest iPhone -- a bigger TV or a bigger house or more things -- working longer hours
            -- the thing is that we’ve all heard this before -- we all know this -- but yet we still spend so much of our lives pursuing the things that aren’t even on the list -- things that take all our time and our energy and our focus while we ignore what is truly important
            -- as Jesus said in Luke 12:15, “Take care, and be on your guard against all covetousness, for one's life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.” -- that’s exactly what Solomon is saying here
            -- we need to define what is important and strive for that rather than continue on in the way we have been living -- remember, less is more -- having less material things doesn’t make us poorer -- it makes us richer
            -- wealth is less about what we own than the lives we live and the experiences we share
            -- Brian Bell asks a great question: “How much of the permanent are you sacrificing to get the temporary?”3

III.  Living the Less is More Lifestyle

            -- so how do we begin living a “Less is More” lifestyle? -- how do we live a better, more fulfilling life than that which Solomon realized?

            1.  We cut back -- we curb our wants and begin focusing on what is truly important in life -- do you really need that new phone or that new car or that new whatever? -- do you really need another pair of shoes or another shirt to gather dust in the closet?
            -- That's why we have to remember what Solomon is saying here -- Less is More -- get that in your head -- Less is More -- Less is More -- Better is one handful with tranquility then a bunch of stuff and the toil and the work that goes in getting that stuff that won’t last anyway
            -- I really want to encourage you to consider cutting back on your consumption -- to make a conscious effort to think before you buy
            -- I have been trying to do that in my own life -- for the last couple of years, when people asked me what I wanted for Christmas, I told them I wanted experiences -- I didn’t want more stuff -- I wanted more time with friends and family -- more times where we’re sharing our lives and doing things that change us from the inside out -- experiences that will stick with us for years
            -- consider this -- this is 2017 -- can anyone tell me what they got for Christmas in 2010? -- or, how about this, can anyone tell me about any purchase they made or any specific gift they got that year? -- probably not -- but I guarantee you that if you think about it, you can probably remember an event that occurred that year -- a time when you were on vacation or at a friend’s house or doing something with your family
            -- 2010 was the year our whole family went on a cruise -- it was the first time Mama and Daddy had been on a cruise -- and I still have memories of that trip -- every now and then, something will trigger a memory and I’ll think about that cruise and remember going on it and the good times we had -- I can’t tell you a single thing we bought on that trip or what I spent money on, but I can tell you about the experiences we had and the memories I took home
            -- like taking a van ride around Cozumel and going on a boat ride up the river in Belize to see Mayan ruins -- these are the type of things that are important -- not the possessions we gather that end up gathering dust in our homes
            -- so the first thing we need to do to live a Less is More lifestyle is to cut back -- to realign our needs and to remember the difference between a need and a want
            -- remember this:  Less Stuff—More Friends. -- Less stuff—More time with family. --Less stuff—More experiences.

            2.  the second thing we’re going to do to begin living a Less is More lifestyle is to clear out -- to get rid of some of the stuff that we’ve accumulated and that we don’t really need or use
            -- how many of you have stuff stored somewhere? -- a storage shed, the attic, a garage, a back bedroom -- now how many of you know what you have stored? -- very few of us, I suspect
            -- this is something I’m trying to work on in my life -- and I know it’s hard -- but in order to keep the stuff from owning us and taking our focus away from the important things in life, we are going to have to clear out the stuff that we don’t really need -- the stuff that is just draining time and energy and money and focus from us -- the stuff that is getting in between us and God and family and friends
            --  Now, I want to acknowledge for a moment why this is so difficult for so many people, and it really, really is.  -- a lot of people grew up without much stuff, so when they became adults, they just began accumulating things, “just in case” -- a lot of people look at their things as a safety net -- as a preparation for the future -- something we might need one day -- we see this a lot with people who came out the depression or who were raised in poor environments -- there’s a real fear of getting rid of something because you might need it one day
            -- then we run into the whole trap of not getting rid of things because of sentimental value -- pictures and gifts that others gave us and that we just hold on to -- I acknowledge that -- it’s a real concern -- but remember, your life doesn’t consist in the abundance of stuff
            -- better is one handful with tranquility than two with toil and a chasing after the wind -- often we keep things simply because we feel like we should -- and we end up with items that are just symbols of people or experiences and that are taking up space in our lives when the real value is our memories
            -- we need to ask ourselves what is more important:  the item or the memory -- and then preserve what is important -- perhaps we can clear out sentimental items by taking a photo of it or by getting rid of all but a couple knick-knack reminders or by scanning cards or other similar means
            -- as Lauren Piro advises, “Remind yourself that you're not casting memories and heirlooms to the side — you're creating breathing room in your current life, freeing yourself of extra weight, and recognizing that what's most important is happening right now — not in a box in your attic.”4
            -- one way to start decluttering and clearing it out is to make a rule that if you get something, you have to give up something -- that if you get a new shirt, you take an old shirt and donate it -- if you get a new book, then do the same
            -- another good rule of thumb is that if you haven’t used something in one year, get rid of it -- if you haven’t used it over the last year, the odds of you using it in the future is very slim, and it’s just taking up space in your life
            -- clearing out can be the hardest part of adopting a Less is More lifestyle, but after you have released yourself from a lot of stuff in your life, you’ll realize a freedom that you’ve never known before

            3.  the final step is to pay it off -- to focus on getting out of debt -- remember, Less is More, Stress is Bad, Giving is Good, and Tomorrow Matters. -- with debt comes stress, there is no question about it
            -- no one likes to be in debt, whether that’s to a credit card company or to a car company or to just a friend -- debt is not a good place to be -- it’s a weight that hangs over your head -- and it’s a weight that is causing a lot of emotional stress between spouses and families and friends
            -- we’ll talk more about debt and the reasons to get out of debt next time -- but just remember, debt is a symptom of accumulating stuff -- and if you have less stuff and less need for stuff, then you won’t be experiencing the stress that comes from debt and from paying for things you probably really didn’t need in the first place -- but more on that in two weeks

            -- let me close by sharing with you the story about a father of a wealthy family who took his son on a trip to the country to show his son how poor people can be. They spent a couple of days and nights on the farm of what would be considered a very poor family. On their return from the trip, the father asked his son what he thought about the trip
            "It was great, Dad."
            "Did you see how poor people can be?" the father asked.
            "Oh yeah," said the son.
            "So what did you learn from the trip?" asked the father.
            The son answered: "I saw that we have one dog, and they have four. We have a pool that reaches to the middle of our garden, and they have a creek that has no end. We have imported lanterns in our garden, and they have stars at night. Our patio reaches to the front yard, and they have the whole horizon.
            "We have a small piece of land to live on, and they have fields that go beyond sight. We buy our food, but they grow theirs. We have walls around our property to protect us, but they have their friends to protect them."
            With this, the boy's father was speechless.
            -- Then his son added, "Thanks, Dad, for showing me how poor we are."5

            -- true wealth does not come from owning things or possessing power -- as Solomon learned, true wealth and  true contentment comes from the Lord and from harmonious and lovign relationships with others
            -- as Proverbs 15:16-17 says, “Better a little with the fear of the LORD than great wealth with turmoil -- Better a meal of vegetables where there is love than a fattened calf with hatred”
            -- Proverbs 16:8 is similar -- “Better a little with righteousness than much gain with injustice”

            -- So as you leave here today, remember this thought:  Less is More -- and focus on cutting back, clearing out, and paying off so you will make room in your life for what is truly important
            -- let us pray
1  [The Self Storage by Jon Mooallem, New York Times, September 6th, 2009;]
2 [William D. Barrick, Ecclesiastes: The Philippians of the Old Testament,]
3 [Brian Bell, Sermon Notes on Ecclesiastes, Calvary Chapel Murrieta]
5 Ron Blue, Faith-based Family Finances (Tyndale, 2008), pp. 29-30