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FIRST-PERSON: Financial meltdown — crisis or opportunity?

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–Few would doubt that we are now in a recession. Differences of opinions may exist as to its length and depth but no one doubts it is real, painful and severe. When the market wiped out 50 percent of the savings of people, the financial meltdown became a sobering reality.

Perhaps you may be wondering why anyone would even imply that this global economic crisis could be considered an opportunity. Before you jump to any conclusions, I am no market guru and thus I am not talking about what some are calling the “buying opportunity” of a lifetime. I am not sure anyone knows just when the market will rally and how large that rally will be. I am not dispensing any market advice.

I want us to consider four opportunities that the financial meltdown has provided for fully devoted followers of Christ. These opportunities, if seized upon by the church, have an upside potential for the Kingdom that will far outweigh any losses we may experience in our retirement account:

— An opportunity to witness to the sufficiency of Christ. Virtually everyone is talking about issues like money, anxiety and fear. These topics actually provide a wonderful opportunity for Christians to share concerning their faith in Christ.

When someone talks about their anxious thoughts, you have just been handed a wonderful platform to talk about Jesus. For example, you might admit that financial issues can sometimes cause you to be anxious. Then you can share with them a Scriptural promise that has helped you to deal with your anxious feelings.

An excellent text is Matthew 6, where Jesus teaches His disciples how to pray. Immediately after His instruction on prayer He commands them to cease being anxious. Anxiety is mentioned five times with issues such as food, clothes, our physical bodies and the future. He reminds the disciples that believers and unbelievers have the same needs but that believers have a Father who knows (Matthew 6:32). Thus He tells them to focus on His kingdom and righteousness and trust Him to meet all their needs. You can then naturally talk about how your personal relationship with Jesus has helped you to cope with issues that would naturally create anxiety. Another good verse is Philippians 4:6. The world has questions and we have answers. Don’t miss this opportunity to share your faith.

— An opportunity to practice what we preach. We are sometimes guilty of making claims about our faith that we fail to put into practice. We sing, “I’d rather have Jesus than silver or gold.” Guess what? We have the opportunity to demonstrate that truth in everyday living. If we manifest an anxious spirit or are consumed with financial concerns, we show little evidence that we are any different than those whose hope is not in the Lord.

But this financial crisis also gives us an opportunity to practice good stewardship in our personal lives. It is often easier to give “tithes and offerings” when we are experiencing abundance than when we are experiencing a financial setback. I love Paul’s testimony concerning the churches of Macedonia. “That in a great ordeal of affliction their abundance of joy and their deep poverty overflowed in the wealth of their liberality. For I testify that according to their ability, and beyond their ability, they gave of their own accord, begging us with much urging for the favor of participation in the support of the saints” (2 Corinthians 8:2-4).

We have an opportunity to practice what Paul terms “grace giving” — giving that does not come from our abundance but rather from God’s abundance. Many churches rely on end-of-the year giving to make up budget deficits. Don’t miss out on the opportunity to give through your church in such a manner that you not only meet the needs of the saints, but you demonstrate thanksgiving to God (2 Corinthians 9:12). Giving through the local church ultimately determines the amount available through the Cooperative Program to fund ministries that go beyond your local church. The miracle of the Cooperative Program is that it allows churches of every size and description to participate equally in the fulfillment of the Acts 1:8 mandate. The Cooperative Program is your church’s budget which enables it to participate with like-minded partners in reaching the nations.

Many of our entities and institutions rely heavily on giving that comes at the end of the year. Our two mission entities are heavily dependent on their mission offerings. The International Mission Board’s Lottie Moon Offering is received by many churches during this season. With the decline of the dollar in the world’s financial markets, our missionaries face a depreciation of their resources daily. There is an urgent need for Southern Baptist to be doubly faithful in giving to this global mission emphasis.

Our educational institutions are facing an unusual challenge. Colleges and seminaries defray the cost to students through their endowments. An endowment is money that has been given over the years and invested in such a manner that a small percentage is taken out each year and applied to the costs of operation. Most educational institutions have seen the size of their endowment shrink as the market has declined — thus they will receive a smaller amount from their endowment funds to offset the cost to students. Second, educational institutions usually receive their larger gifts at the end of the year through appreciated stocks. Needless to say, no one has any appreciated stocks to fund these year-end gifts. Once again, we have the opportunity to see God supply all our needs according to His riches.

— An opportunity to teach biblical money management and stewardship. When my oldest daughter Tina turned 16 we helped her buy a car. As a loving father, I attempted to give her basic instruction such as how to change a tire. She was not a very good student, as she waited impatiently for me to hand over the keys. That all change when she had a flat tire.

The church has been “somewhat reluctant” to talk about money. We have been concerned that we might offend some “buster” or “boomer” in the process. Our lack of instruction on this matter has now come home to roost. But the financial crisis has given us an opportunity to help our people fix the flat. A few years ago Dr. Morris Chapman asked me to write material that would aid churches in teaching biblical principles concerning money management. The “Making Change” 40 day Bible study was the end result. It deals with issues such as earning, spending, saving and investing money. The desire of God’s people is to manage His resources by His design and for the advancement of His kingdom. This study will prepare the hearts of your people for a Crown Financial weekend event that will help them put these biblical principles into action. The Southern Baptist Convention has partnered with Crown Financial to make these materials available at a reasonable cost to your church.

— An opportunity to experience revival. I had the privilege of grading for Dr. Lewis Drummond when I was a student at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. Dr. Drummond wrote and spoke often on revival. Once in class he asked whether we would be willing to see our country brought to its knees financially if it was necessary for revival. Guess what? Financially, we are on our knees.

Now we have the opportunity to meet God’s condition for revival. Most often when we talk about revival we quote 2 Chronicles 7:14. We read the verse and call a prayer meeting, and that we must do. But the text concludes with seeking God’s face and turning from our wicked ways. In the last book of the Old Testament God actually specifies how His people can return and the wicked way from which they must turn. In Malachi 3:7 God implores His people to return to Him with the promise that He will return to them. The question is then posed — “How shall we return?” God thunders from heaven — “Will a man rob God? Yet you are robbing Me! But you say, ‘How have we robbed You?’ In tithes and offerings” (Malachi 3:8).

Statistics indicate that a very small minority of evangelical believers tithe. We have been guilty of consuming God’s resources rather than conveying them to advance His kingdom.

Now we have an opportunity to trust God’s promise and experience His provision. “‘Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, so that there may be food in My house, and test Me now in this’, says the Lord of hosts, ‘if I will not open for you the windows of heaven and pour out for you a blessing until it overflows. Then I will rebuke the devourer for you …'” (Malachi 3:10-11a).

Difficult circumstances are the platform on which God demonstrates His supernatural activity.
Kenneth S. Hemphill is the SBC’s national strategist for Empowering Kingdom Growth.

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  • Kenneth S. Hemphill