Epic Fail? Financial Failure

We concluded our series called “Epic Fail?” at Gateway Church in Austin.

This week the message was on overcoming the fear of failing financially.

Discuss ways to apply the message here:

Next Steps for your life group or family dinner.

Listen to my message from Gateway South here:

Notes from the message by John Burke are here:

Many Americans feel like financial failures—or like they’re not doing well. One of the top fears of Americans according to Gallup and other polls is having an Epic Fail—losing everything.

I read an article about Michelle Mone, she’s the founder of Ultimo clothing—net worth 60 million. She said that she still fears failing financially, and wakes up every morning with a sick feeling in her stomach with the fear that she could lose it all.

We might think it’s ridiculous to fear financial failure for someone with millions of dollars, yet the rest of the world looks at us and thinks the same thing of you and me.

  • Americans have 32% higher income than our parents (inflation adjusted)
  • If you make over $1,800 dollars/yr, you have more income that 80% of the world.
  • If you make the average salary in Austin, $49,000 then you’re wealthier than 99% of humanity.
  • The average American has $18,000 of consumer debt. We are spending more than we make.

We’re wealthier than 6 billion people, yet it’s never enough, we still fear, and we don’t feel rich when in fact we are.

Why do we fear financial failure?

If you do fear financial failure, today has the potential to set you free of that fear and even to guarantee you financial success.

How? By realizing that financial failure is more of an attitude than an amount. We need to redefine what true Financial Success and Failure look like because it’s not working the current way.

Jesus told a story of Financial Failure that has a message for us today.

Then he said to them, “Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; life does not consist in an abundance of possessions.”16 And he told them this parable: “The ground of a certain rich man yielded an abundant harvest. 17 He thought to himself, ‘What shall I do? I have no place to store my crops.’ 18 “Then he said, ‘This is what I’ll do. I will tear down my barns and build bigger ones, and there I will store my surplus grain. 19 And I’ll say to myself, “You have plenty of grain laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry.”’20 “But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?’ 21 “This is how it will be with whoever stores up things for themselves but is not rich toward God.” – Luke 12:13-21

Jesus tells us that it’s possible to have lots of money and stuff, and still not be rich. In fact, you can have lots of dollars and cents and be a total financial Failure—a fool. Why? Because he wasn’t rich toward God. What does that mean—to be rich toward God? I think that’s the secret to being free of the fear of financial failure, and truly feeling rich.

Now, before we dive into what that means, let me show you something. Because one of our biggest fears that keeps us set up to fail financially is we fear God wants to take from us. So just stop and think about it—if God is truly God, he created you, the earth with all it’s resources, has all power and authority. If that God wanted to take from you—why do you think he’d need your cooperation? It’s ironic—we fear God wants to take from us, when in fact God wants to make us truly rich.

What does it mean to be truly rich?

  • Well, if you have more and more and more, and it’s still not enough—is that truly rich?
  • If you have more and more, yet still live in fear and anxiety—is that truly rich?
  • If you have more and more but never enough to be generous—is that truly rich?

And I thought about this verse that I think lays out God’s attitude toward this whole topic of Financial Failure and Success.  It says:

Each person should give what he has decided in his heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.  And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work…You will be made rich in every way so that you can be generous on every occasion, and through us your generosity will result in thanksgiving to God.”  – 2 Corinthians 9:7-11

God wants to make you truly rich, but it’s not about an amount but your attitude.

I had this picture of how I imagine God desires things to happen.  People so open their hearts to God and His grace—begin to experience a growing sense of security in every area of life—so that like this verse says you feel Rich in every way—not just monetarily, but in every way–you feel like you have MORE than Enough!

  • More than enough money so that giving is not under compulsion.
  • More than enough time, so that giving your attention or assistance doesn’t come with reluctance.
  • More than enough love, so that showing love and concern for others just flows out of an overflow of your heart.

God wants us to feel truly rich—having more than enough!  But this is less about what we have or don’t have, it’s about the condition of our heart.

Scripture teaches that the key to feeling truly rich is allowing God to grow your generosity.

God’s desire is not to arm-twist us into grudgingly doing things we don’t want to do, God’s desire is to change our hearts to be so full and Rich in every way—and generosity is the secret.


Generosity protects the heart.

What is generosity?

Truth is, it’s different for every person—because it’s not about amounts, but about the heart.

A generous person can give things freely for the benefit of others. At the core, generosity is an expression of love.  It’s an expression of love and trust in God or love and concern for people He values over and above the love of self.  That’s why it’s a heart matter-it reveals what we really love most. Something can happen to our hearts—we can fall into subtle traps that make our hearts small and closed and very protective.

You know, statistically as a whole, the more prosperous America has become, the less generous we’ve become.  As incomes have risen, the proportion we have given to do God’s work or help others has decreased.  Seems like it would be the other way around, doesn’t it?

There’s a seductive trap we fall into.  Solomon, who was the wealthiest man in the world talked about the trap from first-hand experience:

Whoever loves money never has money enough; whoever loves wealth is never satisfied with his income.”  – Ecclesiastes 5:10

We can very subtly fall in love with money and stuff—where our hearts are attached more to this than to God or people.  Our society preaches that wealth can solve all our problems.  But it can’t.

Even a Forbes magazine editor wrote:

“Sooner or later I expect Americans to give up their comic faith in the miraculous power of money. When will Americans wake up to the fact that money doesn’t deliver what it promises?”

It’s not very easy to see because if we were asked what we love more, God or possessions, or the people around us or the stuff we have—We’d never say “Oh, I love money more than God, or more than my family, or more than my friends.”  Well—some of us might.  But this isn’t good!  Why?

Because money and stuff can’t deliver on it’s promises—it’s a trap.  It steals our hearts and then breaks them in the end.  Money and stuff can’t love you, buy you love, make you a happy, or content.  Generosity guards against this trap.

Now, it’s not wrong to have wealth like most of us Americans have.  In fact, scripture tells us it’s a gift from God.

“When God gives any person wealth and possessions, and enables him to enjoy them, to accept his lot and be happy in his work–this is a gift of God.”  – Ecclesiastes 5:19

It’s a gift from God, but the true gift is not the stuff, but the attitude of contentment and enjoyment this passage talks about – but it comes from attitude, not accounting.  It’s our attitude toward wealth that can either destroy us or be a powerful tool in our hands, because there’s a kind of power in money and possessions.

Money and stuff is not evil—it’s a gift from God to enjoy and use, but we must come to realize that there is power, a spiritual force that comes with it that we must be very aware of or it can suck us in and possess us. It can possess us or we can possess it.

Jesus had an encounter with a Rich Young Ruler who said: “What must I do to have eternal life?”

Jesus said, “Keep the commands.” The first 4 are about loving God, the next 6 loving people.

The rich young ruler said: “Oh, I’ve done that since I was young.”

Unfortunately, he was deceived. In truth, his money was his god—it was what he trusted in, hoped in, put his identity in. It was first.  So Jesus tests him to get him to see it:

“You still lack one thing. Sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”23 When he heard this, he became very sad, because he was very wealthy. – Luke 18:22-23

This sounds like Jesus was trying to take everything from him, but actually, he had nothing and Jesus was trying to give him everything! God had already lavished him with wealth, but he didn’t yet possess it, it possessed him. Generosity would unlock riches now and eternally.

We know this because the disciples freak out, like some of you are, and said “Well, we’ve left everything to follow you. And He said and you’ll get much more now, and eternally. But, Jesus said:

“No one can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and Money.”  – Matthew 6:24  

There’s a spiritual force at work.  And if you don’t believe Jesus’ words that there’s a spiritual competition for your soul, just stop and think about why you often feel a battle inside over giving.

  • Why do we become anxious or afraid when talk of generosity comes up?
  • What do you fear and why?
  • Why is there often a fear or anger or insecurity or guilt—like we’re being threatened, like our source of life or happiness is attacked?
  • Why do such strong feelings arise over money?

It’s just paper! Or is it? Is it a rival god? Do we possess it or does it possess us?

Generosity returns true Wealth.

“Good will come to him who is generous and lends freely….”  Psalm 112:5  “A generous person will prosper; he who refreshes others will himself be refreshed.  People curse the man who hoards grain….”  – Proverbs 11:25-26  

If you don’t have enough to be generous, you’re not rich. Conversely—if you have enough to be generous—you are rich. Who doesn’t like a generous person? Who truly admires a stingy person?  You may respect what they’ve accomplished, but do you really like them?  Generous people are attractive people.  There’s a freedom about them. Generous people are not scared or protective—they feel secure in God, not just in what they have.  There’s a confidence and fullness there that is attractive.    And as they share freely, it promotes the same attitude among others.

Generosity pays us back with a growing sense of gratitude and thankfulness to God with love and relationships that come back our way, now and forever!

God honors and blesses generosity

Generosity is one of the ways God allows us to participate in what He’s doing in the world.  He doesn’t need us, but He allows us to choose to participate with him.  And when we do, he says he honors it and uses it to make a difference in us and through us.

Honor the LORD with your wealth, with the firstfruits of all your crops.”
–  Proverbs 3:9   

“Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. Test me in this,” says the LORD Almighty, “and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that you will not have room enough for it.”
– Malachi 3:10

God sets a bar on what it means to be faithful and generous with what we have.  It’s not a legalistic standard, but a gut check on where our hearts loyalty really is.  He says, set aside 10% (tithe) from the first of what you make and dedicate it for my purposes. Then live on and enjoy the rest.  And God says, test me in this and see if it doesn’t bless you back.  In other words, see if you don’t end up feeling better about being generous than not.

This is the only area where God says “Test me.”  And I think it’s because it’s so scary for us to let go if we are holding onto wealth for all our security—it’s hard to begin to let go and trust God for our security more than hard currency.  But when we do, when we begin to trust and take steps toward Generosity, it says God honors that.  There are many people who can tell you of how things just kept flowing their way the more generous they became.  Not that they were getting rich off giving to God, but almost like God saw they would be faithful with what came their way, so more and more came their way the more faithful they were.

But a couple of warnings on this:

Don’t give to get rich!  This is not a if you give a lot you will automatically have a lot—I don’t think that’s what God promises.  I think He promises that if we give generously, we will never run out of more to give.  But this doesn’t mean that we will never have financial challenges.

Secondly, if you have never given your heart to God, don’t think giving your money can substitute.  God wants you heart more than your money or things.  So don’t make the mistake of thinking that giving to God earns our way into his favor!  That’s not the way of God.  We don’t give or do to earn his love and forgiveness.  We open our hearts to receive is love and forgiveness freely given.  His desire is to use that generous gift to change our hearts to be more like his.  So generosity is a result of a right relationship with God, not a means to buy it.

God wants us to keep growing in Generosity, the more we give, the more he wants to flow through us to bless the world.

A guy named Hugh McClellan, 20 years ago, prayed “God, I need to grow in generosity.”  And he said, within 8 months, 5 things happened that changed his life forever.  One of them was coming across this verse in scripture by King David, a wealthy man saying:

“But who am I, and who are my people, that we should be able to give as generously as this? Everything comes from you, and we have given you only what comes from your hand.”  – I Chronicles 29:14  

And Hugh McClellan realized for the first time, that God really owns everything, and it all goes back in the end, and that he has an opportunity to participate in God’s work.  He decided to take God up on the test.  He said, we had made business plans, vacation plans, retirement plans—but never a giving plan, and they made a plan to start tithing, then as their company and investments kept growing, to increase the % they gave. They said they felt like God’s Venture Capitalists—getting more and more to invest in His business.  And the more they gave, the more came in, until they found themselves giving away 70% of what they made—70%.

Hugh McClellan said, “Since making that plan we have had the best years of our lives.  There’s no question about it, God really blessed it.  For us it hasn’t been sacrificial, but it has broken the power of money in our lives.” And if you’ve benefited at all from this church, Hugh and Nancy McClellan’s generosity helped get Gateway church started. God honors growing our generosity.

Gateway, you have been an incredibly generous people! God has used your generosity to change lives around the world. Not only have we seen about 5000 people find faith, grow in lifegroups, serve others, help marriages heal, addicts get free, the abused find hope, hungry have food, and you’ve started 30 Come AsUR churches. Every year end, we’ve had a special Epicenter Project where we challenge each other to go above and beyond our normal giving that keeps all these ministries going. In the past, we’ve built a hospital in India, provided long-term solutions to poverty in Simonette Haiti, built homes for Nepalese earthquake victims, drilled water wells in Nicaragua, and many other life-changing projects.

Right now, we are staring at the largest forced displacement of people from their homes in the history of humanity. Right now 62 million people have been forced to flee their homes and 50% are children!

As the church, when we see inhumane or dehumanizing treatment of people anywhere, we are called to stand on behalf of the oppressed, the marginalized, the foreigner and refugee among us. Right now, a lot of people right here are feeling vulnerable. We have to care.

God commands us to care—“The Lord watches over the foreigner, and sustains the fatherless and the widow” (Psalm 146:9 NIV).


Let’s show the power of God’s church united to do good this Christmas – generous in word, in action, and with our finances!

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