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The Clock is Ticking for Everyone

13, 574, 468, 725, 001 ….. 121,932 …………. 43, 724

Take a look at those numbers and ponder them for a minute. If you are brave and not given to seizures, you may want to visit www.usdebtclock.org to see how those numbers have changed since this article was written at 8:20 AM CDT on October 11, 2010. Unless you are a mathematician, the first number is too large to even conceptualize. But most of us can wrap our minds around that last figure. The national debt amounts to $43,724 for every man, woman, boy, and girl that lives in this fair land. And since tax payers are the ones who actually foot that bill, the second figure is even more telling. The load for each tax payer at this moment is approaching $122,000.00.  It doesn’t take Dave Ramsey or any other expert to explain the implications of these numbers. America is not up to its neck in debt.

It is going under for the third time.

One would think the church would be at the forefront of leading its members to understand both the spiritual and national implications for a generation that is borrowing against the very hopes of generations to come. There was a time when Christians and church leaders saw the need to live prudently in the present and trust God for the future.

Consider the amazing life of George Mueller and the work he did throughout England in the 1800s.  In an era when orphans and the needy were seldom cared for, George Mueller of Bristol, England trusted God to be his financial advisor so he could help the helpless. Muller believed God’s Word instructed him never to solicit gifts and to never accept any government money for his orphanages. Mueller took his own rules seriously. He refused a salary from his church and abolished the practice of purchasing pews. Through prayer and faith, he trusted God to manage whatever monies came in to further His kingdom.

By the time of his death, Mueller’s society had provided homes and education for 23,000 orphans, given away tens of thousands of Bibles, and had supported 150 missionaries, including Hudson Taylor. Near his death Mueller said, “It is not enough to obtain means for the work of God, but that these means should be obtained in God’s way. To ask unbelievers for means is not God’s way; to pressure believers to give is not God’s way; but the duty and the privilege of being allowed to contribute to the work of God should be pointed out, and this should be followed up with earnest prayer, believing prayer, and will result in the desired end.”

George Muller established 117 schools which offered Christian education to over 120,000 children, many of them being orphans.

Now compare that to the cavalier way churches as institutions, and their members as individuals, treat debt. One recent study of churches in the United States shows that church indebtedness is common and pervasive. Almost 85% of respondents to that survey reported their church was in debt, just recently got out of debt, or was getting ready to take on more debt. The average debt of theses churches amounted to 64% of their annual budgets. The most disturbing trend is seen among large churches that often carry debt loads equivalent to 115% of their annual budgets.

13, 574, 521, 725, 00 – Just a reminder the national debt has risen by around $50 million since I began writing this article.

It is not as though many church leaders are not trying to respond to the slavery debt imposes on the people they lead.  Many churches have opened debt advice centers, begun group studies on sound principles of handing money, and sought to offer other encouragement to those dealing with the debt in their personal lives. At the same time, not everyone who says they offer “Christian” debt services is to be trusted. In fact, there are some companies that use the word “Christian” in the advertising and then offer obscenely inflated interest rates, supposedly, to help people consolidate their debts and break free of their financial slavery.

So the question arises—is church indebtedness a reflection of society or the other way around? In truth, our national attitude toward debt and the church’s part in that are linked. Christians can’t fault politicians and national decision makers for their irresponsible squandering of the national treasury when the church turns a blind eye to its own faithless ways of handling money. A number of churches are beginning to cut back on giving to missions, community outreach projects, and salaries for “non-essential” personnel. Often times these non-essential salaries involve things like pregnancy resource centers, missions to the homeless, and other endeavors that would reduce the burden to the federal government.  And most problematic of all are the churches that are now looking to the government to fund what once were missions of the church.

Somehow it seems we need a few more George Muellers today, people of faith who live responsibly with the finances God has blessed them with and are a blessing to others through those finances. Perhaps we need more institutions like Hillsdale College. Recognized as one of the best private liberal art colleges in America, Hillsdale accepts no federal or state taxpayer funding of any kind. That includes student financial aid all while operating with very limited debt. Perhaps pastors would do better to present biblical models of handling money rather than modeling irresponsible financial practices themselves. Perhaps Christian parents could learn to say no to deepening their debt by giving that 16-year-old a new car they have yet to work a day to earn. Perhaps we as voters could send a message on Election Day that we want our leaders to act responsibly even if that means cutting programs in our own districts. Perhaps, as David Platt has suggested in his new book Radical, we could learn to adjust our lifestyles as a better reflection of the model Christ gave us. Perhaps we could just act like adults for a change.

By the way, our national debt has grown another $42 million since the last time I mentioned it.

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