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When Dreams Become Nightmares, September 17, 2023

Mt. 16:24-26. The strongman at a circus sideshow demonstrated his power before a large audience with several feats of strength. Toward the end, he squeezed the juice from a lemon between his hands.

He then said to the audience, “I will offer $200 to anyone in the audience who can squeeze another drop from this lemon. A thin scholarly looking woman came forward, picked up the lemon, looked at it really hard and several drops fell to the ground.

The strongman was amazed. He paid the woman and asked, “What is the secret of your strength?” “Practice,” the woman answered, “I was the treasurer of the Our Church for thirty-two years!”

It seems that we never have enough; BUT God’s Word tells us there is abundance. Let’s see if we can learn to understand what God wants us to understand. Let us pray…in Jesus’ name, Amen.

I wrote today’s sermon and I’ll be writing the next three weeks messages after reading a book called “Enough: Discovering Joy Through Simplicity and Generosity,” written by a fellow preacher Rev. Adam Hamilton of the United Methodist Church of the Resurrection in Leawood, Kansas.

This really is a message for your kids or grandkids.

For most people, the American Dream has to do with a subconscious desire for achieving success and satisfying the desire for material possessions.

It is the opportunity to pursue more than what we have, to gain more than what we have, and to meet success. We tend to measure our success by the stuff we possess. Now some of you have what I call a “Show Me State Immunity;” you’re frugal with everything.

But for most Americans seeking after the almighty dollar, this is a remarkable and frightening time for so many.

The current economic crisis is also a crisis of faith. When we can’t trust our financial institutions, the stock market, our banks, or our government we find ourselves afraid, and that fear often leads to either cynicism or panic. This may be the most potent enemy we’re facing today.

Many of you will recognize this following quote. When you recognize it, try to name the person and the year he made the address to the nation.

And I quote, “…Let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself—nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance.

“In every dark hour of our national life, a leadership of frankness and vigor has met with that understanding and support of the people themselves which is essential to victory.”

Who was it? That’s right, Former President Franklin Delano Roosevelt. And when was it? He spoke these famous words in his first inaugural address when the nation was in the midst of the Great Depression in 1933. Economic fear seems to scare us more that fear of war, because it affects those who don’t have much to begin with.

Friends, the deceiver can use fear; and the deceiver can use our desires; but GOD’S Word tells us that

GOD’S love, perfect love casts out fear.

But many Americans don’t love GOD and Neighbor as much as they love money. The love of money and the things money can buy is a primary or secondary motive behind most of what we Americans do. We want to consume, acquire, and buy our way to happiness—and we want it now.

The American Dream has become an American Nightmare due to two distinct yet related illnesses, which impact all of us both socially and spiritually.

America is the most affluent nation in the world.

“Affluenza” is the constant need for more and bigger and better stuff—as well as the effect that this need has on us. It is the

desire to acquire! And most of us have been infected by this virus to some degree.

The average American home went from1,660 square feet in 1973 to 2,600 square feet in 2014; that’s right at 50 % larger. Currently the size has dropped to 2,273 square feet.

Today there is estimated to be 1.9 billion square feet of self-storage space in America.

People are paying good money to store stuff they don’t have room for in their homes; and they really don’t need; to impress people they really don’t know.

“Credit-it is” is an illness that is brought on by the opportunity to buy now and pay later, and “Credit-it is” feeds on our desire for instant gratification. Our economy today is built on the concept of credit-itis. Unfortunately, it has exploited our lack of self-discipline and allowed us to feed our “affluenza,” wreaking havoc in our personal and national finances.

Average credit card debt in America in 1990 was around $3,000. In 2009 it was $7,529. Today it’s down a little to a $5,733.

The average sale is around 125 percent higher if we use a credit card than if we pay cash, because it doesn’t feel real when we use plastic instead of cash.

Credit-itis is not limited to purchases made with a credit card;

it extends to car loans, school loans, home mortgages, and other loans. The life of the average car loan and home mortgage continues to increase, while the average American’s savings rate continues to decline.

There is a spiritual issue beneath the surface of “Affluenza” and “Credit-itis.” Hear our scripture again from Matthew 16: 24-25 this time from the Message Translation, “Then Jesus went to work on his disciples. ‘Anyone who intends to come with me has to let me lead. You’re not in the driver’s seat; I am. Don’t run from suffering; embrace it. Follow me and I’ll show you how. Self-help is no help at all. Self-sacrifice is the way, my way, to finding yourself, your true self. What kind of deal is it to get everything you want but lose yourself?

What could you ever trade your soul for?’”

This is the Word of Lord. Thanks be to GOD.

My friends, so many people are seeking stuff and

not seeking GOD. They give lip service to being Christians.

Our souls were created in the image of GOD,

but they have been distorted.

We were meant to desire GOD, but we have

turned that desire toward possessions.

We were meant to find our security in God,

but we TRY to find it in amassing wealth.

We were meant to love people, but

instead we compete with them.

We were meant to enjoy the simple pleasures of life,

but we busy ourselves with pursuing money and things.

We were meant to be generous and share with those in need, but we selfishly hoard our resources for ourselves.

There is a “sin nature” within us, WITH IN ALL OF US!!

The devil plays upon this sin nature. Jesus said in John’s gospel, “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly” (John 10:10).

The devil doesn’t need to tempt us to do drugs or to steal or to have an extramarital affair in order to destroy us. All he needs to do is to convince us to keep pursuing the American Dream—to keep up with the Joneses, borrow against our futures, enjoy more than we can afford, and indulge ourselves. By doing that he will keep us from doing God’s will.

Jesus wants us to have life and have it abundantly.

That abundance is found in following Jesus and

NOT in following stuff and money.

Paul tells us in 1st Timothy 6, “People who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge men into ruin and destruction.

For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil.

Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs.” Friends, money is not bad. It’s the LOVE of money that is a root of all kinds of evil..

Sisters and brothers, we need a heart change. Although we receive a changed heart when we accept Christ, in a sense we need a heart change EVERY MORNING!!

Each morning we should get down on our knees and pray, “Lord, help me to be the person you want me to be today. Take away the desires that shouldn’t be there, and help be single-minded in my focus and my pursuit of you. In Jesus’ name I pray, Amen.” As we do this, God comes and cleanses us from the inside out, purifying our hearts.

Christ works in us as we seek first his kingdom and strive to do his will. As this happens, we begin to sense a higher calling—a calling to simplicity and faithfulness and generosity.

We begin to look at ways we can make a difference with our time and talents and resources. By pursuing good financial practices, we free ourselves from debt so that we are able to be in mission to the world. A key part of finding financial and spiritual freedom is found in simplicity and in exercising restraint.

· With the help of God, we can simplify our lives and silence the voices constantly telling us we need more

· With the help of God, we can live counter-culturally by living below, not above our means

· With the help of God, we can build into our budgets the money to buy with cash instead of credit

· With the help of God, we can build into our budgets what we need to be able to live generously and faithfully

I’d like to invite you to put your hands on your lap, just extend your hands palms open and upright on your lap. And I invite you to say this prayer with me, just quietly under your breath; please repeat after me.

“Change my heart, oh God. Clean me out from the inside.

Make me new. Heal my desires. Help me to hold my possessions loosely. Help me to love you. Teach me simplicity. Teach me generosity… and help me have joy. I offer my life to you. In Jesus’ name, Amen!

“GOD Be With You”

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