Sunday, March 1, 2015

Momentum: Absolute Power Corrupts Absolutely

In a letter to Bishop Mandell Creighton in 1887, Lord Acton wrote those now famous words:
Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Great men are almost always bad men.
Do you believe that? Do you believe that great men (and women) are almost always bad? Now, I find that a difficult question to answer. On the one hand, I’ve known, or known of, some great people who were really good. I think of people like my grandfather. At least from my vantage point, he was great! At the same time, I would never believe him to be bad. On the other hand, I wonder: Would he be classified as great by this world’s standards. He didn’t have power or money or prestige. He didn’t have the positional authority to make people change the course of their lives.

More often than not, our world has certain criteria for greatness. Someone with a lot of power, with a lot of money, someone who has the ability to say, “Go.” And people go. There are certainly exceptions to this general rule, but given the world’s definition of greatness, I would have to agree with Lord Acton.


Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Great men are almost always bad men.

The Bible, in fact, is filled with support for his statement. Saul was the first king of Israel, all the power in the world, yet he let his power get the best of him. David, the man after God’s own heart, also let his power lead him into all sorts of sin (adultery, deception, even murder). Or, what about someone a little more sinister, like Ahab. Do you remember that King of Israel, Ahab? The Bible says of Ahab:
Ahab, son of Omri, did evil in the sight of the Lord more than all who were before him. (I Kings 16:30)
Ahab was a powerful man, a “great” man by the world’s standards. Archaeologists tell us that during Ahab’s reign, the nation of Israel was as big as it ever was. Ahab was a powerful king! Yet, Ahab (in spite of his vast power) failed again and again to live up to his greatness. There is one story in particular that, I believe, highlights the character of Ahab more than any other. There was a moment in his life when he allowed his power to get the best of him. Let’s listen to what happened…
Now it happened sometime later that Naboth from Jezreel had a vineyard in Jezreel that was next to the palace of King Ahab of Samaria. Ahab ordered Naboth, “Give me your vineyard so it can become my vegetable garden, because it is right next to my palace. In exchange for it, I’ll give you an even better vineyard. Or if you prefer, I’ll pay you the price in silver.” Naboth responded to Ahab, “Lord forbid that I give you my family inheritance!”

So Ahab went to his palace, irritated and upset at what Naboth had said to him—because Naboth had said, “I won’t give you my family inheritance!” Ahab lay down on his bed and turned his face away. He wouldn’t eat anything.

His wife Jezebel came to him. “Why are you upset and not eating any food?” she asked.

He answered her, “I was talking to Naboth. I said, ‘Sell me your vineyard. Or if you prefer, I’ll give you another vineyard for it.’ But he said, ‘I won’t give you my vineyard!’”

Then his wife Jezebel said to him, “Aren’t you the one who rules Israel? Get up! Eat some food and cheer up. I’ll get Naboth’s vineyard for you myself.” So she wrote letters in Ahab’s name, putting his seal on them. She sent them to the elders and officials who lived in the same town as Naboth. This is what she wrote in the letters: “Announce a fast and place Naboth at the head of the people. Then bring in two liars in front of him and have them testify as follows: ‘You cursed God and king!’ Then take Naboth outside and stone him so he dies.”

The elders and the officials who lived in Naboth’s town did exactly as Jezebel specified in the letters that she had sent. They announced a fast and placed Naboth at the head of the people. Then the two liars came and sat in front of him. They testified against Naboth in front of the people, “Naboth cursed God and king!” So the people took Naboth outside the town and stoned him so that he died.

It was then reported to Jezebel, “Naboth was stoned. He’s dead.” As soon as Jezebel heard that Naboth had been stoned to death, she said to Ahab, “Get up and take ownership of the vineyard of Naboth, which he had refused to sell to you. Naboth is no longer alive; he’s dead.” When Ahab heard that Naboth had died, he got up and went down to Naboth’s vineyard to take ownership of it.

The Lord’s word came to Elijah from Tishbe: Get up and go down to meet Israel’s King Ahab in Samaria. He is in Naboth’s vineyard. He has gone down to take ownership of it. Say the following to him: This is what the Lord says: So, you’ve murdered and are now taking ownership, are you? Then tell him: This is what theLord says: In the same place where the dogs licked up Naboth’s blood, they will lick up your own blood. (I Kings 21:1–19)
Have you ever wanted something so badly that you would do anything to get it? That is really at the core of Ahab’s sin here. Here was a man who had almost everything he ever wanted… almost! What is that old saying? “We always want what we cannot have.” Here is the real oddity of Ahab’s position. He had just about everything he ever desired. The text says he was in the palace at Jezreel. Remember, the capital of this northern kingdom of Israel was in Samaria. The author is trying to tell us something. Ahab was in his spare palace—his second home. Ahab was filthy rich and powerful, and yet, he wanted more! One thing has always intrigued me about this story…Can you imagine what it must have been like for Elijah to bring this news to Ahab? Sometimes assuming the role of God’s prophet is no easy business. In some ways, I feel that burden. But, I bring not a message for you only, but also for me. Brothers and sisters, whether we care to admit it or not, whether we even realize it or not, we are guilty of many of Ahab’s sins.

What I am saying is this… we are the most affluent people in the history of the world. We have virtually everything our hearts desire. Yet, we share with Ahab, that insatiable thirst for more. We’ve grown up in a world that has given us just about everything, and sometimes, that kind of wealth (that kind of power) can corrupt. Over the last year, I’ve really begun to wrestle with this issue. In my reading, I found out some interesting things. Did you know?

The average American spends $1.26 for every dollar he or she makes.? (Do the math!)

Did you also know?

Seventy percent of all Americans live their lives paycheck to paycheck.

What that means is if those 70% of Americans lost their job tomorrow they would have to get a loan to pay their basic bills, because they have virtually no savings at all. How about this?

The average American household has $15,788 in credit card debt, and 45% of those Americans pay only the minimum payment on that amount each month!

But the number one statistic that jumped off the page at me—the one that kept me up at night—was this one:

The number one cause of divorce in America today is money fights and money problems.

There are people in this country, even in this room, that cannot speak to their spouse about money—they just cannot do it. Is it any surprise that a marriage will become tense when people are spending $1.26 for every dollar they make? Honestly, I agonized over these numbers, especially as I thought of the faces that go along with these numbers and I began to think: our Glenwood family has to address this! We talk about sex, drugs, and rock-n-roll destroying the fabric of our society…Brothers and sisters; sex, drugs, and rock-n-roll aren’t even in the same league with money! The way we use money is destroying our culture, and what’s even worse, it’s become normal and accepted.

Now, I know what is going through you minds right now. OK, that is interesting and all, but why is the preacher talking about this? Why don’t we leave this up to the economists and the politicians, or someone else? Why should we bring any of this up in church? I’ll tell you why. The Bible talks about this issue more than any other issue! There are nearly 2,500 verses in the Bible pertaining to how we use our money and possessions. Jesus talks about this more than he talks about anything else! Yet, for some reason, we’ve become convinced that the way we spend our money is not a spiritual issue. Church, I think that is a lie that Satan has convinced us of. And it’s time to set the story straight. Not only is money a spiritual issue. It may be THE spiritual issue of our time. And we cannot continue to ignore it in the church.

I’ve become so convinced that we need to do something about this issue that I am announcing a congregation-wide effort that will begin this spring. The program is called “Momentum.” It is a program designed specifically for Christian congregations. Its goal is to help people find peace with their finances. To help us learn how to use God’s money in godly ways, to learn how to become debt free so that in our abundance we can bless the world. The heart of this program centers on Dave Ramsey’s Financial Peace University. One of the goals of Momentum is to put 75% of the congregation through this curriculum at one time. Now, that is quite a goal! A goal that is impossible if we seek to achieve it on our own. But church, I believe God is faithful. If we set out to address this spiritual issue that is plaguing our culture I have every confidence that God will help us exceed that goal.

Brothers and sisters, I am going to ask all of you to make a tremendous sacrifice of time to be a part of this program. Momentum will begin at Glenwood on April 12 (the Sunday after Easter). For nine weeks, we will meet together on Sunday afternoons from 4:00 to 6:00. We will have a one-hour video and one hour small group discussion. There is also a small sacrifice of money to do this. Each family will receive quite a bit of material to go along with this class (books, CDs, online materials, other items). The cost for each family is $93. (If you’ve been through FPU before, you do not have to pay to go through again). Scholarships are available. But take this into consideration: The average family who goes through this course eliminates over $5,000 in debt in just this nine-week period and they save another $3,000 during the class. In other words, it’s a pretty good investment.

I saw this firsthand in Lubbock. We went through Momentum at Broadway when I was there. In that 13 week period (it used to be 13 weeks), our congregation retired over half a million dollars in personal debt! But it’s not just an investment in money. It’s an investment in your family’s future. Begin now changing your family tree. Teach your children and grandchildren that this is a serious spiritual issue that God is deeply concerned about.

I have thought about how I would communicate this message to you for a number of weeks now. There is so much to say, and so little time to say it. I’ll be able to fill in the details in coming weeks. But before I end, I want to take a couple of minutes to address some of the questions that are surely percolating in some of your minds. Are we asking you to become a disciple of Dave Ramsey (who is the author of this curriculum)? No. I don’t care if you love Dave Ramsey or cannot stand him. You may think Dave Ramsey is over the top. You may disagree with some of his principles. Listen, I do not even agree with all of Dave Ramsey’s principles 100% and I’ll highlight some of those throughout the series. We are not suggesting Dave Ramsey is “god” or that his words should be taken as Scripture! The reason we are using this curriculum is because it is the most comprehensive program out there. The reality is this: This program (though not perfect) has saved thousands of marriages and helped millions of people make better decisions with the money God has asked them to manage.

Why are we doing this now? I know, whenever the church talks about money, people immediately reach for their pocket books—to give or to guard! Oh, I love that I can say to you in all honesty this program is not about increasing Glenwood’s budget. We are doing fine financially. We have been ahead of budget in recent years. Last year, even when we were behind going into December, we still were able to meet our expenses. The finance team has done a wonderful job over the years putting this family in good financial shape. The reason we are doing this has nothing to do with Glenwood’s budget. It has everything to do with the fact that we care about you and your family and we believe this program will bless you!

Finally, some may think to themselves, “This is good for those young families and maybe the college students, but not me…” First, we have to get past the misconception that only young people are slaves to money. Or, that only poor people are slaves to money. Studies show that whether you are rich or poor has nothing to do with whether or not you are in debt. In fact, in many cases, the more money you make, the more you are in debt! But second, if you have everything in order, you are perhaps the most valuable asset to this effort. Half of FPU centers on small group discussion. The beauty of this effort is that young and old will sit side-by-side learning from each other. Even if you have been through this program before, I encourage you to go through again with us. Here is why: one of my best experiences from this program occurred a couple of years ago when Kim and I were in Jerry Hoover’s group. Jerry is an elder at Broadway and a financial genius! He is a CPA. He and his wife attended every session! He was there to help people like me.

I believe that Momentum will bless this church. We are certainly a rich people (by any measuring stick)! By the world’s standards, that gives us a lot of power.

Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely…

May God help us be the exception to Lord Acton’s rule.

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