Funny isn't it how things aren't the way they appear? On the surface things look pretty good in many of our churches today. We pop on our happy Sunday morning smiles as we pop out of our freshly washed SUV's wearing our designer cloths.

But believe me, things ain't the way they appear! I'm the guy who travels to churches presenting the No Debt No Sweat! seminar. My goal is to teach God's people how to use God's money God's way. I show folks how to give like they should, develop a workable family spending plan (that's a nice way of saying "budget"), get out of debt, and invest for their homes, college, and retirement. While I love my ministry, it has acquainted me with some sad truths.

I have learned that today people are in a lot of financial pain-but no one wants to talk about it. Today the church openly discusses divorce, remarriage, alcoholism and substance abuse-but we are still afraid to talk about our money. And while we sit quietly by, money problems are destroying our spiritual vigor and killing us!

The best data confirms that Christians have the same financial problems that our secular friends face. As a matter of fact, our plight may actually be worse. Why? Because Christians who struggle with financial pain are often afraid of being found out. No one wants to admit that he's-

• Upside down on the loan for the SUV;

• Sitting bolt upright in bed at 3:00 am wondering how to pay the rent;

• Afraid to answer the phone for fear of another harassing collector;

• Waiting for the next VISA Card to arrive because the others are maxed out!

So we continue living a spiritually dysfunctional lifestyle. We borrow 125% of the value of our homes. We come to church in cars that we finance on 7-year loans. (No wonder banks have drive-up windows-they give cars a chance to see who owns them!) We spend money we don't have to buy things we don't need-to impress people we don't like. Folks, this is dumb behavior!

The facts are clear. Today:

• We're spending 20% of our income paying off short-term debt.

• 70% of us experience living paycheck-to-paycheck.

• Money problems are the leading cause of divorce-4 to 1 over anything else.

• 90% of us won't be able to retire with dignity.

• College kids have learned a lot from their parents-the average student is carrying about $3,000 of credit card debt at graduation.

• The average car loan lasts 55 months and costs about $380 per month.

If we are ever going to be about the Father's business, Christians first must free themselves from financial bondage. We need to realize that money problems are frequently a sign of deeper spiritual issues.

Now don't jump ahead of me. I'm not about to tell you that it's wrong for a Christian to have money and some nice things. Jesus had a curious approach to money-He didn't seem to care whether a person had a lot of it, or not. Jesus looked at hearts-not check books. From the widow and her mite to the numerous street people, the Gospels are full of stories about Jesus befriending and ministering to the poor.

He associated with lowly people and recognized their value before God even when the rest of society (including established religion) viewed them with contempt. He championed their cause and urged His followers to love, feed, clothe, and show them hospitality.

Jesus also had wealthy friends. I have long suspected that Mary, Martha and Lazarus must have had a large home in order to accommodate Jesus and His apostles when they came into town for a visit. And, let's not forget the story in Luke 8:13, of "...Joanna the wife of Chuza, Herod's steward, and Susanna, and many others who were contributing to their support out their private means." (NASV)Apparently, Jesus' ministry was financed by women who had both pedigree and piles of cash!

And do you remember Matthew, one of Jesus' apostles? He was a tax collector and, based on his ability to entertain, probably pretty well heeled financially. At Jesus' death, a wealthy disciple named Joseph supplied the burial chamber.