No Guarantees

My alarm went off at 6:00 this morning and I promptly hit snooze. Then the Debate began. Do I get up to do morning devotions or do I try to catch a little more sleep? My little guy has been teething for the last couple months and I’ve been feeling the effects of accumulated fatigue on my mood and thinking. Would getting up to be with God make that better or worse?

Also factoring into this decision is the near absolute fact that, no matter how early I get up, my son is up with me in about half an hour. I’m used to, and greatly enjoy, hour to two hour long chunks of time to enjoy God, journal, read, drink coffee and otherwise become a human being fit for society. When I don’t get that time I feel like a Grump.

As my alarm went off for the second time, I found myself praying something along the lines of God, I want to get up, but if I do, I want it to be good. So could you make sure Emory sleeps for another hour or so? I’m not sure exactly what word triggered it, but I had a flash of revelation. This moment was a picture of my walk with God.

You see, I’m willing to do just about anything if there is a guarantee that God will come through. Sure, I’ll pray for that person… if you give me some sign that you’re with me. Of course I’ll evangelize… if you give me a word of Knowledge that validates me as a person and makes me look impressive. Certainly I’ll get up for devotions… if you make sure everything goes the way I want it to. 

Maybe it is a control issue or maybe it is the fear of looking foolish, but for whatever reason, I try to hold God hostage and extract some guarantee that my behavior will make me look good or that things will go the way I want them too. Most of my time seems to be spent trying to tame the Lion of Judah. Let me tell you, it hasn’t worked.

My revelation this morning showed me that I have a lot of growing up to do. I now know that the next stage of my growth is to start doing things 1) because I want to or 2) because they are the right thing to do. And I need to start doing things without any guarantees. This strikes me as a more powerful way of living than what I have been doing so far. Make a choice, deal with the consequences and circumstances along the way and keep becoming the person I want to be. Seems right.

So, I got up and, yes, Emory was up in about 30 minutes and I got to start my day earlier than I wanted. But as we were playing with his farm animals I had a peace I hadn’t had in a long time. I wasn’t able to do it as long as I wanted, but I had made the decision to enjoy my King. Those are the choices I want to make because that is the person I want to be.

Thanks for reading friends.

The spirit of Mammon and the Love of Money

The Bible has no clear stance on wether or not Christians should be rich or poor. It appears that the Early Church contained both types of people and everyone in between. Instead, the Bible coaches us on how to posture our hearts in relationship to money so that it doesn’t overwhelm us and also offers us several Principles on managing the money given to us so that our hearts remain pure, our family’s needs are met and God’s Kingdom is advanced.

In the Old Testament, money was seen as the blessing and favor of God. The more money, the more God liked you. This belief changed over the course of the Old Testament, the Psalmists and the Prophets often talked about the wicked prospering while the righteous were impoverished. By the time Jesus comes on the scene, it was widely accepted that money was not a good indicator of God’s blessing or lack thereof. But money is a form of power, so Jesus talks a lot about it and its proper use. The main aim of Christ’s teaching on money in the New Testament is to promote brotherly love and affection. With that as our backdrop, let’s dive in.

Heart Posture

While the Bible doesn’t discouraged being wealthy, it is plenty honest about the dangers of accumulating large sums. Money has a seductive property to it and, if we aren’t careful, it can take the place of God in our lives. We can start looking to our bank accounts for a sense of security, we can start to measure our self-worth by our net-worth and we can start to make decisions based on their effects on our bottom line rather than on God’s word. It doesn’t have to be that way — the Bible is replete with wealthy people who loved God and served him well — but it is a real danger. We will talk about two common pitfalls which the Bible calls the love of money and the spirit of Mammon.

Mammon – Mammon is the personification of money in the Bible, it is Money with a capital “M”. Jesus talks about Mammon as an idol that some people choose to worship instead of God. We fall victim to the disease called Mammon when we start to value the tangible and temporal benefits of money more than the intangible but eternal benefits of belonging to God.

Mammon looks like finding a sense of security about the future in a large bank account rather than in God’s good will towards you. Mammon is feeling important and valuable because you’re rich rather than because you are God’s son or daughter.  Mammon is when you spend more time thinking about your investments and talking to your financial advisor than you do talking with God and doing the things he has created you to do.

The love of money is primarily about consumption and loving the things that money can buy and Mammon is primarily about accumulation. To those worshipping Mammon, wealth has no use other than to provide a sense of security. Mammon is about storing up treasure on earth and finding value in it. Interestingly, those infected with the spirit of Mammon always seem to suffer from a sense of lack, of never having enough. Mammon wants more, more, more, out of fear of the future, rather than any desire to be generous or to even spend it. Mammon makes money the master of your life, directing your every action to protect and increase your treasure.

Several parables of Jesus demonstrate what it looks like for people to be infected with this disease. One is the rich man and Lazarus and the other is the man who died just after building bigger storerooms to house his wealth. Both men died and their wealth secured them no reward in eternity. It isn’t supposed to be that way.

The Love of Money – The love of money affects rich and poor alike. Again, this is a heart condition, not a financial one. Our hearts are vulnerable to the love of money when we believe the lie that “just a little more” money will fix all of our problems. There are some people in the world who truly have income problems and they can’t earn enough to make ends meet, think bonded labor in Pakistan or refugees trying to find work in foreign countries. However, the truth is that most of us have a spending problem. The problem lies in our consumption, not our production.

Most people who are sick this with the disease the Bible calls “the love of money” love money for what it offers them — comfort, status, luxury, and the ability to consume more and more, be it food, drink, clothes or experiences. The love of money distorts our sense of reality. It convinces us to lay aside our morals and relationships in the pursuit of more because it convinces us that our relationships and integrity can always be repaired once we have earned enough. It makes us think that a good and happy life is based on the number of things we can consume, rather than what we can create. It makes us think that, with just a little more, we can really and truly be happy. But, as the saying goes, “The gap between ‘more’ and ‘enough’ never closes.”

I read an abstract of a study some years back comparing people’s psychological responses to wealth and perceived wealth. This study found that people would rather have $50,000 and all of their peers have $25,000 than for their peers to have $200,000 and the person have $100,000. This means that, even though the person in the second scenario would have twice as much money as in the first, people would rather be poorer on the whole if it means they have more money than the people around them. That is a superb example of the love of money.

That is pretty wild, isn’t it? It reveals some pretty yucky things about the human heart — about our tendencies towards selfishness and the desire to have power over other people. This is why the Bible goes so far as to say that “the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil,” 1 Timothy 6:10. Just to clarify, it isn’t money, but the love of money that causes so much evil in the world.

I wanted to clarify that because I heard that verse misquoted often in my youth as “money is the root of all evil” and that led to the belief that, if having money was bad, then not having money was good. And there are a large number of people in the Body of Christ who believe this. They equate poverty with holiness and that isn’t true, it isn’t what the Bible says. In fact, the Bible says in 1 Corinthians 13, “I can give all I have to the poor and my body over to hardship, but if I don’t have love, I gain nothing.” Poverty and wealth are not indicators of holiness, love leading to action is.

In truth, the poverty mentality mentioned above is still the love of money, but in its inverse form. The poverty mentality loves not having money because of what that gives them — mainly a sense of superiority, holiness and self-righteousness.

We ought never feel pressured into being rich or being poor for those two things are up to God. What we are commanded to do is to use a portion of our money in some very specific ways and to let God take care of the rest. On the whole, I believe that God has set things up so that, if we do what he says, we will prosper throughout our lifetime. However, there are enough exceptions to that rule that it is better to focus on being faithful to do what we are called to do and trusting our Good and Gracious Father to take care of the rest.

Neither of these two — Mammon or the love of money — is a way to live. Life isn’t found in excessive consumption or accumulation. Life is found in creativity, generosity, enjoying good things without being enslaved to them, helping others, caring for the poor and needy and leaving behind a legacy that will make the generations after you better off. I think it is the Biblical model of wealth to prosper almost in spite of extravagant generosity. You give and give and give and yet your wallet is always full. And that giving is pure, you aren’t giving in order to get, you give because that is what you desire to do, what you love to do, and what brings you the most joy.

Prosperity Gospel

I think the Prosperity Gospel has gotten a lot of bad press.

Does God want you to prosper? I think so. What good Father doesn’t want to see their child succeed? But that is not the same thing as saying God wants you to be a multimillionaire. Money is the least important (but most talked about) aspect of prosperity.

“Beloved, I wish above all things that thou may prosper and be in health, even as your soul prospers,” wrote the Apostle John to a good friend (3 John 2). A prosperous soul is the chief thing John longed for in his friend, but he didn’t equate that with poverty or sickness.

Above all, God wants your soul to prosper. He wants you changed, renewed and transformed into the image and likeness of Jesus. He wants you to grow in love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness and self-control. He wants you to have healthy relationships and to love others in the same way Christ loves you. He wants you to grow in wisdom, knowledge and the fear of the Lord. He wants many things for you. How those things happen in your life, your route to a prosperous soul, is uncertain. The story of the rich young ruler comes to mind. In this man’s individual circumstance, wealth was keeping him from obedience and reliance on God. The only way for his transformation to happen was to lose it all. But to take that story as the blueprint for all people is irresponsible. In fact, many of Jesus’s parables advocate the increase of wealth as the sign of faithfulness (see Luke 19:11-27)

Does God want you to be healthy, wealthy and wise? Yes, I believe he does. But that doesn’t mean it is going to happen in this life. For instance, we know that in God’s Kingdom there isn’t any sickness or crying or pain. Yet how many good and godly people die prematurely due to sickness and disease? You and I are caught between the times — between the time of Jesus’s victory over sin and death and the time in which that victory is fully established in every life and every sphere of society. Until Jesus returns and forever establishes the Kingdom of Heaven on the Earth there will be opportunity for the enemy to steal, kill and destroy — in part or in full. This is why I advocate faith in God’s Goodness and obedience to his Principles. You can do everything right in this life and a freak accident or the enemy’s schemes can undo all your work. That isn’t the end, you will be repaid by the Lord many times over, but that may not come until Judgement Day. All we can do is to love and serve God with all that we are and trust that he will take care of us.

Thanks for reading friends.

7 Principles of Personal Finance

Happy New Year everyone! It’s been a little while since I’ve posted, but I wanted to jump into the fray with some of the things I’ve been learning about as I’ve been preparing my messages these last couple weeks on the topic of personal finance. I hope these are helpful to you.

Disclaimer: The Bible has a lot to say about finances, almost more than on any other topic. However, out of that large body of literature, only a very small percentage of it pertains to personal finances. The vast majority of God’s Word speaks about how businesses and governments should use money, not individuals. So, while I am presenting these Principles as solid recommendations from the Word, please understand that much of how you handle your money needs to be worked out in your relationship with God.

Principle One: Actions over Outcome

I believe this principle is both the most important and most liberating, so I wanted to start with it first. The principle of Actions over Outcomes means that it is our job to do certain things with the money given to us and that it is God’s job to make sure it is enough to meet (and even exceed) our needs. The focus is on faithfulness, not net worth.

For the sake of those reading this who have not heard these last two Sunday’s messages, money is not evil. It is a tool that can be used for evil, and it has certain seductive properties on the human heart, but wisdom and obedience to God’s Word allow us to avoid the pitfalls of having money and use it to do good in the world. Being rich does not mean someone is evil and being poor does not mean someone is holy.

This Principle allows us to rest in God’s faithfulness. We know that whatever comes our way, feast or famine, we can be content and know that God will be sure to feed, clothe and shelter us just as he does the birds of the air and the flowers of the field (see Matthew 6).

It isn’t always the case, but the general rule is that, if we abide by the following six Principles, we will flourish — and greater wealth is but the smallest portion of that.

Principle Two: One Tenth goes back to God

Also know as the tithe, this principle is older than the Law of Moses. In fact, this Principle predates that Law by several hundred years. The tithe was first introduced when Abraham encountered Melchizedek, the Priest of God Most High in Genesis 14. He gave his tenth after Melchizedek brought out bread and wine and reaffirmed the covenant YHWH had established with him. The context isn’t extremely helpful, but it seems that Abraham gave this as a form of worship and thankfulness. In any case, tithing is not part of the Old Covenant done away with at the Cross, tithing is part of the Law of Faith and, as spiritual descendants of Abraham, it only makes sense to follow his spiritual practices as well.

Tithing, again, offering one tenth of your income to God, has tangible benefits. Spiritually speaking, tithing is a reminder that everything we have comes to us from a Good, Gracious and Generous God. Tithing reminds us that, not only are our finances God’s, but we are ourselves. Everything we are belongs to him, we were bought with a price — the blood of his son Jesus. And just as we live in response to that Love and offer ourselves to God’s service, we offer our finances to the work of his Kingdom as well. Tithing also offers us the spiritual benefit of God’s protection and provision in our lives. I don’t mean to say that God abandons you or doesn’t bless you if you don’t tithe — that isn’t true — I simply mean to say that the Bible, especially the book of Malachi, seems to imply that supernatural favor rests on those who practice tithing.

The tithe in the Law of Moses had three distinct purposes: to care for the priests and Levites, to care for the poor and to be used in celebrating the Lord. The New Testament doesn’t spell out specific uses for the tithe, but there is still the expectation that the corporate Church will care for those whose work is preaching and teaching, care for the poor and those in need in the Church community, and celebrate the Lord’s Supper.

Last point on this subject — you will have far greater purchasing power with 90% of your money blessed by God than if you kept all of it for yourself.

Principle Three: Pay your Taxes

It seems silly to say this, but pay what you rightfully owe, not only to the government, but to everyone. Though our citizenship is in heaven, we still live on the earth and are, therefore, subject to the laws of the land in which we live. We are not exempt. While our government does do things I don’t approve of as a Christian, it does many good things too. But even if it didn’t, it is still required of me. Don’t pay more than what you owe, but don’t pay less either.

Principle Four: Save/Invest

It is wise to save at least 10% of your income each month and 15% is better. We never know what is coming down the chute and it is better to be prepared. Remember, what happens to one person can happen to anyone. In this life we aren’t guaranteed a steady job, perfect health or freedom from disaster. So be prepared. Have proper insurance as well as 3-6 months of expenses (not income) in an emergency fund.

Once you have a fully funded emergency fund, start investing. The Bible has very little to say about investing, but it is a necessity in this day and age. The US Government has decided that things need to get 3-4% more expensive each year (called “inflation”) to keep our economy buzzing along. So, unless you are getting a 5%+ raise each year, you are actually getting poorer (i.e. losing purchasing power) by keeping your money in a bank account that gives you tenths of a percent in interest each year. Investing is necessary to beat inflation.

I am not a finance expert and I will not pretend to be one on the Internet. Instead, I recommend you check out The Bogleheads Guide to Investing  for more. Or you could start your own business. Historically (also Biblically) owning a business was the greatest investment and the most secure route to financial prosperity and security.

Principle Five: Give to Charity

We are called to help the poor and needy, be they orphans, single moms or folks on the side of the road. Jesus expects that of us (see Matthew 6:2 “When you give to the needy…”). Unlike tithing, there is no set percentage or amount we are supposed to give. Instead, we have the (rather vague) words of the Apostle Paul, “On the first day of every week [Sunday], each of you is to put something aside and store it up, as he may prosper [ or “in keeping with his income”], so that there will be no collecting when I come.” The collection Paul mentions is what he was going to bring to Jerusalem to care for the Church there which was going through a famine.

We are to give to the poor “in keeping with our income.” That seems like the rich are supposed to give more (both percentage based as well as the objective amount) and the poor are to give less, but they are still supposed to give. For the sake of simplicity, I will recommend that everyone give  at least 1% of their income and those who have greater amounts of disposable income can give more.

Principle Six: Give to Missions

We are called to go to the ends of the earth in order to make disciples of all nations. Clearly, not all of us are going, but some of us are. For those called by God to preach and teach and take the Gospel to unreached group of people, that in itself is a full time job. We benefit the cause of Christ in the world if those of us who have regular jobs will give a portion of our income to those called to evangelize the lost.

The Apostle Paul chose to go against this paradigm in his own life, but he defended it for others whenever he was asked about it. Paul was looking for a special reward for himself, but he taught that it was only right that the Church should support those whose full time occupation was preaching, teaching and modeling the Gospel for unbelievers. I believe this is in addition to the money we give to the local church, but you can ask God about that. I think 5% given to missions is money well invested.

Principle Seven: Avoid Debt

“Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another,” writes Paul in his letter to the Romans. Paying off debt can and does eat up a huge portion of the average American’s paycheck. Kicking the debt habit frees up a staggering amount of income that can be used to invest in the Principles above and still have some leftover for personal use.

Pay cash whenever possible. Pay off credit card bills in full at the end of each month. Doing simple things like this make a huge difference in your financial health. Avoiding debt also gives you a large amount of freedom to follow the call of God in your life. It is hard to go overseas for a 3 month tour if you are up to your eyeballs in bills. It is much easier if you have no debt, low expenses and 6 months of savings in cash. Don’t underestimate the power that comes from not being enslaved to debt.

What does this look like in real life?

All this is well and good in theory, but does it actually work? What does this look like in real life? Here is a hypothetical scenario of a single income family of 3 that make $50,000 a year:

  • Income: $50,000
  • Tithe: $5,000
  • Taxes: $6,500 (15% tax rate, this would actually be much, MUCH lower in real life)
  • Save/Invest: $5,000
  • Charity: $500
  • Missions: $2,500
  • Debt: $0
  • Leftover for Living Expenses: $30,500 or ~$2,541 per month
  • Breakdown of the $2,541
    • Mortgage: $800
    • Utilities: $250
    • Groceries: $600
    • Gas: $250
    • Healthcare: $100
    • Car Insurance: $30
    • Cell Phone: $100
    • Miscellaneous: $411 (for spending, chiropractor visits, gym membership, sink fund for car repair/replacement, whatever)

Clearly this family isn’t rolling in the dough, but they are meeting their needs, having fun, and doing a lot of good in the world. Perhaps on some really lean months they end up dipping into their savings, but they are usually able to pay it back with the various windfalls they get throughout the year – Christmas or birthday money, random surprises from generous friends and family. All in all, they are making it work and can feel really excellent about their contribution to the world.

I hope you enjoyed this article. Thanks for reading friends!