Monthly Archives: January 2011

The Prophet Isaiah & Dreaming About New Cars

I enjoy reading guys like Isaiah; seems they had no fear of what other people thought when they made their pronouncements. Recently I stumbled upon…

Isaiah 44: 13 – 17  The carpenter measures with a line and makes an outline with a marker; he roughs it out with chisels and marks it with compasses. He shapes it in human form, human form in all its glory, that it may dwell in a shrine. He cut down cedars, or perhaps took a cypress or oak. He let it grow among the trees of the forest, or planted a pine, and the rain made it grow. It is used as fuel for burning; some of it he takes and warms himself, he kindles a fire and bakes bread. But he also fashions a god and worships it; he makes an idol and bows down to it. Half of the wood he burns in the fire; over it he prepares his meal, he roasts his meat and eats his fill. He also warms himself and says, “Ah! I am warm; I see the fire.” From the rest he makes a god, his idol; he bows down to it and worships. He prays to it and says, “Save me! You are my god!”

How clever he writes here about a guy who is not content with his warmth and a nice meal from his labors of the day. Me too, given this cold winter. I enjoy a great meal and a warm house and yet I want more; did I hear someone say cabin fever? Yet he had extra material so it seems, and instead of using it for others, tithing it, or even storing it for another cold night, he worshiped it as if it had some type of power to save him. How bizarre, we don’t do that today! Or do we?

I’m reminded… fascinated to catch the Barrett-Jackson car auctions on Cable TV, the wonderful cars, the prices; wow, I melt! Then I look at the audience and the folks bowing down to it all.

I am a car guy. I enjoy looking at them and driving them, though it seems as if I am less attracted to the glitter than I once was. Car and Driver magazine called me today to renew. I haven’t subscribed for 5 years and I’m not about to today. This is the time of year when new cars and trucks are being glorified and car shows come to town; like a little kid I sometimes get excited. Why should I pore over that, and get excited about new models, and be tempted to go into debt? I’ll keep driving my ’99 car with 270,000 miles on it. Lord, keep it rolling, please.

5 Biblical Rules for Preventing Financial Crisis

In this post you will learn some key Biblical insights to help keep you from getting into financial crisis. Part 1 of this 4-part series covered God’s 5 Simple Practices for Personal Finance. Following those practices will usually keep you from ever getting into crisis but will not prevent it entirely. Therefore to help safeguard you, in Part 2 I posted God’s 4 Key Money Management Principles. Having these right practices and beliefs will safeguard you most of the time from getting into financial difficulty. However, often I hear from people that they still got into trouble. How did that happen? It is my belief that they didn’t practice the following:

1.   Get counsel
This seems like the most neglected practice in America today–our failure to ask many wise people advice about our financial decisions and plans. Too often we borrow, buy, invest, and start businesses without seeking the advice of many smart people who know more than we do, and who know us better than we know ourselves. We would be wise to follow these verses before making decisions: The way of a fool seems right to him, but a wise man listens to advice. (Proverbs 12:15)  Plans fail for lack of counsel, but with many advisers they succeed. (Proverbs 15:22)

2.   Learn financial knowledge
When it comes to everything related to personal finances, most people are just not that well informed. Few people are taught financial concepts and practices by their parents or in a school. You don’t have to become an expert, but investing time taking classes and reading books will pay many dividends in life. There are many good classes that you can take (e.g., at Dave Ramsey’s Financial Peace University) and dozens of great books and blogs to read. Scripture indicates that God values wisdom and knowledge too: By wisdom a house is built, and through understanding it is established; through knowledge its rooms are filled with rare and beautiful treasures. (Proverbs 24:3, 4)

3.   Create order – get and stay organized.
Do you know where all of your financial documents are? Everything from insurance policies, 401k data to banking statements? If you don’t have everything in one location, easily obtained, it is hard for you to know where you stand on anything, and to manage your financial household well. It is fairly easy to get organized; buy a couple of large accordion files, label them, and then locate and organize your information: one folder for important documents like wills, deeds and policies, another for banking records, receipts and bills. Again scripture indicates this is a wise habit to have: But let all things be done properly and in an orderly manner. (1 Corinthians 14:40)

4.   Follow a budget and track spending
Most people don’t have a plan for their money, so life gradually takes over, sometimes very slowly, and one day you wake up and find out that you are broke and more money is going out each month than you make. If you don’t track spending and have limits for all non-fixed expenses (fixed being things like house payments and utilities), life will happen. Interestingly this Bible verse illustrates this well: Know well the condition of your flocks, and pay attention to your herds; for riches are not forever, nor does a crown endure to all generations. When the grass disappears, the new growth is seen, and the herbs of the mountains are gathered in, the lambs will be for your clothing, and the goats will bring the price of a field, and there will be goats’ milk enough for your food, for the food of your household, and sustenance for your maidens. (Proverbs 27:23-27) For which one of you, when he wants to build a tower, does not first sit down and calculate the cost, to see if he has enough to complete it? Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation, and is not able to finish, all who observe it begin to ridicule him. (Luke 14:28-29)

Doing the things outlined here will help you prevent most financial crises from happening, but of course not all, such as those caused by a long-term job loss or a large under or uninsured health care issue. The last article in this series The 4 rules of recovering from financial crisis, will help you if you get into crisis.

4 Key Biblical Money Management Principles

Part 1 in this 4 part series was God’s 5 Simple Practices for Personal Finances. This post covers the 4 central overriding principles that God wants us to follow and think about regarding money. Adopting these key beliefs and being transformed in our orientation to money will help us live the 5 Simple Practices in the prior article, and lead to financial freedom and peace. Parts 3. 5 of God’s rules for preventing financial crisis, Part 4. The 4 rules of recovering from financial crisis.

1. He owns and provides everything
Yours, LORD, is the greatness and the power and the glory and the majesty and the splendor, for everything in heaven and earth is yours. Yours, LORD, is the kingdom; you are exalted as head over all. Wealth and honor come from you; you are the ruler of all things. In your hands are strength and power to exalt and give strength to all. (Chronicles 29:11-12 NIV)

2. We are merely temporary stewards
At that time the kingdom of heaven will be like…  Again, it will be like a man going on a journey, who called his servants and entrusted his wealth to them. His master replied, “Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!” (Matthew 25: 1, 14, 21 NIV)

3. We are to be good managers
Whoever can be trusted with very little can also be trusted with much, and whoever is dishonest with very little will also be dishonest with much. (Luke 16:10 NIV)

4. Seek Him, not stuff
Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more important than food, and the body more important than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life[b]?  And why do you worry about clothes? See how the lilies of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? So do not worry, saying, “What shall we eat?” or “What shall we drink?” or “What shall we wear?” For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own. (Matthew 6:25 – 34 NIV)

5 Biblical Simple Practices for Personal Finances

During the past few years, I have read hundreds of Bible verses about money. I have also talked to many people, both those in financial crisis and those doing well. Considering all of this, I have boiled down what I think are the 5 basic Biblical principles that God has for us about money:
1. Work Hard
Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving. (Colossians 3:23-24) For even when we were with you, we gave you this rule: “The one who is unwilling to work shall not eat.” (2 Thessalonians 3:10)
2. Live Small
And He said to them, “Beware, and be on your guard against every form of greed; for not even when one has an abundance does his life consist of his possessions.” (Luke 12:15) You shall not make other gods besides Me; gods of silver or gods of gold, you shall not make for yourselves. (Exodus 20:23) Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. (Colossians 3:2)
3. Tithe
“Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. Test me in this,” says the LORD Almighty, “and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that you will not have room enough for it.” (Malachi 3:10)
4. Severely Limit Borrowing
The rich rules over the poor, and the borrower becomes the lender’s slave. (Proverbs 22:7)
5. Save
The wise man saves for the future but the foolish man spends whatever he gets. (Proverbs 21:20)

If we follow these Practices, our financial lives will be in good shape most of the time. This is part 1 of 4 articles: Part 2. God’s 4 key money management principles , Part 3. 5 of God’s rules for preventing financial crisis, Part 4. The 4 rules of recovering from financial crisis.

MLK day Post- How far have African American’s come economically?

Today is an important day, the national holiday for Martin Luther King Jr’s birthday. As a financial guy, I paused and wondered how far  African Americans have come financially since the 1960’s.

This afternoon I caught part of the NPR interview of Clarence B. Jones, African American lawyer who helped draft the “I have a dream” speech. He was asked how far we have come since 1963 and where we are on race in America today.

Toward the end of the interview, he commented regarding economic inequalities that linger today. He said, “you would have to be deaf dumb and blind to say extraordinary progress hasn’t been made.” However, our country hasn’t had sufficient reconciliation since slavery in many institutions today, and we are still suffering the consequence of it today. Slavery was so searing and deep into national fiber that there is still inequality in incomes, and although they have come a long way, the glass is half full and there is still a long way to go until the glass is full. Mr. Jones was troubled by the high rate of HIV, out of wedlock pregnancy and violence of African Americans. He challenged African American leaders to say those things aren’t because of what the white man did to us, but what we are doing to ourselves and what we are failing to take advantage of.

Listening to the interview, I found the discussion very thought-provoking and challenging, and as a white man I’m left wondering how I could help African Americans achieve their dreams.

Is the ‘American Dream’ dead?

Lately I have been wondering: Is the original “American Dream” dead and will there be a new Christ-centered one? Many of us baby boomers grasped the idea of college, career, family, house, and retirement. A life of success, fulfillment and fun, with big: houses, cars/SUVs, vacations, activities, and the wonderful life in the suburbs.

Things didn’t go according to plan for many people. We spent and borrowed too much, and we lived the large life that didn’t lead to success and happiness. The economy of the last 15 years didn’t cooperate either–underperforming stock market returns, unemployment, underemployment, jobs shifted overseas, and the demise not only of manufacturing jobs but also of higher paying middle level positions. Sometimes unfortunate things of life threw us curve-balls too.

The American Dream for many didn’t lead to happiness but contributed to epidemic divorce, obesity, substance abuse, and one of the highest anti-depressant consumption rates on the planet. Was it a dream or a nightmare?

How did we get here? During the first 450 years – The Original American Dream since the 1500’s, was the pursuit of life, not hindered by oppressive religions and governments where only a few people held most of the wealth and real estate. The opportunity to be one’s own person and own land, start a business, and provide for the family’s basic needs of food and shelter excited many people to immigrate to the New Land.

In modern times the post WWII society and Dream evolved to building wealth, accumulating things, consumerism, big homes in the suburbs, and retirement in leisure – now that people lived long enough to retire. We built great colleges, got advanced degrees, worked for The Company for the bulk of our careers. Yet for many of us, our careers have fallen off track: Companies got bought out and raided in the 80’s and 90’s as exemplified in the 1980’s ‘Wall Street’ movie. Many companies were forced to get rid of retirement pensions in the wake of competition in the 90’s. In the wake of NAFTA, companies moved to the Far East or south or north of the border, sometimes just to stay alive because of labor costs.

Enron like corporate and government greed and mismanagement has led to financially insolvent governments, large corporations, accounting firms and quasi-governmental agencies  in the 90’s and 2000’s, leading up to the worst financial condition that America has been in since the Great Depression of the 1930’s.

For many American’s, while our careers stagnated due to many of these causes, we continued to spend and not save. With no emergency funds we lacked the ability to weather a financial crisis, many even exhausting retirement accounts. Even prior to the recession, the average 401(k) balance was around $50,000 for people in their 50’s.

Is the economy going to have a major turnaround and lift us up on a new wave of prosperity? Is some new technology or green energy discovery going to bring us into a new age where we can once again capture the hope of a financial successful American Dream?

I’m wondering lately if within the Church a new dream might emerge: one based on values and not greed; one centered on community and not individual wealth; one with capitalism and freedom, not government control or regulation; one that lifts not just the upper classes but the poor; one with better education in the inner city and the suburbs; one that ties new small businesses and communities. This is one I hope will emerge.

Does the Bible cover all financial areas?

The Bible seems to cover almost every area with regard to our personal finances, with only a few exceptions (insurance?).

I am no Biblical scholar, but just about every topic is directly addressed, including organization, budgeting, saving, investing, loaning, borrowing, and of course, giving, to mention a few. These topics and others are covered usually more than once, sometimes repetitively, other times from a different point of view that expands our understanding.

At Compass you will find them categorized. For example investing- Proverbs 21:5 seems to indicate that we should take a dollar cost averaging approach to regular systematic deposits instead of speculating without much forethought quickly into a particular investment (like moving everything into gold right now since it is all the rage). Ecclesiastes 5:13-15 warns against putting our savings, usually intended as an emergency reserve, into investments that might risk losing principal. Ecclesiastes 11:2 encourages diversification.

This is wisdom indeed to be heeded; however, it might be wise to be cautious in our spiritual orientation to God when using Biblical money scriptures. It might be easy for a while for persons with a legalistic mindset to assemble most money scriptures, list them out, and then follow them. It would be tragic if their results were fortuitous, and their relationship with Christ was stale and legalistic, at best, or their wealth led them away from Him at worst. Equally dangerous is the case where persons didn’t achieve their expected results, and their disappointment caused their faith to wither. In the Parable of the Sower (Luke 8:4 – 15), Jesus warned us about the successful and not-so-successful falling away, but the ones whose hearts were rooted in Christ were the ones who persevered to produce fruitful crops.

Following Christ and His word wholeheartedly because we love Him and not our life is how he calls us to respond to the hundreds of verses about money.

Does God provide second chances?

Ted Williams

Many people walk around today thinking their future isn’t so bright. Choices they have made, circumstances they have faced, advantages that haven’t come their way, abilities they haven’t developed. Maybe you and I have made many mistakes and faced unfortunate circumstances, and it seems as if things are going nowhere. We make the mistake of comparing ourselves to others whose lives seem to be going along better than ours–at least financially. I talk to a lot of people in financial crisis that think God is punishing them at worst, or at least that He has just forgotten them.

By now everyone has heard of the homeless man Ted Williams of Columbus, Ohio, and the fame and opportunity that is coming his way. I hope that he is able to achieve many great things, and I believe he will, with the help of friends and God to help him fight the addictions that plague him. Do all of us have that kind of latent talent, or will we get our 15 minutes of cyber-fame to accelerate our success?

The unique thing we must never forget is that God loves everyone intensely, and He has a good future in store for us…

“For I know the plans I have for you, declares the LORD, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. ” (Jeremiah 29:11 (NIV, ©2010).

“The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I came that they (A)may have life, and have it abundantly.” (John 10:10 NASB)

I think the important thing to remember here is that the audiences to whom these words were originally spoken didn’t have life easy at all.

The answer to the question “Does God provide second chances?” is a resounding yes. God through His grace and love for us provides countless second chances. The interesting thing is that the mistakes we have learned from and the experiences of a lifetime will prepare us for perhaps greater possibilities to achieve more than we could have if we had not been through all the things we had to endure.

Through difficulty we have a choice to be bitter and disappointed or to faithfully believe His promises. Difficulty teaches us to depend upon and listen to God more, to get our satisfaction from Him, to experience His being more and our being less, to help others, to rely on the counsel of others, and to follow where He leads us.

Does God really care about money?

Howard Dayton, formerly of Crown Ministries and now at Compass, says the Bible has over 2,300 verses, and 15% of what Jesus said was about money. Howard is a solid guy, and I trust him when he says he has counted them. Doesn’t this make you pause for a moment?

I take a kind of common sense approach to things… (talking to myself) “Now if God has that much to say about one single subject, it must really be important to Him, and He must really care about our use of it–really want to help us ‘get it,’ and He must really care about us to devote that much to it and us.”

Wow, it is so encouraging knowing God cares that much about us and wants to help us.