Monthly Archives: February 2013

Jesus’ Observations of Giving by the Poor and Wealthy

This week’s money and stewardship devotional from the four Gospels* is about the poor widow’s offering and religious leaders taking advantage of widows. Mark 12:38-44.

untitled38 As he taught, Jesus said, “Watch out for the teachers of the law. They like to walk around in flowing robes and be greeted with respect in the marketplaces, 39 and have the most important seats in the synagogues and the places of honor at banquets. 40 They devour widows’ houses and for a show make lengthy prayers. These men will be punished most severely.” The Widow’s Offering 41 Jesus sat down opposite the place where the offerings were put and watched the crowd putting their money into the temple treasury. Many rich people threw in large amounts. 42 But a poor widow came and put in two very small copper coins, worth only a few cents. 43 Calling his disciples to him, Jesus said, “Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put more into the treasury than all the others. 44 They all gave out of their wealth; but she, out of her poverty, put in everything—all she had to live on.”

There are many things going on in these verses.

  • Jesus was warning people about religious folks who like to be honored walking around in expensive clothing, and greeted with respect, yet they rob poor widows
  • Jesus watches the offerings very closely
  • Modest giving of the wealthy doesn’t impress God
  • Giving of the poor widow impresses Jesus greatly
  • Jesus cares a lot about widows

I hear stories from time to time about poor people and widows who have had their money taken by relatives, criminals and even pastors and church leaders. Widows are particularly vulnerable since they often don’t always know that much about money, and are distraught. Widows I have known have taken many years to recover from the emotional pain. They often look to religious leaders for help and guidance with life and their finances, yet leaders sometimes look out for their own interests. This is an important warning for those in ministry, whether professional or lay leaders.

The widow represents a perfect example of giving from the heart, and laying treasurers in heaven. In Matthew 6:19-21, we are told to build up treasures in heaven, and Matthew 6:25-33 tells us the Jesus cares and will provide for us. This widow exemplified giving to God and depending upon him to provide for her.

Jesus could see the amount of money that the rich and poor were depositing; he was sitting close to the place of offering and watched. Jesus does that today, he watches what we do with our money, how we spend and give. Are we depending upon him for our future, or are we too careful not to give too much?

C.S. Lewis, perhaps the best Christian apologist of the 20th Century, had some interesting comments about Christians and their generosity:

“Charity–Giving to the poor–is an essential part of Christian morality…I do not believe we can settle how much we ought to give. I am afraid the only safe rule is to give more than we can spare. In other words, if our expenditure on comforts, luxuries, amusements, etc., is up to the standard common among those with the same income as our own, we are probably giving away too little. If our charities do not at all pinch or hamper us, I should say they are too small. There ought to be things we should like to do and cannot do because our charitable expenditure excludes them.” Mere Christianity, bk. III, chap. 3, para. 7, pp. 81-82

Jesus cares a lot about the widow, he was so impressed with her giving that he wanted us to know that she had great treasure in store for her. And he wants to punish those who take advantage of widows. I stumbled upon a site on the Web that listed 200 Bible verses about widows and orphans, so it its apparent that God cares a lot for them and wants us not to exploit them, but to help him take care of them.

*A chronological examination of any verse that involves money and stewardship, attempting to see the new light that Jesus shines on money in His ‘for-us’ but selfless, grace filled, Holy Spirit empowered, and Kingdom oriented positions. This is the twenty-eight post in this series.

Accelerate Product Ideas to Fruition: Quirky.com

quirkyWhile I was watching the Tonight Show the other evening, Jay Leno had a guest on from Quirky.com, a new, really cool social invention Website to help bring ideas for inventions to fruition. They highlighted some great products that people recently invented.

There are all sorts of ways to make additional money, and this one really caught my attention. You may dream about getting out of debt, buying a new car, affording a different lifestyle or giving to charity. Ultimately you might like to be self-employed or financially independent. One of the things people dream about the most is starting a new business with that new great idea they have.

Have you ever had a great idea for a better mouse trap, only to later see someone actually create it and make money selling it? My wife and I think of good, bad and strange ideas all of the time. I think most people do. However, the difficulty is being able to take it from the idea stage all the way through to the end, where you have a successful, profitable business. Therefore most ideas that you or I have never go anywhere, since it is too hard, or you lack the motivation or resources.

The reason you don’t develop your ideas is that you probably lack the money to develop it, investigate patents, then produce the item, and lastly sell it. Most people run out of money in the early stages of startup, and they don’t know how to go about raising capital.  If all things go well, then there are the challenges of marketing, Websites, accounting, staffing, administration, payroll, facilities and on and on. This can all be very stressful, and relationships and marriage can be strained.

What if you could craft an idea and leave a lot of that stuff to someone else. What if you can do it all online for $10 per idea, and when the product is sold, you are sent the royalty checks?  That is exactly what the new social website Quirky.com is designed to do, and it is doing it quite well. You can easily submit your ideas by answering a series of questions and uploading drawings or other things that explain your product. Within 30 days your idea will be either taken to product development (every Friday new ones are chosen), or archived for future consideration. You can also decide to remove it from Quirky.com and develop it on your own or re-post it for consideration again.

Since Quirky is another online community, you can see and vote on other people’s ideas. It is really cool to see all of the new ones that people submit. I noticed a great idea about an electric paper towel dispenser. I voted for it and commented about it in their online community. You can also see products that have been developed and how much revenue has been generated.

Check out Quirky.com for useful gift ideas to buy, to upload your invention, to vote on things.  Quirky has marketing arrangements with many major chains including Target, Bed Bath and Beyond, and HSN Home Shopping Network, and they sell their products on Quirky too. The only downsides to consider is the loss of control of the Intellectual Property and your royalties would probably be less than the eventual profits if an idea became a big hit. Those are the risks; however, most ideas never are pursued or invested in, and your forget about them later. For a minimal cost, you can float your idea out there, and perhaps Quirky will run with it to make it a success, thereby helping you become a success in the process.

 

How to Pick a College Major

Are you a young person planning to go to college? Or maybe you are an adult and want to go in a totally different direction in your career. Or maybe you just want to stay in the same industry but specialize in a particular area of study. Whichever group you are in, you need to go back to school or just continue on in your studies–but if you don’t plan, you might be headed in the wrong direction. Luke 14:28-32 kind of speaks about planning before setting a course.

A recent newspaper article indicated that those that graduate from college with the highest debt are those coming out of arts schools, yet their job prospects might not be so great. That WSJ article lists 3,500 colleges and their graduation rates and median amounts borrowed. Like any college or university, they will tell you about the most successful students and how well their careers are going. Attending college orientations and visits with our children, we had these wonderful top of the class students obtaining great fulfilling jobs paraded before us. They wanted you to think that if you attend their school you would be successful too. One school in particular we visited had a great arts school, and we heard about famous grads that were working for Disney–everyone was impressed and excited, but the odds were low for most students landing a similar job.

It seems as if most schools do a very poor job at helping students pick a career that not only fits their interests, but has great job prospects as well. In addition, little guidance is given when it comes to borrowing. More schools are talking about debt now, which is good, but too often they don’t give a lot of information, because if they do, they fear admissions will drop if students know the real story.

How do you make the most of your college experience to prepare you for a future career?  First of all it is good to have goals and knowledge. The main goals of education should be to prepare you for your next phase of life in your career, and as solid well rounded people that a liberal arts education promises.

How do you choose a good career?  I believe it is a combination of knowing yourself, knowing the job market, and following God. If you set your sights on making a lot of money without considering your own natural abilities and interests, then you might end up being very unhappy. Some people believe that as long as they have a lot of money to do the fun things, they will be happy, but for some that doesn’t work out. On the other hand, if you totally pursue your heart without consideration of the practical side of things, like the ability to earn an income your new degree will provide, then you will either starve or end up living with your parents, and maybe with a ton of debt that you can hardly ever re-pay. Lastly, if you don’t do it without any consideration for the call on your life that God may have for you, you might miss out on all sorts of wonderful things that are in store for you. A case in point is majoring in social work. This career can be one of the most wonderful areas of work, and if that is someone’s calling and interest, go for it, but be mindful that the income potential is modest, so plan to minimize debt and plan for the lifestyle that career will provide. The same might be said for teaching and other careers with many openings, but it is just good to plan appropriately.

It is easy for me to have this perspective now that I am in my 50’s, but it was difficult when I was 20 and was just ‘finding my way.’ It is better to take inventory when you are just starting out in life since switching gears later is hard if you have a family and lingering college debt. Start with knowing yourself a little better. Take an inventory of the things you like to do or have enjoyed doing so far.  What are you naturally good at? What makes you happy at work?  What are the undeveloped talents and abilities that you have? You may have difficulty seeing them yourself. I know I do. What has helped me is taking various aptitude tests, often offered through high school or college counselors, or personal, career or college coaches. Secondly, ask other people. For example, co-workers and friends told me I had teaching and writing abilities and natural administration skills, that I was good with technology and other things that I never really thought of. Having other people’s perspective is so valuable because we can’t often see things about ourselves. Proverbs 15:22 comes to mind, so early on don’t be afraid to ask for counsel and seek advice. Sometimes I find this hard to do, since I have to swallow my pride–publicly admit that I don’t have many things figured out–but I am finding out as I age how valuable this is.

Some career professionals will tell students to get a 4-year major in STEM degrees: science, technology, engineering and math. The following areas seem to be hot these days (sources: Forbes, Yahoo Finance, NY Times, US News and World Report):

  • Medical: medicine, nursing, pharmacology, pharmacy, bio-medical engineering, treatment therapy
  • Science and Math: Biochemistry, computer science, applied mathematics, mathematics, physics and statistics
  • Engineering: software, bio-medical, civil, environmental, petroleum, chemical, transportation, electrical and construction
  • Information Technology: programmer, network specialist, and various others
  • Business: Finance, accounting, business services, human resources, and management consulting
  • Less than 4-year degree: some IT, medical aid workers, airplane repair and maintenance

For some people, careers are not always a straight arrow path. I am reminded of the Sheryl Crow song title, Every day is a winding road.  You might start off your career in  one direction, and through the fun adventure of life, eventually end up doing something altogether different from what you planned or expected. During the journey you meet people that will be important to you in guiding your career. You may have different jobs that teach you new skills, and you might learn about abilities you do or don’t have. I think that is why many people go back to school at all ages to get advanced degrees, study for entirely new careers, or just expand their knowledge of where they are. You are never too old to learn or try something new.

If you do go to school, try to minimize debt as much as possible. Not only will the debt burden be easier to shed, but also having less or no debt allows you to be more flexible in pursuing various careers and interests later. To learn about more ways to pay for college, read my previous article: 14 Ways to Fund College.

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Paying Taxes Cheerfully, Giving Back to Caesar what is His, Mark 12:13-17

This week’s money and stewardship devotional from the four Gospels* is about paying taxes in Mark 12:13-17.

13 Later they sent some of the Pharisees and Herodians to Jesus to catch him in his words. 14 They came to him and said, “Teacher, we know that you are a man of integrity. You aren’t swayed by others, because you pay no attention to who they are; but you teach the way of God in accordance with the truth. Is it right to pay the imperial tax to Caesar or not? 15 Should we pay or shouldn’t we?” But Jesus knew their hypocrisy. “Why are you trying to trap me?” he asked. “Bring me a denarius and let me look at it.” 16 They brought the coin, and he asked them, “Whose image is this? And whose inscription?” “Caesar’s,” they replied.17 Then Jesus said to them, “Give back to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s.” And they were amazed at him.

We have studied in previous articles, from a Biblical standpoint, we are not owners, but temporary caretakers or stewards of what God has entrusted us with. We can’t take anything with us when we die, so it should seem obvious that money and material things are just temporary. Also, God always existed, and created all matter from nothing, so it is again obvious that we are not owners.

When talking about tithing, interestingly we are encouraged to offer our tithe. In Malachi 3:8-12, not doing so was equated to robbing God. The ‘take-away’ from this is that we don’t give a tithe to God, we offer back to him what is his already. The question the Pharisees posed was whom to “pay”; he answered, “give back.”  He owns the tithe, and when we don’t give it to him we are withholding what we owe him and are in essence stealing from him. Jesus said the same applies to our taxes.

Jesus chose to use the same language when questioned by the Pharisees. Jesus could have said, give to Caesar what the tax collectors say is due him because of the percentage currently charged, but that would have fallen short, and it would have been rather legalistic. Jesus could have said, don’t pay the tax to an unholy government entity. Jesus’ ministry was never about breaking laws or legalism. On face value he outsmarted the Pharisees too with his answer, but he did even more.

He did more by teaching them and all generations since that even after they tithe, the money isn’t theirs. Caesar already owns a percentage of it, and when there is money left over, man doesn’t owns it–the truth is that God owns that part too.

There was a time in my life that I resented paying taxes, because that represented money that I worked hard for and wanted for myself. Taxes seem excessive when you consider that we pay income tax to the state and federal government and sometimes at the local level. We pay payroll and self-employment tax for Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid and Unemployment. Real estate is taxed annually in many areas, and many of the things we buy have sales tax. If you sell them at a profit, you have tax on that too. Some states have inheritance tax, and the federal government has gift and estate tax when we die. Corporations pay tax. There is tax on our investments in the form of long-term and short-term capital gain taxes, and tax on the dividends. Bonds we buy for income have income tax, although some are tax-exempt if they are municipal bonds. When we travel, many roads and bridges have tolls, and the taxes on gasoline, airline tickets and hotel rooms are pretty high. The  Supreme Court says that National Health Care is a form of taxation, and some have joked that the proposed Carbon Tax is tax on the air we breath.

I also resented tithes–not only did government want my money but God did too. And it seemed everyone wanted in my pocket; countless charities were always asking for more, and the United Way once a year wanted to increase my salary deduction.

Don’t get me wrong, I still am against excessive taxes, but when I walk this path of stewardship more, my heart and mind  has been changing. The Beatles concluded their song The Taxman, “you are working for no one but me.” But in truth Paul taught those in Colosse, “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men.” Colossians 3:23.

Finances are a heart purifier, at least they can be. Jesus taught us to avoid just looking at taxes angrily and paying them in a huff of resentment. I hear him say to me, “In integrity, give the government theirs. You, (insert your name), you serve Christ. The taxing authorities have no leverage over your physical, emotional, spiritual or even your financial condition. You offer me tithes, you trust in me, with all aspects of your future, for I own and control everything. I will give you everything you need. Be different. With full integrity pay all the taxes you owe, don’t try to cheat on them, but pay your taxes cheerfully with a smile, knowing that you serve a good and just God who loves and cares for you.”

What do you think about all of this? Please comment below.

*A chronological examination of any verse that involves money and stewardship, attempting to see the new light that Jesus shines on money in His ‘for-us’ but selfless, grace filled, Holy Spirit empowered, and Kingdom oriented positions. This is the twenty-seventh post in this series.

Year End Benchmark Rates of Return

A couple of times per year I publish this benchmark return report for investment portfolios.  This is useful for those who use a buy and hold approach to holding their investments, in various common investment allocations of stocks and bonds. I provide this so that you can compare your investment returns to what the market was doing.

For this report I compare 5 models to help demonstrate different risk levels: very conservative ‘Volvo portfolio’, conservative ‘Lexus portfolio’, moderate ‘Acura portfolio’, aggressive ‘BMW portfolio’, and lastly the very aggressive ‘Porsche model portfolio’ – each investing in a different mixture of cash, bonds and stock, as well as different allocations of large, mid and small cap stock and foreign stocks.

The table below compares the GROSS rates of return that you would have earned in any of these portfolios if you invested in index funds that held investments identical to the index. Gross rates of return are before any expenses, such as: * Mutual fund management fees and expenses * Taxes * Commissions * Transaction costs * Financial planner’s management fee.

Historical Rates of Return as of 12/31/2012
Portfolio Model ‘Volvo’ ‘Lexus’ ‘Acura’ ‘BMW’ ‘Porsche’
Model Type Very Conservative Conservative Moderate Aggressive Very Aggressive
1 year 8.76 10.40 12.04 13.69 15.36
3 year 7.40 8.04 8.21 9.09 9.79
5 year 3.77 3.32 2.50 2.23 1.82
10 year 6.18 6.68 7.06 7.62 8.21
20 year 7.42 7.34 7.36 7.54 7.67
30 year 9.17 9.40 9.51 9.80 10.07

 

If you do your own investing, active or passive, or hire someone to invest for you, it is prudent to make sure that you are doing as good as the benchmark net of expenses. The benchmark is a minimum expectation of rate-of-return that you should be achieving. It is a way to hold yourself or your investment adviser accountable. It is important that you know why your investments are either not doing as well or are doing much better than the benchmark. Either could be cause for concern: it could be merely a timing issue or it could be because your adviser made a mistake or is not doing his/her job. It is important that you are in the know, asking the right questions, and getting the right answers.

What is asset allocation? You may want to read my article entitled The Asset Allocation Style of Investing, which highlighted this method of investing made popular from the study by Garry P. Brinson, Brian D. Singer, and Gilbert L. Beebower; they found that over 91% of long-term portfolio performance is derived from the decisions made regarding asset allocation, and not from market timing or security selection.

Footnotes:

Asset allocation investors do not just invest in funds similar to the S&P 500 or the Dow (the most common benchmarks), therefore they should compare their results to aggregated benchmarks that include indices that closely match their allocations.

Timing: In order to have earned these rates of return, you would have had to invest at the same precise time of the time period represented. Fluctuations in the market can make a drastic difference in your actual rate of return, so if you invested a lump sum of money on a day that the market was down or up, or you invested each month (perhaps using dollar-cost-averaging), you may and will experience quite a bit different results from those illustrated here.

Historical Perspective of Indexing: Index fund investing (passive) has been popular because people hear in the media frequently that a majority of actively managed mutual funds do not consistently beat their respective index.

Actively managed mutual funds usually have higher expenses, thus making it more challenging for them to out-perform their passive brethren. However, investors may want to consider looking for mutual funds that beat the indexes (net of expenses); they might even find some that have a lower risk (volatility) than the index.

The preference to invest in index funds is a fairly recent phenomenon. Now you can even invest in ETFs (exchange traded funds), a hybrid of index investing that has emerged in the last several years. The charts below illustrate returns all the way back to 30 years; however, index funds and ETF’s didn’t exist  back that far for each of the indexes used to make these calculations.

The indexes used to compile the historical rates of return are below. Keep in mind there are dozens of different indices. Many feel that the ones used here most closely represent the benchmark for each category. There is some differing of opinion in the investment community as to the best indices that should be used for benchmarking. * Cash – Money Market (3-month CD * Intermediate Long Bond – Lehman Bros Aggregate Bond * Large Cap Value — S&P 500 * Mid Cap — Russell Mid-Cap Index * Small Cap – Russell 2000 * International Equity – MSCI EAFE Equity Index.

Past Performance an Indication of Future Performance? Anyone who as ever glanced at any financial product advertising or literature will see “Past results are not an indication of future performance” pasted all over the place. This sentence is required by the security industry’s regulating authorities and it is very true. However, in order to make intelligent decisions, historical information is very useful for comparison purposes, in addition to a lot of other financial information, including your own personal financial plan.

What To Do If Facing a Possible Foreclosure

The recession officially started December 2007 and ended June of 2009; however, many homeowners struggled to stay current on their mortgage before that time, and some still do now. Those in the financial industry have been learning how to help people either avoid or survive foreclosure of their homes, while at the same time the whole process evolved.

Throughout this recession, there have been several programs and initiatives to help homeowners stay in their homes and avoid foreclosure.  Since about 2007 they started out as ways to give incentives to banks for offering loan modifications.  The help of banks, credit unions and the Federal government has often been slow, inconsistent and confusing, and although millions have been helped to stay in their homes, several million people still lost their homes in foreclosure. Some people have been helped with lower payments, by making payments, and by obtaining less burdensome arrangements to lower late fees on payments in arrears. Federal money has also been available to help them too.

Since 2009 lenders have staffed up their hardship or modification department, and have been more flexible at helping people either stay in their homes or  dispose of them through short-sales or deeds in lieu of foreclosures. These two methods help when the home owner needs to sell or transfer the deed back to the lender, because they have no or negative equity–even a modification isn’t enough or they don’t qualify for one.  The peak of people being helped was in 2010, but the percentage of short sales and deeds in lieu of foreclosure increased. In addition, more government cash has been made available within the last year or two. HUD has an updated report of the trends through mid-2012.

What have we learned about helping people:

  • Contact your lender and certified HUD counseling agency in your area, and don’t pay anyone for help or you will get ripped off. Keep excellent records of who you speak to, assignments, and copies of everything.
  • Don’t give up until it is over, even if you have been turned down for modification or short sale already, and you are still in your home. Lenders, the government and your situation may have changed, so it never hurts to try all over again and again. I have seen people turned down numerous times for short sales, modifications and refinance at lower rate and payment, and later they were granted what they were seeking.
  • When it is over, it is not the end of the world. If  you have to foreclose, do a short sale or deed in lieu, and move to a rental; it is hard but it is not the end.  There are even ‘cash for keys’ programs to help you move and to make rent deposits. After a few years of improving credit, paying off debt and saving money you will recover and end up with a home again- if you want to and it makes financial sense.
  • Don’t move unless you are forced to because you have reached the end of the foreclosure process and you get a sheriff sale notice. I have seen many people move out too early and end up worse off in the long run. In the meantime, stay in your home, keep it in good shape, and pay homeowner’s insurance. Try to pay the second mortgage and real estate taxes if you can. Since you will not be paying a mortgage or rent, you may have extra money.  Use that to pay off other debts and for necessary things that you couldn’t afford before, such as car repairs or tires- not on vacations and unnecessary things. Housing counselors disagree on accumulating savings versus paying off other debt, so talk to a HUD counselor in your area.
  • Learn throughout the process. Even though you may not have brought this upon yourself, perhaps because it was caused by unemployment or an uninsured health problem–still use this experience for character building; also become great at personal finances and take classes such as Dave Ramsey Financial Peace University. When life improves, having learned to be excellent at personal finances and more focused on what is truly important, you will be better positioned to design a plan for your next chapter of life while avoiding some of the same problems.
  • You are not your stuff. Hold your head high. Focus on what is really important, such as family, faith, friends, and integrity. Pray throughout the process for help, direction, financial miracles, and wisdom.

Lastly, if you live in one of the severe housing crisis states like Florida or Nevada, there is even more help. Ohio, where I live, is one of the states hit hard by this crisis, and additional monies have been appropriated here. If you live in Ohio, read more about it in a recent Columbus Dispatch article. Your local HUD office will tell you about the latest programs in your state.

Is Self Denial Part of Christian Stewardship? Mark 8:34-38

This week’s money and stewardship devotional from the four Gospels* is about taking up one’s cross, from Mark 8:34-38.

34 Then he called the crowd to him along with his disciples and said: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. 35 For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me and for the gospel will save it. 36 What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? 37 Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul? 38 If anyone is ashamed of me and my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of Man will be ashamed of them when he comes in his Father’s glory with the holy angels.”

Jesus took up his cross, and bore it well, setting an example for us. Jesus knew his destiny, he knew the life he choose to live, what it meant every day, and how his days would end. After fasting for 40 days in the desert, Jesus was tempted, and he was offered the world in Matthew 4:8-10. Jesus triumphed over Satan that day, and the die was cast when he said in the 11th verse: “Away from me, Satan! For it is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only.’

The life of the disciple is one of choosing to follow Christ, instead of some other route the world offers. It is the life of a steward, managing one’s life according to Christ’s leadings versus the life of the owner, managing things for his/her own desires… “denying themselves,” as Christ succinctly put it.

“Taking up their cross” is an interesting phrase. Jesus’ cross was the life he chose. A life not for himself. A life with a glorious but extremely painful ending. At that time, no one knew what Christ was talking about. Christ took up his cross when he chose to come to earth in human form. He took it up when he chose a life of ministry. When Jesus hung on the cross he cried out “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Even though Christ knew his destiny, in pain in humanity he stood between earth and heaven, and his humanity cried out. It was as if Christ was choosing every minute to endure the pain he was in until a natural death. It was as if he was wringing out the last drop of sin he took upon himself–ultimately one of the toughest and lingering ones, which is the denial of self. We cry out in like fashion when we are in pain, when life doesn’t go our way with our work, family, health, and even our finances. I don’t like it, but it seems as if God on occasion doesn’t quickly deliver us because he knows life can be a process of daily carrying our cross of choosing him and denying self.

Jesus knew his destiny, a life of purpose, pain and glorious eternity. Perhaps when the apostles saw Jesus carrying his cross or hanging from it, they remembered the foreshadowed message. When did it crystallize in the apostles minds what a life of following Christ meant? Probably not for many months or maybe years after the crucifixion. Eventually, the apostles, like us, realized that the life of the disciple and steward is one that often entails self denial. It is managing our budgets, our impulse spending, giving and tithing, careers, and families for eternal purposes, for, like Christ, we too know our destiny is a  glorious one.

What do you think about all of this? Please comment below.

*A chronological examination of any verse that involves money and stewardship, attempting to see the new light that Jesus shines on money in His ‘for-us’ but selfless, grace filled, Holy Spirit empowered, and Kingdom oriented positions. This is the twenty-sixth post in this series.

Weekending Financial Scorecard 2/8/13

Here’s the most important financial data that you need to know to be fairly well informed. Each Friday evening I post the data of 8 financial market’s, and 10 economic indicator’s weekending scorecard. As of 2/8/2013:

FINANCIALS: Overall indicators were mixed this week for currencies, stock market, interest rates, and gold- the only noteworthy and positive movements are the decreases in crude oil futures which might indicate lower fuel prices, and consumer spending is up this year. Another Recession Coming?*  A few months ago, it was looking like a double-dip recession was likely for 2013, however I’m now thinking this might be avoided, but it is too early to tell: I like the slightly good employment news, a little uptick in consumer spending vs last year. On the negative side manufacturing output remains down, high Federal deficit and debt, offset by some positive indications in automobile sales, residential real estate and household debt reduction.

  • Mortgage Rates DECREASE: 30-year last/this week: 3.60%/3.59%, 15-year 2.91%/2.89%
  • Dow Jones Industrial Average DECREASE from 14,009 to 13,992 (avg. of 30 companies, highest all time 14,164 10/9/07)
  • S&P 500 INCREASE from 1513 to 1517 (all time 1565 10/9/2007)
  • US Treasury’s DECREASE: 2-Year Note from .273% to .258%, 10-Year Note from 2.027% to 1.950%
  • Crude Oil Futures DECREASE from $97.61 to $95.78
  • Gold prices INCREASE from $1,657 to $1,668 (High $1,895 9/6/11) per ounce
  • Euro DECREASE from 1.3644 to 1.3370 (2011 high 1.48 5/11, all time 1.59 7/2008)
  • US Dollar Index INCREASE from $79.20 to $80.22

RECESSION WATCH SCORECARD: *

FINANCIALS:* 3 NEGATIVE, 1 Neutral vs 3 POSITIVE 🙂

  • Gross Domestic Product (GDP) – Positive, GDP increased at an annual rate of 2.7%, for the third quarter, however this would only add up to 2.1% for 2012. We really need to see GDP in the 4% – 6% range to have a fueled economic recovery.
  • Manufacturing output – Negative, this is a good indication of how industry is doing; it was modestly increasing this past winter, leading to some guarded optimism, but for almost the last 6 months it has decreased to Spring 2009 levels.
  • US Consumer Spending – Neutral, is currently at 77 compared to peaks last year of 96 in March, and 51 one year ago. Overall the past 12 months has not been strong, holiday spending was down, however this year we are starting to see an uptrend. Economists watch consumers’ spending trends to try to track their confidence in the economy. The more confidence consumers have, the more willing they are to spend money.
  • US Household Debt Service – Positive, as a percentage of people’s disposable income is at 10.69% (June) and has been steadily decreasing from its 10 year high of about 14% in the 3rd quarter of 2008.
  • The Federal Deficit – Negative, is projected by the Congressional Budget Office to be $1.1 trillion for 2013; this will make 5 years in a row it has exceeded $1 trillion, and this doesn’t include all the money our Federal government borrows.
  • The US National debt – Negative exceeds $16.4 trillion.
  • Consumer Price Index – Positive annualized monthly growth rate through November for the CPI in 2012 was 1.80%. The long term-term average annualized rate of 3.63%. The CPI is the most common indicator of inflation.

JOBS: 1 POSITIVE, 0 NEGATIVE, 2 STAGNANT 😐

  • Monthly change in non-farm payrolls – Flat: 155,000 new jobs were added in December, compared to 146,000 added in November, and 171,000 in October.
  • Unemployment – Flat: December’s rate of 7.8 matched the revised November rate of 7.8% (previously estimated to be 7.7% – which would have been the lowest since December 2008). This is better than some 2012 months over 8% – showing very little improvement. However, keep in mind this ‘Official Unemployment’ rate only tracks those who are without jobs and have actively sought work within the past 4 weeks. Since this statistic does not track all people who are not working, some websites report that the ‘Real Unemployment’ rate is about 15% when all able-bodied people of working age are considered. For a historical perspective: The unemployment rate during the Great Recession peaked at 10.10% in October 2010. In 2012 it has varied in the range of 8.10% – 8.30%, so we are not seeing a lot of change this year. It could be worse when you consider that during the Great Depression it peaked at about 25% in 1933.
  • Initial Jobless Claims for Unemployment Insurance – Positive: The four week rolling average stayed around 360,000. Looking back 52 weeks it averaged about 373,000,  we are seeing a slight improvement. This number is much better than it was in 2009 when it peaked at over 650,000, better than 2010 when it went from nearly 500,000 to the the low 400,000′s and for 2011 when claims were in the low to mid 400,000′s. The lowest we have seen this rate in 10 years is 282,000 in January of 2006, and the earlier part of the last decade we saw the average similar to what we are seeing now. During the Great Depression from 1929 – 1941 there was not the same level of unemployment insurance that we have today, although unions may have had some. It wasn’t until the Social Security act encouraged it in 1935. Today we have the Federal Unemployment Tax Act (FUTA) tax to fund state agencies.

*For an overview of GDP, Unemployment and Recession indicators, see previous article A primer on recession indicators, Gross Domestic Product and Unemployment.

Work Tax Deductions, Job Search Deductions and Job Search Help

You are eligible get a tax deduction for some unreimbursed expenses from work, and for those that had expenses looking for work or relocating. While on the latter subject, first I wanted to provide some ideas for those looking for work.

If you are unemployed or underemployed and are looking for work, there is help for you and your job search, and help through tax deductions for some of the expense of looking.

Today many churches and housing agencies have job search workshops and some have even hired experts to counsel people about all of the myriad of issues you need to know if you are looking for work. Vineyard Columbus (OH) has done just that. Some government agencies and social groups also provide the same. There are groups for executives, non executives and those over age 50 providing skills, support and encouragement that you may need for what often is a long-term process. Scioto Ridge is an excellent group in Columbus Ohio that helps many people.

Meeting one-on-one with experts and attending workshops is extremely important to getting hired. You will learn how to write a good resume, network, use LinkedIn and other social media, and interview well. Do not assume you know how to do all of these things, especially if you have been out of work for a while; do not go at this lonely and aggravating process alone. Some banks are even hiring firms to consult out of work people struggling to make mortgage payments, such as 5/3 Bank headquartered in Cincinnati Ohio hiring Next Job Inc.

Now that it is tax time, be acutely aware of the tax deductions that you might be eligible for. The list includes: courses to improve you skills and employment agency fees (see IRS Pub 970), mileage and parking for interviews, preparing and mailing resumes, and relocation expenses (see IRS Pub 521).

Do you incur expenses for your job from time to time, but don’t ask to get reimbursed? Perhaps you picked up some inexpensive office supplies, or donated to a project out of your pocket.  Often teachers buy their own class room supplies. If you are not reimbursed by your employer for these expenses, they could qualify for a miscellaneous deduction, as long as they were  required to do your job as an employee and were “ordinary and necessary” to your business or trade.

Should Christians be Great Tippers?

Have you seen the story of the $0 tip note left by pastor Alios Bell and a rude comment to the waitress, a few days ago in the news? If you have ever worked in a restaurant, as a server, bar tender or host, you prefer to not work Sundays. Christians have a reputation of being terrible tippers. This isn’t true for all Christians of course, but it is bad behavior, and it seems we need to break this habit.

Why should Christians be great tippers?  First of all, the person serving you, is working hard to attend to all of your dining needs, so you should show your appreciation to them.  Often restaurant workers are single parents, students paying their way through college, and just regular every-day people trying to make a living for themselves and their families. Christians should be generous.

Tipping is fairly inexpensive.  Adding 15% to 20% isn’t a huge part of most eating-out meals. Secondly, the difference between 15% and 20% is usually only a few dollars. I always tip 20% and round it up to the next dollar, if the service is decent or great. If it is not great I leave 15%. I have only had terrible service a few times, so I don’t worry about tipping below 15%. Also, calculating 20% is just easier mathematically.

How to easily tip 20%: Just multiply the cost of your meal by 2 and move the decimal point over.  For example if your check comes to $42, then multiply that by 2, and you get $84.00.  Move the decimal point over one place and the tip is $8.40. If you don’t have 40 cents, and you leave $8 bucks you are still over 15%, and if you round up to $9 you are out less than a buck and you tipped over 20%- what a nice thing to do for someone working hard.

Good tipping is a great witness: Not only should Christians treat waiters with extreme respect, they should go out out of their way to show appreciation. Nothing makes a worse witness, then for Christians to pray over their meals, then commence to treat the wait staff rude, and then leave a small tip, but they do it all of the time.

Practice generosity: How generous of a person are you, does your insides tighten up when you are struggling over leaving $8 or $9, then get used to being happy to bless others. God has been generous to us, and he wants us to demonstrate the same attitude.

Why am I talking about this, you might be wondering?  As I mentioned in the first paragraph, last week a church Pastor wrote on her Applebee’s receipt “I give God 10%, why do you get 18.” Millions of people all around the world have read vicious blogs and news articles, as this went viral on the web. The picture of the check was posted by the waitress and she got fired, further making the error by the pastor magnified. None of this cast a nice light on Christianity. Next time you go out to eat show genuine concern for your waiter or waitress, and tip them well. If they do an outstanding job, tell the manager on your way out.

Dave Ramsey Financial Peace Class Starts Soon

We are starting our 4th year of offering Dave Ramsey’s Financial Peace University to the Columbus (Ohio) area. Dave is a best selling author, nationally syndicated radio financial expert, motivational speaker, and creator of Financial Peace University financial education class.

Dave Ramsey created his common sense financial education class 20 years ago, now he serves millions of people in businesses, churches, community centers, military, schools and prisons worldwide. Dave’s system of financial education really works at helping people manage money, become debt free, relate with spouses better about money, and build wealth for emergencies, college education and retirement. Someone asked me once if I agree with everything Dave says, my answer to that is I don’t agree with everything I say- but I do believe in about 95% of what he teaches, because I have studied his concepts and they work.

Why does Dave’s system work so well? It works great because he has researched, refined and improved his program to find out the best way to be financially healthy. His system is proven, and I have seen it work with the classes we have led.  Each class that we have led reported that it helped most people. In addition we have seen about $1.5 – $2 million dollars of debt reduction of class attendees. Some people have written to me of their testimonies and I have posted them here.

Dave has recently updated his course and we rolled it out last Fall, and our next class starts February 7th at 7pm. To find out more about this upcoming class go to the link at Vineyard Community Center. I’m glad the new course was shortened from 13 weeks to 9 weeks, it makes it a lot easier for people to commit to.

The format for the class is to watch a professional, informative, educational teaching by Dave Ramsey on DVD, jam-packed full of information. Small groups are assembled following the DVD to discuss the lesson and provide accountability for those that want it. Dave not only teaches information well, but talks from the heart from his own deep failures and successes. He motivates, gives sample cases so that you can identify with, and is generally funny and entertaining to listen to, what I call ‘Edu-tainment.’

If you or someone you know would like to be more financially smart, and improve their financial future, they should attend a class near them, and hundreds of classes with the new materials are scheduled to start nationwide: to find a class near you go to www.daveramsey.com.

Get Ready For Class

If you have signed up for a Dave Ramsey Financial Peace University (FPU) class starting this Winter, congratulations. Your life will change for the better very soon. I am excited for you.  Be sure to arrive on time, since class starts promptly. Plan to come early to drop children off at childcare (if offered), or obtain your Membership Kit, if you are buying it or have pre-purchased it from from the class coordinator. In addition, be sure to bring your Member Workbook from your kit and a pencil each week, as well as any homework assignments. Doing this as well as coming with a positive attitude will prepare you to get the most out of each lesson. For a class that I am coordinating I have prepared a short Power Point Presentation. If you were unable to come to the orientation/preview January 31st, you might want to review it. Click the link to view this saved at Slidshare.

Man’s Way Versus God’s Way With Money, Mark 8:14-15

This week’s money and stewardship devotional from the four Gospels* is about following God’s plan versus man’s, from Mark 8:14-15.

The disciples had forgotten to bring bread, except for one loaf they had with them in the boat. 15 “Be careful,” Jesus warned them. “Watch out for the yeast of the Pharisees and that of Herod.”

When it comes to personal finances, business and the economy do we follow wisdom and principles that are from man or from verses that we can trace directly to the Bible?

What does the Bible say about personal finances? There are over 2,000 Bible verses about money, so there is much to be gleaned and applied to contemporary life. If we follow its practical wisdom of avoiding debt, saving, seeking counsel, working hard, not wearing ourselves out to get rich, spending less than we make, and giving; most of the time we will do okay financially- but is that enough?

Why then does Jesus warn his apostles about the yeast of the Pharisees?  Most Bible scholars today believe Jesus was warning them about legalism. Jesus came to sow the seeds of grace, and this ran against the current of religious leaders. Yeast is very small, yet when it is worked into the dough and left to itself, it will begin to rise the bread. Jesus knew that the yeast of legalism was always going to be present around religious people, so he was warning them, for he was showing them a new way of love, grace and spirit.

However what was Herod’s yeast?  Herod had the miss-fortune of ruling over Isreal, and it wasn’t easy dealing with a diverse and unruly culture. Herod’s main goal was not to be known as a humanitarian, by caring for the people. Instead, he was interested in leaving his mark, in massive building projects, and by making his city an economic force. To accomplish this he needed resources and for people to follow him. Herod ruled with force, power, and politics. His chief aim was power and money; and he connived and manipulated to get his way. You think politics is abundant at your place of work?- you haven’t seen anything comparatively.

To summarize these two examples, the yeast of the Pharisees was to manage life and rule by legalism; to manipulate people and God to get what one wants. Herod’s yeast was to get what he wanted by political and economic might.

How does this translate to personal finances? For one, Jesus warns us against trying to live legalistically, both outward, and upward. Meaning if we think we can follow Biblical commandments and principles to get what we want, then we have an orientation of manipulating God for selfish purposes. God doesn’t follow our math, for he sees our hearts, and knows what is best for us. Secondly, Jesus cautions us about following man’s way to getting what we want. Jesus is warning us, as a wise friend and father, to be careful and not let all of those types of yeast to creep into our hearts. He want us to be mindful of God’s thoughts and ways, for He knows they don’t come naturally: For my thoughts are not your thoughts, and neither are your ways my ways- Isaiah 55:8.

When Jesus warns, I think we need to be very alert. It is important when we live in a society with strong messages of greed, sexuality, consumerism, and materialism to not fall into those traps. Are we to be like the Amish, and divorce ourselves from society? Jesus never indicated that at all. In fact he wants us to let His yeast permeate society, His light to shine all over, and for his seasoning to salt mankind and culture. Does this mean we shouldn’t read contemporary secular books about success, business, economics or finances? No, we are to look to those things with discerning minds; Christians don’t need to look different because we are ignorant but by wisely choosing what is right, and being men and women building treasures in heaven. 

What do you think about all of this? Please comment below. 

*A chronological examination of any verse that involves money and stewardship, attempting to see the new light that Jesus shines on money in His ‘for-us’ but selfless, grace filled, Holy Spirit empowered, and Kingdom oriented positions. This is the twenty fifth post in this series.

Top 20 Jesus Money Personal Finance Articles of 2012

2012 was the first full year I have been consistently blogging at Jesus Money, and the following articles were the some of the most popular ones of the last 3 months:

  1. How to help others financially, interestingly this was the most read article
  2. Money Bible verses, excellent that people were referring to this page
  3. Dave Ramsey and tithe, people taking his classes and reading his books wanted to know what Dave thinks about tithe
  4. Eye glass monopoly rip off, article explains why eyeglasses cost so much
  5. List of articles from the Gospels about Jesus and Money
  6. Does Jesus favor the poor?
  7. Comic strip “Coffee with Jesus” viewpoints on life and money, cartoons can communicate better than articles
  8. How to save on groceries at major chains, you don’t have to be a coupon queen to save bucks at the grocery
  9. The new economy, Jesus’ Style
  10. Don’t go in debt for Christmas
  11. Dave Ramsey FPU  week 1,  how to accomplish baby step  number 1
  12. Do you want to know what the fiscal fight is really about
  13. Jesus and financial abusers Matthew 9:9-13   
  14. Financial miracles happen
  15. Lord’s prayer about money
  16. Not judging others finances
  17. Are young people saving more money
  18. Hard Work and God’s blessing
  19. Tithe, Matthew 23:23-25
  20. Underwater Mortgage Financial Relief Options for Struggling Borrowers