Author Archives: Kent

Financial Teachings in the Parable of the Prodigal Son, Luke 15:11-32

sonThis week’s money and stewardship devotional from the four Gospels* is from Luke 15:11-32. The Parable of the Prodigal Son is the most written and preached about parable. Perhaps you know this parable for showing the grace God extends to us; the image of God running to us when we have turned towards him in our life journey. This story teaches us many lessons, and it has compelled the hearts of many classical painters, such as this one from Rembrandt. God teaches us in this parable how reaping and sowing co-exist quite comfortably with grace.

 11 Jesus continued: “There was a man who had two sons. 12 The younger one said to his father, ‘Father, give me my share of the estate.’ So he divided his property between them. 13 “Not long after that, the younger son got together all he had, set off for a distant country and there squandered his wealth in wild living. 14 After he had spent everything, there was a severe famine in that whole country, and he began to be in need. 15 So he went and hired himself out to a citizen of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed pigs. 16 He longed to fill his stomach with the pods that the pigs were eating, but no one gave him anything. 17 “When he came to his senses, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired servants have food to spare, and here I am starving to death! 18 I will set out and go back to my father and say to him: Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. 19 I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me like one of your hired servants.’ 20 So he got up and went to his father. “But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him. 21 “The son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’  22 “But the father said to his servants, ‘Quick! Bring the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. 23 Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let’s have a feast and celebrate. 24 For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’ So they began to celebrate. 25 “Meanwhile, the older son was in the field. When he came near the house, he heard music and dancing. 26 So he called one of the servants and asked him what was going on. 27 ‘Your brother has come,’ he replied, ‘and your father has killed the fattened calf because he has him back safe and sound.’  28 “The older brother became angry and refused to go in. So his father went out and pleaded with him. 29 But he answered his father, ‘Look! All these years I’ve been slaving for you and never disobeyed your orders. Yet you never gave me even a young goat so I could celebrate with my friends. 30 But when this son of yours who has squandered your property with prostitutes comes home, you kill the fattened calf for him!’ 31 “‘My son,’ the father said, ‘you are always with me, and everything I have is yours. 32 But we had to celebrate and be glad, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’”

There are three central characters in this parable: the father, who represents Jesus; the good son; and the prodigal son. The good son, by most measures, was a man of good character and hard work. Farm work is very difficult; it has a lot of delayed gratification–plowing and planting, and many months of waiting for harvest. Family agricultural operations often stay in the family for many generations. Ownership is passed on to heirs, usually after they have worked alongside parents until the parents are very old. The good son knew and lived by the principle of reaping and sowing. This is a principle throughout Scripture and can easily be seen through observation, especially by farmers.  Reaping and sowing is a system that God laid down when he created the universe. It initially represents two things: investing, or planting, AND a return that is not just equal to the ingredients of effort, seed, rain, air, fertilizer and soil. God’s plan is for man to be involved in most of the applications of these elements to create a harvest that is much more than originally invested–man and God working together co-creatively to produce more growth. The good son got this; he believed and lived by these principles.

The prodigal son didn’t get this at all. He didn’t want to follow the way of delayed gratification that the good son did. He demanded his inheritance now while he was young, so that he could go off into the world to seek adventure and pleasure. He spent it all, dined with pigs, and returned home penniless in rags and filth. From far off the father saw that he was returning home, and he ran after him and embraced him in love. He threw a party for him, and showed him much affection. God here is revealing the other side of the coin of reaping and sowing abundantly, that of grace.

Grace is in the heart of God and what we have through Jesus. Grace is getting salvation and his eternal presence even though we don’t deserve it, or we haven’t earned it by reaping and sowing. Grace is the boundless love that he gives us. It is also the gift of life, eternity, and all of creation throughout the universe. It is the good things he gives us in life today, the miracles and gifts, even though we haven’t earned them by reaping and sowing. It is two sides of one coin –the natural laws of reaping/sowing, and the gift of grace. They exist together, the ‘both and’ approach to the gospel.

And that is how we are to approach our personal finances. On one hand, we are to have integrity, discipline, honesty, and hard work, and on the other hand, we are to be willing to have delayed gratification and patience, knowing that our God is watching us, and will reward us bountifully. I see it in the lives of small business owners, who toil much more than 40 hours a week; they might not earn much of a profit for many of the early years. I see it too in those working in offices and in manual labor. On the other hand, we will experience many gifts, opportunities, and financial miracles too. This is one of the essential themes I write about here on; in some ways we are to be like the good son, and, like the prodigal son, we are to aware of unearned, undeserved grace and blessings. God is good, he loves us, and he wants us to be both good stewards in the systems of nature he created because we love him and enjoy his amazing miracles. For those digging out of financial difficulty by establishing good principles of budgeting, saving, giving, and staying out of debit, the principles of reaping, sowing and bounty will pay off. Discipline, hard work and integrity are essential. Likewise, God will grant us miracles and grace along the way. Be encouraged!

*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 forty-sixth post in this series.

What is The Greatest Obstacle to Good Finances? Luke 14: 25-35

This week’s money and stewardship devotional from the four Gospels* is from Luke 14:25-35. Have you ever wondered what’s the single greatest obstacle for most people to manage their finances well? Good Biblical financial management is defined as first having the right principles: God is the owner and we are temporary stewards. Second, it is defined as 5 key things: working hard (Colossians 3:23), borrowing little (Proverbs 22:7), saving (Proverbs 6:6-8), giving (Psalms 37:21) and living well below our means (Luke 12:15). However, these things are pretty simple, so why are personal finances so difficult? Why do Christians slip up so often?  I think the key ingredient Jesus tells us is cited in this section of Luke 14:

25 Large crowds were traveling with Jesus, and turning to them he said: 26 “If anyone comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters—yes, even their own life—such a person cannot be my disciple. 27 And whoever does not carry their cross and follow me cannot be my disciple. 28 “Suppose one of you wants to build a tower. Won’t you first sit down and estimate the cost to see if you have enough money to complete it? 29 For if you lay the foundation and are not able to finish it, everyone who sees it will ridicule you, 30 saying, ‘This person began to build and wasn’t able to finish.’   31 “Or suppose a king is about to go to war against another king. Won’t he first sit down and consider whether he is able with ten thousand men to oppose the one coming against him with twenty thousand? 32 If he is not able, he will send a delegation while the other is still a long way off and will ask for terms of peace. 33 In the same way, those of you who do not give up everything you have cannot be my disciples. 34 “Salt is good, but if it loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? 35 It is fit neither for the soil nor for the manure pile; it is thrown out. “Whoever has ears to hear, let them hear.”

Christians and non-believers have always struggled with this section of scripture, because Jesus is saying that the cost to following him is hating family and one’s own life. Is that what Jesus is really saying here? Sometimes Jesus uses hyperbole to make a point. If you recall from high-school English class, hyperbole is defined as a rhetorical device, used to evoke strong feelings, but is not meant to be taken literally. I would argue that the first part of this sentence about hating family or really everyone (since we are all related in the human family) is not to be taken literally. Is it possible to interpret one line of scripture as part hyperbole and another part as fact?

Biblical hermeneutics or exegesis are theories of text interpretation. Hermeneutics can involve all kinds of things, including non-verbal, semantics and pre-understandings. We already know that Jesus commands us to love everyone as recorded in Matthew 22:36-40, and that includes caring for family (1 Timothy 5:8), so I think it is safe to say that Jesus uses hate to get our attention to the second part of the Luke 14:26 “…hate… even one’s own life.” Why would Jesus say this?

Jesus says this for many reasons. One is that he is smart and wise. Secondly, he loves us and wants to help us. Lastly, he wants to save us from our sin, to be a blessing to others and the world, and ultimately to be with him in eternity. Jesus knows that we turned from God in the Garden of Eden, because Adam wanted something for himself. Adam made a decisive decision not to be a steward over the earth as God commanded, but to disobey God by going after the desires he had for himself and his companion.

Millions of people have taken Dave Ramsey Financial Peace University, Crown  and Compass Financial Bible Studies, and they have listened to countless sermons about money management, but many continue to fall into financial traps. Several people after taking these classes told me they got on their financial feet and were in terrific financial shape. However, many years down the road they fell back into old habits. They borrowed too much, bought too many things, and didn’t have adequate savings, and they hit a major financial bump in the road, like a big health care expense or long-term job loss, and they were now facing bankruptcy. This happens often to a lot of us, at least to most of us that aren’t naturally very disciplined people. How did this happen when they knew better?

In some instances the financial setback was so great that they would nearly be in the same place in spite of the savings they had. However, most of the time, that would not have been the case. I think Jesus might say that the cost of following him and being a good steward is dying to our own desires for self-satisfaction and failing to pick up the cross with both hands. It is often the case that we try to go through life carrying the same old money and possession expectations on one shoulder and the life of Christ on our other shoulder. For going the distance of life, it is not possible to do both. Jesus says true discipleship is letting go of the desires for ultimate total satisfaction through familial relationships and the “normal” life.

To answer the question this article posed–What is The Greatest Obstacle to Good Stewardship?–I would suggest after reading this section of Luke that it is surrendering, or what Jesus calls giving up in Luke 14:33, because I am my own biggest obstacle. We need to surrender our goals and desires for self, and fully pursue what God wants for us and for the world. When we surrender to Christ’s love and plan for us, he transforms our heart, and changes our character. Things we need in order for the financial skills we learn in order to stick for the long haul. When I live this way, he quenches my thirst, and not my desires for wealth, possessions, and ambition.

Does that mean a life of poverty, without flavor (Luke 14:34-35) like those of ascetic monks? For most people, the answer is no. Simply changing one’s lifestyle will not bring satisfaction. God promises us a good, flavorable, hope-filled, prosperous life in Jeremiah 29:11 “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.”

This new life, one no longer trying to quench our unquenchable thirst for self-satisfaction, is surrendered to the better satisfying life of relationship with Christ.

*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 forty-fifth post in this series.

Jesus On Humility and Blessing the Poor: Luke 14:7-14

This week’s money and stewardship devotional from the four Gospels* is from Luke 14:7-14. Jesus uses the parable of the wedding feast to counsel us about humility and blessing the poor.

When he noticed how the guests picked the places of honor at the table, he told them this parable: 8 “When someone invites you to a wedding feast, do not take the place of honor, for a person more distinguished than you may have been invited. 9 If so, the host who invited both of you will come and say to you, ‘Give this person your seat.’ Then, humiliated, you will have to take the least important place. 10 But when you are invited, take the lowest place, so that when your host comes, he will say to you, ‘Friend, move up to a better place.’ Then you will be honored in the presence of all the other guests. 11 For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.” 12 Then Jesus said to his host, “When you give a luncheon or dinner, do not invite your friends, your brothers or sisters, your relatives, or your rich neighbors; if you do, they may invite you back and so you will be repaid. 13 But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, 14 and you will be blessed. Although they cannot repay you, you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.”

Isn’t it fascinating that Jesus came not only to do such grand things as healing the sick, casting out demons and bringing salvation, but He also called attention to our attitudes about wealth, position and helping the poor? As in the parable, it is nice to be treated like royalty. I remember years ago that vendors would entertain me and my wife at 5-star hotels, where every need was taken care of, and every hotel attendant would reply to our thank you’s with “it’s my pleasure.”  If you’ve stayed at a Ritz-Carlton or a Four Seasons hotel, you too know what if feels like to be pampered and treated like you are really important.

Jesus is referring to a wedding reception celebration in verses 7 through 11, and, as today, the prime guests of family and those in the wedding party have the best seats near the front, next to the bride and groom. The seating is positioned with a front-of-the-room focus, with those of importance closer to the center of activity. Sometimes those of up front get better service–beverage glasses constantly getting filled, meals served first while they are still hot–and they can hear the toasts and see all the fun interaction. However, I have also been a guest with very little connection to the wedding party. My seating was near the back and my table companions were a unique and sometimes strange mix of distant friends and co-workers. I usually fit in with this group better anyhow, and I enjoy the conversations with them more than those with the more ‘important’ people.

Most humans have insatiable egos; just as in Jesus’ time, we often want to be thought of as important, successful and wealthy. It is this attitude that Jesus is exposing in His light of revealing transparency. He is advising that we should not take our success or position, or lack thereof, too seriously, but that we should walk in humility, putting other people before us. Furthermore, He points out that true exaltation comes from the host, not from us, or from those around us, or from our financial wealth. In this Biblical example, Jesus is the host of the wedding feast, and He is saying sweetly, out of grace, that true value and blessings will come through relationship with Him, not through our egos.

Jesus does not conclude his discussion on this point, but on His command that when (not if) we gather people for celebrations, even just a common meal in our homes, we are to invite and honor “the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind.” I’ll take the liberty to add to this list the immigrant (regardless of his/her legal status), the socially awkward (weird), and those with less or more wealth than you.

*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 forty-fourth post in this series.

Book Review: The Smart Woman’s Guide To Planning For Retirement

maryAccording to a 2012 survey, 92 percent of women in the United States admitted that they aren’t financially prepared for retirement because they haven’t planned and saved for it. Many women may be procrastinators when they think about planning for retirement, while others may not want to think about it because they’re afraid to face the fact that they don’t know how to prepare for it. However, in today’s unpredictable economy, a woman must be smart about her finances. For today’s smart woman, it’s never too late to take steps now in order to face retirement with confidence and hope for the future.

In “The Smart Woman’s Guide To Planning For Retirement,” author Mary Hunt of nearly 20 books on personal finances, and Debt Proof Living, advises today’s smart woman to take charge of her financial life so that she will be financially prepared for retirement. Mary’s book is based on her own personal learning experiences of making financial mistakes that she regrets from her past. However, Mary believes that financial mistakes in the past can always be turned around to use as learning opportunities for the future. By following the steps in her book, every woman can start today to take steps to be ready for retirement. Even though the content of this book contains general advice for both men and women, Mary’s target reading market is directed toward women.

Mary lists six specific strategies that women can take now in order to create a retirement savings plan: (1) Develop a money management system using a checking and savings account; (2) Build an emergency fund; (3) Get out of debt; (4) Maximize retirement accounts; (5) Own a home outright; and (6) Build up a personal investment portfolio. Each of these six strategies is discussed in detail, with practical illustrations and application woven throughout.

Often women say they don’t know how much money they need to retire. Mary addresses this issue by listing specific ways to calculate the amount through the educated guess approach, the rule of thumb approach, the rough estimate approach, and the focus on expenses approach. Any one or a combination of these methods will give the reader a target or goal for her six strategies.

In Chapter 14, Mary lists specific action plans for women by age groups — in their twenties, in their thirties, in their forties, in their fifties, and in their sixties. For example, women in their thirties who may be married and starting a family should start putting more serious effort into planning for their retirement. Mary recommends that they should be funding their 401(k) and Roth IRA, saying no to debt except for mortgage debt, saving for their children’s education, purchasing life insurance, and building their contingency fund to get out of debt. A reader can review this information and see where she is and what more she should be doing as she progresses toward retirement.

In the process of planning for retirement, a woman may need the services of a competent, unbiased financial planner for advice and guidance. Mary explains what a financial planner is, what a financial planner does, the benefits of using a financial planner, and how a financial planner is paid; she then lists six questions to ask a potential financial planner. Mary gives her personal advice as to what type of financial professional she uses and the reason for her choice.

Mary’s advice relating to managing money responsibly is based on her fundamental seven money rules for life, as described in detail in her recent book “7 Money Rules For Life.” These include: (1) Spend less than you earn; (2) Save for the future; (3) Give some away to others who are in need; (4) Anticipate irregular expenses; (5) Tell your money where to go; (6) Manage your credit; and (7) Borrow only what you know that you can repay. When a woman follows these money rules, she will be building a solid foundation for personal money management in order to be able to prepare financially for retirement.

As a Christian believer, Mary believes that the Bible is the guidebook for all financial advice. In Scripture, principles have been given to help a woman learn to get out of debt, how to stay out of debt, how to become financially stable, how to save, how to invest, how to spend, how to prosper, how not to waste money, and how to make the most out of money. Without obedience to His laws, human efforts to manage money will be in vain. Since God is the source of everything (including money), everything that a woman owns has been given to her by God. God expects her to use and invest her money responsibly, as the Biblical parable of the three servants clearly illustrates. God desires that every woman be a wise steward of the money that He has entrusted to her in order to honor Him with her finances.

Mary appeals to every smart woman to become financially independent. A woman can do this by: (1) Maintaining good financial records; (2) Having her name on all joint bank accounts; (3) Managing her own credit in her name by having her own credit card; (4) Assessing her insurance needs and buying enough to protect herself from risk; (5) Creating wills for both herself and her spouse, if married; and (6) Saving by putting money in her own personal savings account and Individual Retirement Account.

In the final chapter, Mary urges all women to heed the wake-up call and to start preparing for retirement today. Smart women are doers and can face the future with confidence. Three steps that should be taken immediately are: (1) Have a talk with a spouse or close friend about the need to plan for retirement in order to establish accountability; (2) Make a list of the things that you would like to do in the future if you had more time to do them, and then start to prepare for the transition into retirement; and (3) Create a plan using the six planning strategies, and use a projected timetable for achieving the plan.

This book can be highly recommended to women of all ages. Mary’s warm, humorous, and personalized writing style makes this book easy to read and enjoyable. Once the reader starts reading it, she’ll find that she can’t put the book down but will find herself highlighting specific information and taking notes on action items to pursue. Mary’s advice is practical, relevant, and timely for today’s busy woman. Her message is powerful and urgent — it’s not too late to take action to start planning for your retirement today.

How to Prevent Theft of Your Credit Card Information

Eleven things to do to help make sure no one steals your credit and debit card information:

  1. Use cash more often for such things as buying fast food and gasoline. Some thieves attach little card readers to gas-pump card terminals.
  2. Cover your hand when entering your PIN in the public credit card terminal.
  3. Cover your card when you remove it from your wallet. Thieves have been known to take pictures of your card.
  4. Use a credit card, not your debit card, for online purchases. Both are equally protected financially for theft, but the theft of a debit card number can cause more hassle, such as bounced checks and late payments.
  5. Be careful; try to use your card only in good establishments.  The only two times credit card information theft has happened in our family were to our children’s debit accounts when they used them on a college campus at a local establishment.
  6. Shred all mail and documents before you throw them away if they have any personal information about you on them. Buy a good $100 price range shredder that can cross-shred cards, computer disks, and several pages of paper at a time.
  7. Balance your checking account every month, and pay off all credit card balances.
  8. Password protect your computer and smart phone in case they are stolen.
  9. Make online purchases at home, on your private password protected internet connection; do not use a public WIFI in places like the coffee shop or library.
  10. Don’t share your personal information with anyone that shouldn’t have it; beware of phone calls and emails that try to obtain your birth date, social security number, and credit card information.
  11. Last but not least: pray over all the things you own, investments, personal property, and information. Pray for protection and wisdom, and pray that you may be a good steward over all your possessions. Scripture reference Ezra 8:21.

What to Do If A Victim of the Target Breach

Target and several other retailers recently were victims of data breaches over the holidays. What should you do?

  1. If you used plastic at any of them, especially at Target, monitor your account daily by logging in online to check out if there any unauthorized charges on your cards.
  2. Accept the credit monitoring service your card offers, but only if it is a legitimate offer; be careful with emails that could be trolling for personal information. Through various breaches my wife and I have had over the years, we have had the monitoring service free, but we’ve never had an unauthorized use or an ID theft.
  3. Notify your bank and tell them what is going on; they may issue you a new card.
  4. Change your personal identification number (PIN).
  5. If you are sure your account has been compromised, you may want to freeze the account for 90 days.
  6. If your credit card information has been stolen, such as at a local retailer or from your purse or wallet, call the police and file a report. This may be necessary to get your money back from your bank.

What should you do to protect yourself from credit card information theft? See the next article.


They Are Like Good Samaritans Clubs for Automobiles

Are Auto Club’s roadside assistance to replace Christians lending a hand to stranded travelers?

Isn’t it a terrible feeling when you car breaks down away from home? Have you ever been stranded on the side of the road, and someone stopped to help you replace a flat tire, or given you a ride to the next rest stop? Maybe you assisted someone else?  In Luke 10:25-37, we see the story of a Samaritan helping someone who was robbed, naked, and left bleeding nearly dead. Modern Bible expositors believe that not only did the Samaritan have the expense of lodging, bandages and clothing,  but inconvenience that occurred between people that looked down on each other.  Maybe in these days of Cell phones and auto clubs, and concern for personal safety, I would recommend my children and spouse to practice extreme caution and spiritual discernment in such situations.

However, several times over my life, I have helped someone with a short ride to the next exit, asked if they needed a jump-start or other assistance — but I was cautious, aware and prayerful. It is a great opportunity to bless other people. Likewise, I have been a benefactor too. In light of this I think there is solid merit for people to join Auto clubs like AAAMCA and Better World Club; they offer very useful benefits, such as roadside assistance and towing. Many of them today are offering much more, including car repairs.

In addition to clubs, other competitors have entered that market place, including credit-card issuers, insurance companies, car manufacturers, and oil companies. So before you buy, first check to see what benefits your auto insurance company and car manufacturer provide.

What I like about firms like AAA is the convenience during emergency situations. The last time my car broke down, I was in Michigan between Grand Rapids and East Lansing, on a business trip in the middle of nowhere. I had a company car and I am embarrassed to say I ran out of gas. It was very difficult to locate a towing or roadside assistance company, for I was not sure which small town I was near that might have such a firm. Secondly, a bad winter storm had just gone through the previous day, and I was low priority for the towing companies, since most with good-sized fleets were taking care of club customers. It is never convenient to need someone to bring you gas, tow your car to the closest good repair shop, give you a jump-start, or unlock your doors if you locked your keys inside. Club membership can help you avoid disaster on a pleasure or a business trip, and it can of save you many hours of trying to get help (and then perhaps getting it from someone who may not be reliable). Clubs have strict standards, so that added confidence helps a lot.

Auto Clubs offer this peace of mind, which is especially helpful with our 3-car family, with one at college. The mileage readings on our three well maintained vehicles are 298,000, 175,000, and 160,000, combined to more than 600,000 miles. This means a higher possibility of needing roadside assistance. I understand that we are not the exception. Avoiding car payments and owning cars is the way to go for those trying to be financially savvy.

Lastly, the local AAA Club in Columbus Ohio is offering something very intriguing right now for their auto service centers—a year-long discount program for maintenance. I was pretty much impressed with their program. For $100 members can get the following services within a year: 4 oil changes, a 39-point inspection with each oil change, 4 battery and starting/charging system checks, 2 tire rotations with balance, 1 air filter, 1 set of front wiper blades, 1 headlamp replacement, 1 A/C pressure check, and 12 monthly tire pressure checks. This would save the regular person about $300, or the partial do-it-yourselfer and deal finder about $200, I’d guess (probably paying for or exceeding the cost of the membership).  Peace of mind on maintenance and roadside assistance are nice things, especially valuable to those with older cars, lack of family close enough to call for help, or fear of being stranded in a dark place waiting for help to arrive.

In conclusion: I think we need to be wise with our auto insurance and maintenance budgets, while giving room to receive blessings from others, and to be a blessing to people too; therefore this is not an ‘either or’, but a ‘both and’ situation.

Also, rest assured I derived no financial benefit from highlighting these firms, and I don’t prefer them over others. If you are a club or a car repair firm and have an idea for an article and would like a mention, please contact me.

A ‘Both And’ Approach to Money and Possessions: Luke12:35-48

This week’s money and stewardship devotional from the four Gospels* is from Luke 12:35-48, Jesus talking to us about the importance and eternal significance of being good stewards and laborers at all times. These verses fly right in the face of people who might believe in false Biblical perspectives when it comes to money and possessions. More on that in a moment; first, read this passage and make note of the highlighted areas.

“Be dressed ready for service and keep your lamps burning, 36 like servants waiting for their master to return from a wedding banquet, so that when he comes and knocks they can immediately open the door for him. 37 It will be good for those servants whose master finds them watching when he comes. Truly I tell you, he will dress himself to serve, will have them recline at the table and will come and wait on them. 38 It will be good for those servants whose master finds them ready, even if he comes in the middle of the night or toward daybreak. 39 But understand this: If the owner of the house had known at what hour the thief was coming, he would not have let his house be broken into. 40 You also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him.”  41 Peter asked, “Lord, are you telling this parable to us, or to everyone?”  42 The Lord answered, “Who then is the faithful and wise manager, whom the master puts in charge of his servants to give them their food allowance at the proper time? 43 It will be good for that servant whom the master finds doing so when he returns. 44 Truly I tell you, he will put him in charge of all his possessions. 45 But suppose the servant says to himself, ‘My master is taking a long time in coming,’ and he then begins to beat the other servants, both men and women, and to eat and drink and get drunk. 46 The master of that servant will come on a day when he does not expect him and at an hour he is not aware of. He will cut him to pieces and assign him a place with the unbelievers.  47 “The servant who knows the master’s will and does not get ready or does not do what the master wants will be beaten with many blows. 48 But the one who does not know and does things deserving punishment will be beaten with few blows. From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked.

What are the various ways people look at money, possessions, management, comfort, community and labor (I’ll call this MPMCCL) in this age? 1) self oriented: God equipped us to tackle life with gusto, and to grab as much from it as we can, for our own use and enjoyment.  2) outward oriented: we should take care of others, the poor and the environment, and in so doing God will provide our needs.  3) prosperity: God wants us to be very well off financially, he promises us that in his word, and we just need to act out in faith, name it and claim the blessings he has prepared for us in this life.  4) only the spiritual matters: since everything ultimately will be burned up in the fire, it doesn’t really matter that much how we deal with MPMCCL.   5) personal performance doesn’t matter, since Jesus is our ticket to salvation, so performance or works today have little value in eternity.

Every one of these various approaches has some truth in it; however, following just one of them is not the way Christ would have us go. There are two reasons we may believe in only one of these approaches.  The first reason is that Westerners are accustomed to believing about things only one way.  For example, when we approach a political solution, many of us feel the only way people can get out of poverty is through opportunity and pulling one’s self up by the boot straps.  Some with this approach believe in a trickle down economy, so the only solution is through business and education, and absolutely not entitlement programs.  In the opposite camp are those who believe the only way to help those in poverty is to take money from wealthy people and business and give it to those who need it. Some in this camp believe the rich and business are the enemies of the poor. In reality, the only way to help people out of poverty is ‘both and’ and not ‘either or.’ It is only through a ‘both and’ approach of balancing social programs and supporting business that we can truly help people out of poverty, and that both political parties can work together.

The second reason we take only one viewpoint about money, possessions, management, comfort, community and labor (MPMCCL) is that humans tend to do what makes them most comfortable. We may have inclinations to help the community, but at the end of the day, most of us mainly want what will make us personally happy. However, I think we should consider having a ‘both and’ approach to our beliefs about MPMCCL.

So what is God’s plan for MPMCCL? Looking at the verses from Luke 12:35-48, we will find some of the answers. The first obvious thing we see is that we need to be good managers all the time, throughout our lives, no matter how much or how little money we have. If we manage or steward well, it is not only good for our fellow servants, but Christ says he will put us in charge of many things in eternity.  Here we see a ‘both and’ approach; what we do today matters today and for eternity, even though it is material and will be burned up. We also see that some may prosper more than others; in this we know from verse 48 that prosperity is in store for some people. Whether we become extremely rich or not, we all are called to be good managers and to look at ourselves as humble servants and temporary stewards. Servants caring for others’ resources are not so much self oriented, but are God and community oriented. These strongly worded verses about management and work remind me of both Proverbs 1:7 and Genesis 2:15.

In summary, a good ‘both and’ belief about money, possessions, management, comfort, community and labor should first start with an eternity Kingdom and stewardship perspective. It should also balance providing for oneself and others, a life that includes prosperity (verse 48), and work, not a life that ultimately results in endless leisure (v. 45); “Be dressed for service and keep your lamps burning.”

*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 forty-third post in this series.

News Flash: 2014 Flexible Spending Accounts Have Option for $500 Rollover

Do you have a special tax-advantaged savings account for health care expenses? There are several types of them to which the federal government permits employees and employers to contribute: Flexible Spending Accounts (FSA), Health Savings Accounts (HSA), Medical Savings Accounts (MSA), and Health Reimbursement Arrangements (HRA).

HSAs are required to be offered in conjunction with High Deductible Heath Insurance Plans (HDHP); they can be funded by either/both, employer/employee contributions. For 2013, if you have self-only HDHP coverage, you can contribute pre-tax up to $3,300. If you have family HDHP coverage you can contribute up to $6,550. Contributions accumulate in an account at interest and the interest is not taxed. This double tax preference (pre-tax contributions and non-taxed growth or interest) allows participants to pay some qualifying health care expenses in a tax preferred manner. As we all know, with high deductible and high co-insurance amounts, and health insurance just not normally covering as much as it used to, accumulating funds for qualifying expenses is a great way to plan for unplanned expenses. Funds from HSAs can be used not only in the current year, but also in future years. Lastly, when the funds are used for qualified expenses (see IRS document 969 and 502), the funds are not taxed; however , if they are not used for those expenses, there are taxes and possibly penalties, so be careful.

FSAs seem to be more common with large employers, and they are funded by pre-tax contributions from the employee’s paycheck. One drawback or common complaint of FSA’s is that the funds must be used in the current year (“use it, or lose it”). This makes it difficult to plan if you don’t know what expenses are in store for you in the future! At one time, the benefit plan from my previous employer provided an FSA, and it was nice when we knew exactly how much our two children’s orthodontia costs were going to be; our FSA really helped us plan and afford orthodontia costs.

Good news–after a considerable amount of lobbying from the health insurance industry, Notice 2013-71 has been introduced to remedy the “Use-it-or-Lose-it” regulation, allowing up to $500 of unused balances to be paid or reimbursed to participants as long as their plans do not incorporate the “grace period” rule.

Choosing to provide the rollover option will be left up to the plan sponsor (the employer), so if you  have an FSA, check with your employer for more information. Also, be sure to connect with your tax advisor and group health benefits provider for questions about any information provided here. This is just an overview of information to make you more aware, and it is not to be relied upon for tax, financial or other information. Some of this information came from Victoria McCoy, RHU at  Crown Benefits in Columbus, Ohio. For more information, also check out Use-Or-Lose New Carryover Rule.

Do These 6 Things to Achieve Goals in 2014

Most people don’t seem to be able to keep New Year’s resolutions beyond a few months, but if you do these 6 things, I know you will reach your goals in 2014. For many of us in the United States, it is too cold to go outside, so take some time to plan and set goals!

  1. Commit to Not Quit:  Whatever goals you set for the coming year, whether they be financial, weight loss, quitting smoking, or being a better spouse parent or employee, the main thing is to commit to not quit. Yes you might fail, but that is part of achieving goals. Everyone fails, but those who achieve goals are the ones that get back up, dust themselves off, and go at it again.  Life is more a long walk, not a sprint, right-foot left-foot daily consistency. The Bible is full of heroes that failed a lot, yet King David, who was “A man after God’s own heart” kept his eye on the Lord, or returned to God when he failed. Key Bible verse Philippians 1:6
  2. Cope with Failure:  Yes, you will fail at many of your attempts. So what! Many people think that if they fail, then that is the end, and they give up. Get over the thought that failure is bad–it is just a learning device. It is good and it is designed for intelligent people to determine why something didn’t work, and to recalculate their path. The difference between those who fail and those who succeed is that the successful ones take their lumps and keep going, but more wisely each time. One of the most awesome things about being a Christian is that through God’s grace we are saved for eternity. Jesus doesn’t measure performance, but he wants us to rely on Him to help guide us, and he wants to pick us up when we fail. Key Bible verse 2 Corinthians 12:9-10
  3. Set Goals, Reasonable Ones. If you need to save a bunch of money, or pay off a big debt, and you know it will take a few years, then pace yourself.  The same applies to weight loss. If you need to lose 100 pounds, shoot for 25, but give yourself as many months as your doctor tells you, probably a pound a week. After you reach that goal, then set a new one. It is kind of like when I go outside for a run; if my real goal is 3 miles (I’m a pretty weak runner), my brain and body freaks out and tells me that is impossible. However, if I just tell myself I have to run to the end of the block and I make it alive, then I will set out to run one more block. Before I know it, I’ve run 3 or 4 miles. So set a few goals for health and finances for the coming year. God wants us to be good stewards over everything he has blessed us with, and to be free of being slaves to debt and bad habits.  Key Bible verse Proverbs 16:3
  4. Set Overall Big Goals First. Know what is motivating you!. If your goal is better finances, then find out why you want that. Is it to lower stress and achieve something like a purchase? Those are big goals; write them down. Do you want to be healthier? Then what is your motivation? Feeling better overall, lower health care costs now and in the future, and just general comfort are your big goals–then write them down. Now you know why you are doing the daily tasks. After you make your list, spend some time praying about it. Ask if it is what God wants for you in the coming year, or are there other things he wants to show you? Key Bible verse Psalm 37:4  By the way, I’ve analyzed ObamaCare, individual and group coverage, and Medicare and Medicaid, so for the long-term your health insurance coverage isn’t going to be great. I’m not being political, just realistic. You will have high deductibles, co-insurances, and a lot of out-of-pocket things that aren’t covered, so good health will help with good finances.
  5. Set Measurable Goals.  If it is to spend less money, avoid debt, and save for the future, then build a budget, and watch it closely. Stay within spending parameters that you can easily measure (like using If it is exercise, get out of bed 30 minutes early 5 days a week and go for a run, drive to a fitness facility, or do a video on your TV. If you want to eat less and the right food, sign up for a calorie counting app like (there are many options), and when you go grocery shopping, if it is junk food, don’t buy it, except for a reward at the end of the week.  Key Bible verses Luke 14:28-33
  6. Pray and Read the Bible. You need God’s strength daily, and his word in your heart to walk in his light. Commit to a least 20 minutes of Bible reading, prayer, meditation and journaling everyday. Not only is it essential to just function, it is key to having the prosperous year he has in store for you! Key Bible verses: 2 Timothy 3:16-17, Psalm 119:105, Matthew 6:9-13, and Matthew 4:4.

These things work for me, and I firmly believe that if you commit to not quit, not fear failure, set big goals first (know your main motivations), then set achievable and measurable goals, then 2014 you will do some key things to change your life for the better.

Godliness as a Means to Financial Gain? 1 Tim 6

#1 Question: Should we strive to be godly, so that we will become financially rich? Answer: If our motive in following Christ is money, we need to turn from that way of thinking.

1 Timothy 6:3 – 5  If anyone teaches otherwise and does not agree to the sound instruction of our Lord Jesus Christ and to godly teaching, 4 they are conceited and understand nothing. They have an unhealthy interest in controversies and quarrels about words that result in envy, strife, malicious talk, evil suspicions 5 and constant friction between people of corrupt mind, who have been robbed of the truth and who think that godliness is a means to financial gain.

#2 Question: Will people become content, only when they have comfortable lives and great personal finances? Answer: Enough of anything has never helped someone be content. However, being content with whatever is provided while following Christ is gain greater than riches.

1 Timothy 6: 6 – 8 But godliness with contentment is great gain. 7 For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it. 8 But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that. 

#3 Question: What is Christ’s warning to those who want to get rich? Answer:  We are warned about exerting much effort for the want of riches. While I think it is good and natural to want to grow a business, expand investments, and build for the future needs of ourselves, our community and our charity, it is good to check our motivations and troubles (griefs).

1 Timothy 6:9 – 10  Those who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. 10 For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs.

#4 Question: What does Jesus say we should do to keep our desire for wealth in check? Answer: It seems as if one of the things Jesus says is to always have the eye of a servant and to serve the world and not be served by it.

Mathew 20:25 – 28 But Jesus called them to him and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. 26 It shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, 27 and whoever would be first among you must be your slave, 28 even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

#5 Question: This is not easy to do in a world that often seems so individualistic. What does the Apostle Paul teach us about this? Answer: In Paul’s letter to the Philippians, we are urged to be united with Christ, and, through the comfort, love, Spirit, tenderness, and compassion we have from him, to look out for the interests of others

Philippians 2:3 – 4 Therefore if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any common sharing in the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, 2 then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind. 3 Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, 4 not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.

Conclusion: Strive for godliness, not for wealth, or what it will do for you, but what it will do for others and for Christ. He has bestowed wonderful blessings on you, and there is more to come. Be content (with what you have) and humble, enjoy his comfort, love, Spirit, tenderness and compassion–things we don’t have to work for. Lastly, seek to bless others.

Worry about having enough? I dare you…

This week’s money and stewardship devotional from the four Gospels* is from Luke 12:13 – 21, Jesus’ talking to us about worrying whether our needs will be met.

Then Jesus said to his disciples: “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat; or about your body, what you will wear. 23 For life is more than food, and the body more than clothes. 24 Consider the ravens: They do not sow or reap, they have no storeroom or barn; yet God feeds them. And how much more valuable you are than birds! 25 Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to your life? 26 Since you cannot do this very little thing, why do you worry about the rest?27 “Consider how the wild flowers grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you, not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. 28 If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today, and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, how much more will he clothe you—you of little faith! 29 And do not set your heart on what you will eat or drink; do not worry about it. 30 For the pagan world runs after all such things, and your Father knows that you need them. 31 But seek his kingdom, and these things will be given to you as well. 32 “Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father has been pleased to give you the kingdom. 33 Sell your possessions and give to the poor. Provide purses for yourselves that will not wear out, a treasure in heaven that will never fail, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys. 34 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

In an earlier post, titled the New Economy, based on the same verses in Matthew 6:24-33. I wrote about the new way of living that Jesus brought forth; it was a life not based on striving for one’s own needs, but on striving after the Kingdom and letting the Lord provide for us.

Many versions of the Bible title these verses under something like “Do not worry.” These kinds of titles are not usually in the original text, but are put there by publishers to help readers reference different places (by the way, the same could be said about chapter and verse numbers). The main differences between the verses in Matthew and Luke are that Luke includes verses 32 – 34, and Matthew does not. Good readers of the Bible should ask themselves why and what can it mean.

Jesus the son of God, tells us that he will provide for us lavishly if we will just seek the kingdom and righteousness. He tells us to have faith in Him (verse 28). Why is it that you and I worry about these things? We worry about having enough today, tomorrow, and in the future, especially old age (I wrote about retirement last week). We know we can’t just lie back and not work too (2 Thessalonians 3:10).

If we worry, it may come down to several reasons why:

  1. We live for today instead of for the kingdom and eternity;  Luke 12:23.
  2. We compare ourselves to other people instead of looking at all of creation,  thus we are not content with what God is providing; Luke 12:24, Luke 12:27 – 28. When we are not content, we often make really bad financial decisions.
  3. We think we are in control; Luke 12:25.
  4. We don’t believe God is generous, Luke 12:24 & Luke 12:27, so we strive after more above our needs instead of waiting patiently for God to provide, or we don’t think he will provide for us in the only way we think will make us happy.
  5. We have old pagan habits and divided hearts, Luke 12:29 – 30.
  6. Our treasure is not in heaven, but in other things, Luke 12:34.

3 dares to stop worrying. I promise you, if you do these three things, you will worry much less.

  1. Pray through these verses every day for a month, confess and repent where you need to, ask God for help.
  2. Seek His righteousness and kingdom in whatever you are doing, leave your agenda by the wayside, and pray for insight.
  3. Obey the commandment in Luke 12:33 to sell your possessions and give the money to the poor.

#3 sell your possessions and give to the poor:  The start of a new year is a great time to clean house. Start by making an inventory of your possessions. Review your list and sell everything that you have duplicates of (except for some clothing that you need spares for). Sell items you don’t use anymore. If it has been a least a year since you used an item, you probably don’t need it. Review items that you do use, but their use or maintenance takes time away from seeking righteousness, the kingdom and caring for your family. It is okay to hold onto some mementos or things in storage you may be holding for your children when they get their own places, but be careful not to hoard. Lastly, don’t buy more stuff unless you really need it.

*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 forty-second post in this series.

An Emerging Grocery Shopping Trend: Bargain Chains

Do you ever worry about the costs of groceries, whether you will have enough money for the food you need, or the food you like to eat? In a moment, we will review a low cost option people are using today to have enough food, good variety and at a low cost. But first, think about these key Bible verses: Matthew 6:25, Matthew 6:31, Acts 10:12-15, and Daniel 1:12-16.

Have you ever shopped for groceries at a bargain chain store? They are growing in broader acceptance because of low prices and great value. But first, let’s review the various ways people shop for groceries today and their advantages:

  1. Convenience chain shoppers: This is typified by people wanting speed and high quality. Prices tend to be the highest this way, but some people cut prices by using coupons and taking advantage of sales. This appeals to busy households, and those not wanting to become coupon queens or multi-store shoppers.
  2. Coupon shoppers: These folks know the skills of couponing well, and often go to more than one chain store. Going this way, you’ll develop some real skills and know how, and in time will grow a stockpile of free or deeply discounted items. The time spent to do this each week amounts to earning $50 per hour.
  3. Quick-mart shoppers: These folks shop at quick-markets and eat a lot of fast food. Sometimes this is the main market for people living in tough inner-city neighborhoods, or those that have few kitchen skills.
  4. Organic store or specialty store shoppers: This appeals to those who value and can afford this the most highest priced of all grocery store options. Trader Joe’s, Earth Fare, Wild Oats and many more.
  5. Big-box buyers: High product value, quantity and selection appeal to these shoppers at Costco and Sam’s Club. Prices are good, but it is easy to impulse spend and over-eat.
  6. Bargain market grocery shoppers: This appeals to people who value price over the best selection or product. Bargain grocery stores like Aldi, Marc’s, and Save-A-Lot compete in this market.

aldi2The Great Recession of the preceding decade stagnated or lowered people’s incomes. Healthcare and gasoline compete for their share of budgets, and with high food costs, more and more people are shopping at these bargain food outlets. I have had people tell me that they are embarrassed to shop there, but this image is going away. Their stores were once viewed as only a place where the poor would shop, but now we see people who only used to shop at large grocery chains there. Aldi announced plans that they are increasing U.S. stores by 50% over the next 5 years to meet this growing trend.

We shop there each week, because it is a good part of our food saving strategy including couponing. The food quality is mainly good, although selection is limited, we can get by. Some things I actually like better than other stores. For example, their store brand cheddar cheese has good flavor, and is much better than the no-taste low cost Sargento that Walmart markets.

Remember to bring your own bags, since they don’t have any and your bag your own. Lastly, don’t forget your quarter! You need a .25 cent piece to insert into a slot to obtain a grocery cart.

Looking for a great last minute gift idea?

I dislike shopping; crowds, traffic, and confusion, however I love to be creative. So when I got this idea for a gift, my heart leapt for joy!   This year, on one side of our family, we are doing a minimal gift exchange for $25. It is so hard to come up with a good idea, that doesn’t turn out to be next year’s white elephant gift for them to give. This gave me ideas for other gifts in the coming year.

basketNew Year’s Eve Celebration Basket: While strolling around Home Goods, looking for a Chotchky, which is Yiddish for trinket, or something of little value. I thought, wouldn’t it be cool if we could put together a New Year’s Eve date basket, for my brother and his wife (I hope they don’t read this article). We found a cool basket at Home Goods for $7.99 and headed off to The World Market to fill it.  I’m glad we got the basket at Home Goods because it was nicer and costs less than what saw at World Market. We filled the basked with a bottle of Champagne, cheddar cheese wedges, Carr’s Entertainment Crackers, Ghirardelli chocolate sampler square,s and a old-fashioned wooden pop gun to announce the coming of the new year. Total cost came to a tad over $30. All high quality items, and probably cheaper than buying a pre-assembled basket.

Here is a picture of it, although my wife Laura has yet to pretty it up with ribbons and paper. Laura found a holiday-ish napkin, and we might toss in a piece or two of fruit. Fun to do this, and glad that store was conquered. Happy New Year!


Jesus Discussing Inheritance and Retirement?

This week’s money and stewardship devotional from the four Gospels* is from Luke 12:13 – 21, some have titled the Parable of the Rich Fool, where we see Jesus teaching about putting our hope in money. Interestingly, he discusses it in the context of two common situations of abundant wealth; inheriting and retirement.

Someone in the crowd said to him, “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me.” 14 Jesus replied, “Man, who appointed me a judge or an arbiter between you?” 15 Then he said to them, “Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; life does not consist in an abundance of possessions.” 16 And he told them this parable: “The ground of a certain rich man yielded an abundant harvest. 17 He thought to himself, ‘What shall I do? I have no place to store my crops.’ 18 “Then he said, ‘This is what I’ll do. I will tear down my barns and build bigger ones, and there I will store my surplus grain. 19 And I’ll say to myself, “You have plenty of grain laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry.”’ 20 “But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?’  21 “This is how it will be with whoever stores up things for themselves but is not rich toward God.”

These are two very personal situations Jesus decides to discuss together; inheriting money and retirement.  Most people look forward to either one or both of these events. That is okay, but when we put our hope in them that is another thing all together. Why do we do this?  It may be that people look forward to the day that they can live the life of leisure without laboring for money every day, like the fellow in the parable here. If we inherit money, that could make that day come even sooner.

Only mention of retirement in the Bible? This verse is the only one that I have found in the Bible that speaks directly about retirement. This may be that few people in ancient times either had any hope of accumulating enough wealth to live on for an indefinite period of time, but more likely, people didn’t live much longer after their bodies wore out.

Life spans affect retirement. During the birth of Christianity in the 1st century, the average life expectancy was around age 46 (if you lived past age 10). People did live to older ages, but it was usually in a communal setting, and not to a house on a golf course with lifetime health care. In the middle ages, except for the black death years, if someone survived childhood illness, military service, and pregnancy, and made it into your twenties, then the average age was in the mid sixties. In the twentieth century, average ages spans crept into the 70’s and 80’s. Now it is common for people to live into their 90’s and older!

The new idea of retirement. The modern concept of leisure retirement didn’t really come into reality until the last 100 years. Considering the 8,000 years of civilized man, this is a relativity new idea.

The growth of individual wealth. Until the growth of democracy and entrepreneurs in the last several hundred years, very people who labored for a living, could ever hope to earn and save enough to be able to think about retirement. Before modern times, a great deal of wealth was held by aristocracies, religious authorities, and governments.

The perfect storm. The increase in personally owned wealth, life spans, entrepreneurship and social security benefits, created or allowed for the modern idea of retirement.

What about Jesus and retirement?  Jesus seemed to lump retirement and inheriting into the same bundle. Since in the first century, retirement was not known, but having wealth so that someone could live in leisure was common.

He called anyone a “Fool” for putting their hope in money.  This is a severe word actually. The dictionary definition of a fool ranges from someone who is deficient in judgment, sense, or understanding, all the way to someone who has diminished mental capacities. In fact in Matthew 5:22, Jesus strongly commands us not to call anyone a fool. When Jesus says we will be like one, if we do this, then we should take notice.

3 Types of Retirement: 1.) Inward directed, leisure retirement, where one’s main goal is to spend most of one’s retirement years relaxing and vacationing.  2.) Outward directed, missional retirement, where one’s main goal is to be engaged in activities that contribute positively to society.  For the Christian, this could be helping in a ministry they can volunteer in, or derive some kind of income doing.  3.) High wealth retirement is for people who have accumulated a large amount of money, or own a business. These people often do a mix of the first two, as well as spending time managing their wealth as a good steward, and blessing others through large charitable contributions.  I haven’t mentioned more time to focus on marriage relationships, physical health issues, retirement more focused on grandchildren, friendships and community. These are other things are important to consider for one’s retirement goals

Post recession retirement. Many affected by the Great Recession, will not have enough money to retire, so they may have to continue working into their 70’s or later. For these people, they will combine many aspects of the first two retirement types, and work for a living. There is no shame in working in our older years, and for many people it will be source of joy and ministry to co-workers. See Colossians 3:23.

Retirement planning is good. Proverbs 6:6-8 Go to the ant, thou sluggard; consider her ways, and be wise: Which having no guide, overseer, or ruler, Provideth her meat in the summer, and gathereth her food in the harvest. It is wise to plan for retirement; to set aside enough money so that one could do #2 above. It is a good goal to have an outward directed, missional retirement, as well as focused on some leisure, marriage relationship, grandchildren, friendships and community, while considering the possibility of diminished health.

Bad retirement. Our future hope, though as Jesus warned should not be on wealth, or a life of leisure; we might not live to enjoy it as he warned. In addition, we could lose it some day, through bad management, poor health, theft (ie. Bernie Madoff investors), or a bad economy. Better to build a character on Jesus, instead of money hopes.

What about today? In Matthew 6:25-34, Jesus tells us to not worry about tomorrow. Lamentations 3:22-23 says “The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.” Hope, joy, mercy and grace is new everyday. Our hope is not in money, or good circumstances, but in Christ (Romans 5:2).

*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 forty-first post in this series.

Improved Finances Helped Marriage, Ministry and Career

This couple took a financial education class 3 years ago in the Fall of 2010, and it dramatically changed the course of their lives; in ministry and careers, as well as marriage. The work to improve finances is hard, but it is worth it, as this story demonstrates.

“God used the financial ministry at Vineyard Columbus and the Dave Ramsey Financial Peace University course to help break the bondage of debt in our lives and our marriage.  We had $20,000 in credit card debt when we started the program and were in what seemed to be an endless cycle of running up the credit card bills, struggling to pay them down, only to run them back up again.  Using the principles learned in the Financial Peace University course, humbled hearts, and thankfully a promotion at my job, we were able to pay off our debt in its entirety over the course of 12-14 months.  Shortly after paying off our debt and building some savings, God opened a door for me to take a job working full time with World Vision at their corporate HQ in Federal Way, Washington.  Had we still been in debt, there is no way we could have accepted the opportunity with World Vision and moved our family across the country to chase a dream to serve Jesus in a greater capacity.  Our debt burden and bad money management habits were a point of contention in our marriage and caused much contention.  Therefore, the freedom we gained was not just breaking free from the burden of debt, but freedom and unity in our marriage like we had not known in the past.  Praise God!!!”  -R. & J. D.

Luke 11:46 Ground Level Social Justice

This week’s money and stewardship devotional from the four Gospels* is from Luke 11:46, and is about ground level social justice.

Jesus replied, “And you experts in the law, woe to you, because you load people down with burdens they can hardly carry, and you yourselves will not lift one finger to help them.

This morning at the gymnasium a Christian women friend was talking to me about the financial struggles young people have. She came across as very judgemental to me. She was an expert, in her eyes about the financial stress young couples have trying to make ends meet. In her mind, most of the time, both the husband and wife both work outside the home, is because it is a decision to have a higher standard of living.

I reminded her that when I graduated from college in 1983 the average cost of a nice house was under $100,000, and our rent was $200. Today housing costs dominate much more of one’s budget. Health care didn’t cost what it does today; when our daughter was born in 1989 our total out-out-of-pocket cost was less than a $100 for all of my wife’s and daughter’s care from the beginning of the pregnancy until we brought them both home from the hospital. Multi-thousand dollar health insurance deductibles are common today. In addition, gasoline and food is nearly triple what it was 30 years ago. One of the big effects of the recession is many people’s income has stagnated, or people drained their savings during long periods of unemployment. Once people did get back to work, their salaries are no where what they used to be.  Even worse, are people working in manufacturing, they have fewer jobs to fight over, forcing many of them to earn minimum wages.

Luke 11:46 was a picture of Jesus talking to “Experts in the Law.”  This meant, people who had a high religious position, and of good education and intelligence, and income who sat in judgement of other people. In modern times, this is the average well-educated, politically opinionated person. Basically, this is you and me, and almost every other American. We are all experts in politics, religion, social programs, economics, education, and work. When we see people struggling financially, or receiving government help, or two working spouses; we judge them or society for their situation, for their bad decisions, lack of skills or whatever reason we can come up with.

Everyone has a strong opinion on how to help others, but how many of us “lift one finger to help them?” When we don’t, do we “load people down with burdens they can hardly carry?”  The burden of judgement can be heavy, yet the load lightening word of encouragement to people struggling can be life-sustaining. On one side of the social justice argument, some say we help strugglers enough, with government programs, while others say, we just need to increase taxes so that we can help them more. Jesus didn’t get involved in this age-old argument; I think Jesus is calling us to NOT SAY (judge), but DO SOMETHING to help them. I can’t recall Jesus ever asking government to step in, but he often calls you and me to help other people one-on-one, not just by paying taxes or writing a check to a not-for-profit (which is good, and I don’t condemn that).

Jesus is talking about Ground Level Social Justice. You and me getting our hands dirty, helping people to carry their burdens. We got help when our children were young, when my parents babysat our children so my wife could work a part-time job. People at church were willing to help me budget and learn financial skills. Our church had a Benevolence Ministry; it provided counsel and financial help to those caught in financial crisis. What can you do?  The book, When Helping Hurts, by: Steve Corbett, Brian Fikkert says there are 5 essential keys to helping people get out of financial difficulty (or preventing them from experiencing it): 1) Employment assistance (such as resume writing, interviewing and work skills)  2) Financial  counseling and classes  3) Loving and supportive community, like churches offer, especially through small groups 4) Financial assistance (help with bills and food pantries), but only coupled with the preceding 4, and 5) Entrepreneurship, or helping people start or grow a business, or start one yourself, that may eventually create good paying jobs with benefits.

There are literally hundreds of programs in your church and community that help people with these 5 areas. This is ground level social justice in action; it helps people and it builds a strong and loving community where you live.

*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 fortieth post in this series.

Jesus and the Pharisees, Giving to the Poor and Clean Hearts

This week’s money and stewardship devotional from the four Gospels* is from Luke 11:37-41,  about Jesus connecting serving the poor and having a clean heart.

When Jesus had finished speaking, a Pharisee invited him to eat with him; so he went in and reclined at the table. But the Pharisee was surprised when he noticed that Jesus did not first wash before the meal. Then the Lord said to him, “Now then, you Pharisees clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside you are full of greed and wickedness. You foolish people! Did not the one who made the outside make the inside also? But now as for what is inside you—be generous to the poor, and everything will be clean for you.

Jesus was either listening to the Pharisee’s grumbles, or like on other occasions, he may be demonstrated his ability to know people’s thoughts. Either way, he knew they were judging him based upon outside appearances. Jesus judged them for their greed and wickedness.

Do you ever judge someone by how they appear on the outside? Recently I heard someone say that people thought she was weird, because she had rather strange behaviors. She liked to farm, getting her hands dirty rasing crops and caring for animals- much different from the life she lived as a Fortune 500 company CEO. Also, she lived in a small home, even though she could live in the estate’s grandeos mansion.  She said people now considered her just eccentric, because she is very wealthy — interesting perspective! It is easy for us to judge other people by their outside appearances isn’t it? It can be race, how wealthy or poor they appear is often used, looking at the car they drive, the neighborhood they live in. The Pharisees were judging based upon behavior, and they were judging Jesus, even though he showed compassion and love to thousands of people. Manners, diction, schooling, accents and family are all used to judge people.

Christians are like the Pharisees, we want to look successful to those around us too. We don’t want to look bad or dumb. Among our fellow believers we want to look good too, god forbid that we give the perception that we are being judged by God for bad acts or lack of performance, or for some reason are not as blessed as other people. If we think this way about ourselves, do we then think this about other people too? Probably.

But just like in this scripture, Jesus can see what we are like on the inside; what we are really like. We know that we ought to behave better, more like the principles we believe in. We are all hypocrites really, the Apostle Paul knew this, that is why he devoted a couple of chapters in Romans about it (Romans 6 & Romans 7).

Back to Luke 11:41 But now as for what is inside you—be generous to the poor, and everything will be clean for you. This verse begs the question, can we be clean on the inside, can our hearts be cleansed, and forgiven and made right by God for the way we treat the poor, by being generous to them? Can we write a check, and have our salvation assured for all of eternity?

When Jesus talks, he does so in a way that makes us want to dig down deep within our souls. The Pharisees, experts in the law, may have been well-off financially. They probably knew that to be generous to the poor, they would have to do so in a way that didn’t hurt the poor more than helping them- kind of like giving money to a homeless guy, with beer breath, standing outside a liquor store. Being generous to the poor means, getting down on your knees, getting your hands dirty, being uncomfortable with their smells and imperfections. Helping them with their problems and being used at times. It means using your connections, being industrious, speaking out on their behalf, encouraging and praying with them.

It has been my experience being around a lot of people who work regularly with those in poverty and homelessness, that they know how badly they need Jesus to clean their own hearts, to save them, and help them through life. They can identify with those in poverty, because they are just like them. Those following Jesus respond this way to those in need around them. They don’t judge others, which is just an excuse for not helping them, they care for others. These people are not perfect, but they know Jesus is their savior, and their hearts are clean, because of what Jesus did on the cross to save them. Jesus followers, are the beloved by God, covered in a beautiful white robe, and they have clean hearts- and they love and serve Jesus (Matthew 25:40).

*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 thirty-ninth post in this series.

Thanksgiving and Black Friday Illusion

It is strange that we have Black Friday so close to Thanksgiving. Going from a time of thankfulness into rapid intense materialistic fueled buying, that the Wall Street Journal reported is just a rip-off anyway, more on that in a moment. Last year about this time, I wrote about Thanksgiving, because I think it is one of my favorite Holidays of the year.  It is a great time to be thankful for all of the good things that we have, and for the challenges that made us better. Having a thankful attitude is much healthier than any other way to think: it is felt contentment. It is at the core of happiness.  Although having a positive attitude is good, but sometimes that even leads people to depression. Funny, a book came out about a year ago that exposed this truth: The power of negative thinking, I wrote about that too. So before you jump from Thanksgiving into Black Friday, consider the following:

The Wall Street Journal reported today in Black Friday : A Retail Illusion, The Dirty Secret of Black Friday Discounts, is merely a manipulative ploy to get you to buy things you think are at the lowest cost of the year. In actuality, retailers are really smart, they know how to price things, and adjust the prices in anticipation of low Holiday sales, just to trick you into buying.

Is the practice legal?  According to the Federal Trade Commission, it is a violation to artificially increase a price just to run it lower on sale. For example, you can’t advertise the price of a car for $25,000 and sell it with a $5,000 discount from the beginning, unless it was advertised for $25,000 and sold it at that regular price before. How do retailers get away with it?  They know the law and they carefully do all kinds of little tricks to not cross the line. I imagine if a store offered a men’s dress suit online for or in the back of their store for a while at one price, with the full intent of later increasing the display and inventory, to move it out front for 40% off, then they could skirt the law.  Too bad most major retailers play the sale game to compel sales. When some do it, it seems all have to play the game, or face less business since everyone is doing it. Why don’t retailers just have high credibility and offer things at their lowest price already, and only discount at the end of a season to blow out inventory?

JC Penny tried to just have a low price, but they failed.  Earlier this year, new management (that is no longer there), tried to just price things competitively, save money on sales advertisement and other promotions, believing the consumer would see the value and buy. This approach failed. Other retailers and JC Penny learned that people want the feeling of a sale and discounts, since it makes them feel emotionally better at the cash register.

Low price teaser products are offered in small quantities to get you into the store. For example retailers like Best Buy will probably offer a HD TV for a deep discount, just to get you through the door. They might not make any money it on it, but once you are in there, you will buy probably buy a CD, computer, DVD player, game system, Cell phone (and service) or appliance. But who are you buying those things for?

Black Friday is not just for gift giving, since many people for themselves at those sales. This fact breaks many people’s Holiday budgets and adds a lot of money to retailer’s bottom line (and your credit card balance). If you are on a tight budget, watch out for these temptations. It always kills me to see….

People wait in line for days for the special teaser items. I have heard reports that people have been waiting in front of some stores for more than a week already, just to save a couple of hundred dollars on some piece of what will some day be junk!  Wouldn’t those people have been much better off, working a part-time job for those days, wouldn’t they have more money in their pocket from a paycheck and from not buying things? Yes.

Can you still get some great deals on Black Friday? Yes you can, but take your smart phone if you have one, to compare prices online, to make sure you are not getting fooled (some stores price match to online prices). If they run out, because you researched it and delayed shopping for it for a day or two, so what, there will be other sales before 12/25. The competition is fierce, and retailers will be competing. However, know what is a good deal before you buy, don’t buy into the…

Back Friday hype and hysteria. Instead of spending all your time fighting the crowds, traffic and for parking places; relax. I work too hard to spend all my day-off time doing something that literally gives me a headache. You can tell I don’t like to shop to begin with, but…

If you enjoy Black Friday shopping because it kick starts your Holiday spirit, then go for it, but have a budget; a list of the people, things, and price limits. Also, talk to your spouse or accountability partner before you go, and tell them you are going to call them for emotional support before you go off budget. It is good to have a checks and balances person, to avoid impulse spending and to get their opinion on a price before you buy.

I hope you have a great Thanksgiving!

50% Off eFinPLAN for Veterans

I appreciate the service, commitment and sacrifice veterans have made to our country and its people.  To honor you, we are offering 50% off the regular cost of eFinPLAN of $49 semi-annual, so that all interested veterans can get a comprehensive financial plan for only $24.50.

We created eFinPLAN in 2007 to help people obtain a low cost financial plan, so that along with their trusted advisors, people can have an organized and comprehensive system for obtaining their financial goals.

Veterans please contact me and I will send you a coupon code for you to use when you sign up.