Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Where is your trust placed?

Every choice we make is a reflection of our beliefs and testifies to the world about us. It is very humbling for me to consider that people learn more about my faith by watching how I act on it than they do from my words. I am challenged day after day, do my actions tell people that my faith is in Christ alone?

If someone were to open my checkbook and view the transactions through any period of time, would they see that my hope is in Christ? What do my transactions say about me? Do they show me hoarding money? Do they show me spending it all? Do they show me purchasing things that I wouldn't want others to know about? My spending, giving and savings choices speak just as clearly about me as any words could.

I Chronicles 29:11 tells us that "Everything in the heavens and earth is yours O Lord" You see, we don't own anything. God owns it all. Luke 16:11 warns us: "If therefore you have not been faithful in managing worldly wealth, who will entrust to you the true riches?" Our role is to merely manage what God owns. It is different thinking from the world around us, but important for us to grasp.

You see this is a test. My choices reflect where my trust is placed. Do we really look to God or do we look to ourselves and our own resources to supply our needs? Is God really God of my life or do I just give lip service? The sincerity of our commitment to the Lord is reflected in every thought word and deed. Will we place our trust in God or will we retain some control for ourselves?

Our choices today will show the world what we believe but it will also be an act of worship to God that we are looking to him for our every need and we are glorifying him in every choice we make...including our purchases. Don't let your money talk badly about you today. Be a good steward of every resource God has given you that you may shine brightly for him!

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Real Economic Stimulus

This blog was primarily designed to help people in practical ways put into practice scriptural principles. I had envisioned practical articles helping you to get a budget started that would free you up to be able to pay down debt and save for your future. As I was doing my devotions this morning, I came across a scriptural principle that applies across our economy and may be the key to our continued blessing from God.

I was reading in Nehemiah chapter 9. The people of Israel under Nehemiah's leadership had just completed rebuilding the wall of Jerusalem. Nehemiah had gathered everyone together for a dedication ceremony, but when Ezra began to read the Book of the Law to the people, they were convicted of how they had abandoned God's direction. After the time of dedication and celebration of the Festival of Booths the people were gathered together in fasting, sackcloth and dust on their heads to confess their sins.

They spent 1/4 of their day just reading the Book of the Law and another 1/4 of their day confessing sins and worshipping God. The prayer starting in verse 5 going through 37 documents how God deserves the loyalty of the people. They outline his role as creator and how he chose Abraham and made a covenant with him. The recanting of their history continues with how God heard their pleas for deliverance from the suffering in Egypt and the miraculous signs and wonders he displayed. They tell of how God spoke at Mt. Sinai and gave commands for the people to follow and promises of blessing if they would be faithful. God had provided for their every need and yet the people rebelled.

Time after time, God took back his people after they had committed wicked deeds choosing to forgive and extend mercy to them not because of their goodness, but because of his. At the time of this prayer, the people acknowledge that the hardships that they are enduring were foretold by the prophets, but they wouldn't hear their warnings. They continued their own way until it led them into slavery and oppression. Even then they were an occupied territory and subject to the commands of the Babylonian king.

Proverbs 22:7 tells us that "just as the rich rule the poor, so the borrower is servant to the lender". Everyone these days is talking about what got us into our condition as a nation and whether the actions that are being taken by government are sufficient to restore our economy. More often than not, when I listen to people offer commentary on what caused the problem, I hear greedy wall street bankers, lenders who extended bad credit, car manufacturers who did not see warnings when they were not profitable and did not adjust to the market conditions. Virtually no one is saying that they had a role to play in this big picture.

When I hear about the solutions being offered, the government is saying that they had no choice but to become involved, people in communities around the nation are accepting stimulus payments, corporations and states are taking stimulus dollars from the federal government without regard for our long term future. The greed and affluence that created the debt that is now drowning the global economy is extending more debt to address the issue. This government bailout is not sound practice and will never be able to restore our nation, it will enslave us just as surely as the Israelites were enslaved to Babylon.

The Israelites were guilty of short term thinking only wanting what seemed attractive at the time without regard for the scriptural principles they had to violate to get it. God allowed them to see where that kind of thinking would take them. God didn't enslave them, they enslaved themselves by choosing their own way and not honoring God. God intended for them to live free from slavery and to show the world that a life that honors God is blessed.

We are guilty of the same crimes. We can't blame Wall St., the Corporations or our government. It was our own unwillingness to choose to be content with God's provision and to live a lifestyle that honored God rather than feeding our short term desires that has created this house of cards. We cannot possibly correct the problem by issuing more debt. The people on Wall St. and the people who operate the corporations are you and me, they are our neighbors next door. They aren't some distant disconnected peoples who don't have a clue what our lifestyle is like. The elected officials are the people we elected to office; they reflect our values.

The only solution that will have any real impact is for us - each of us - individually and corporately to acknowledge our greed and affluence got us here. The Israelites saw the pattern of their behavior. They were faithless and then encountered trouble; they looked to God for deliverance and found rest. Nehemiah 9:28 confesses "But as soon as they were at rest, they again did what was evil in your sight".

We as a nation and individually have sinned before God choosing our own way over his whether in our finances or in other lifestyle choices. Our only hope is to confess our sins and redirect our lives. I don't think that we can do this apart from some serious study of scripture like the Israelites did. Not just a casual verse or two to inspire us each day but a true investigation of God's ways, God's character, our perpetual sinfulness, and our need for a Savior to deliver us.

The economic stimulus the government offers today is just a ticket to long term slavery. We can't sustain the flow of money that is being tossed about. We need to get back to basics which means a change of lifestyle that puts God first.

Let's take the first step. Start personally to study scripture and acknowledge our sins before God and worship him for his faithfulness and provision for us. Extend the back to basics philosophy to our homes and then to our extended family. We can all make a difference; we need to choose to be bold and stand for the Lord. If we do this for ourselves, we will be able to reach to our neighbor and offer a helping hand to encourage him through this hardship.

I believe that if God's people will humble themselves, confess their sins and ask for forgiveness that God will hear from heaven and respond in a mighty way. I don't know if the rapture is today, tomorrow or next week, but when I consider the economic devastation that would lead our world to a one world currency and a league of nations that opposes Israel told in Revelation, it just doesn't seem that far away to me. If the rapture is to occur before this happens, it could very well be today. Be ready and stand boldly for the Lord.

May God richly bless you as you seek him and as you serve him.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

God's Role in our Finances

When I first became a Christian, I didn't know much about scripture. I had attended Sunday School and church, but most of what I knew came through the funnel of someone else who had studied the Bible and spent time personally with the Lord. I knew enough to know that I needed a Savior and that my life was not what it could be and certainly didn't have the contentment that I saw in others who were teaching me.

I really didn't become engaged in any serious Bible study until I found that someone else's relationship with the Lord was insufficient and found worldly practices having greater influence on me than the Spirit.

It was Larry Burkett who helped me understand that Scriptural principles are not merely intellectual exercises but are very practical and influence our choices and are evidence of the Lord's control of our lives. It was from his radio program that I was first challenged to consider how my actions reflect what I say I believe.

When his ministry merged with Crown, I took Crown's Bible Study. The very first thing that struck me was the biggest financial stresses in my life are issues that God should have control over. We systematically looked at the role God plays.

1. He is in control of everything: He controls our circumstances, our jobs, our family, our leaders, everything. Consider 1 Chron 29:11-12 Everything in the heavens and earth is yours O Lord, and this is your kingdom. We adore you as being in control of everything. Riches and honor come from you alone and you are the ruler of all mankind. Your hand controls power and might and it is at your discretion that men are made great and given strength.

2. He is our provider: our provision doesn't come from our own effort, but from God's blessing. He gives the opportunity and our responsibility is to be faithful in acting on the opportunities given. In Philippians 4:19, he has promised to supply all our needs according to his riches in glory.

3. God has unlimited resources: He owns everything. The cattle on 1000 hills are his, the gold and the silver is his. The world and all that is in it is his. (Ps 50: 10-12)

4. God cares for his people: Over and over through scripture we see that God takes care of his own; sometimes even supernaturally. We can trust that if we belong to him, he will not let us out of his hand. Consider Romans 8:28 For I know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God and are called according to his purpose"

5. God's ways aren't ours: So often we like to tell God how we would like him to provide for our needs, but his ways are not ours. We are told that as far as the heavens are above the earth so are God's ways higher than ours. God doesn't always provide exactly like we think he ought to, but we can trust that his way is best even if we don't understand.

6. God is greater than any problem we face: Jeremiah confirmed in 32:17 that Nothing is too difficult for you.

7. God disciplines us to keep us from sin and to develop our character into the likeness of Christ. Not all the circumstances in our lives are pleasant, but we can trust that he has a plan even in the hardest circumstances to develop our character and increase our faith and trust in him as our God.

Are you in a situation bigger than you? It isn't too big for God. Do you not see a way to resolve your financial headaches? Look to God, his plan may be something you never would have considered on your own. Is the stress of your situation stealing your peace? Consider how God may be using this for your development and find peace in knowing that he will see you through even the most difficult of circumstances.

May God richly bless you as you seek him and as you serve him!

A Study to Apply God's Financial Principles

I had my eyes opened when I participated in a Crown Financial Ministries Bible Study a few years ago. Before I go on, let me commend this study to you if you have not completed it. It stands apart from other financial fitness programs being introduced to our churches as first and foremost teaching Biblical principles and secondarily introducing financial strategies to apply them. Other studies seem to reverse the priorities of principles over strategy.

Crown's first and foremost goal is to increase the person's intimacy with the Lord and encourage them to live for him wholeheartedly in EVERY aspect of their lives including their financial choices.

If you don't have a study in your area, you can be the one to bring it to your church by participating in a leader training afterwhich you are equipped to form small groups in your church.

As a means to discipleship, I think this is an excellent study to help us understand God's role in our lives and our responsibility as his people to respond in love and obedience. As an outreach to the community around, I think it is an excellent tool to help prepare people to witness and to allow the church to meet the financial needs of the community.

If you can't do a study in your church, Crown has an outstanding website that has free articles and a thing called the Money Map. You can create a login for free on their site and track your progress in your financial journey. Crown has on line budget coaches and local coaches around the United States to help you through your financial crisis and encourage you as you begin to apply God's financial principles in your own life.

I highly recommend the course and have had my thinking forever changed because of it. I will share a little more about that in my next blog.

In the meantime, may God richly bless you as you seek him and as you serve him!

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

10 Keys to Witnessing with our Finances

There has been no other time like this economically; not just in the United States, but around the world people are seeing their financial picture suffer from cut backs, increased costs, and decreased value of their assets. Christians have always had opportunity to witness to the unsaved but today we have a time unlike what we have known in the past.

You may have incurred debt or have bills that are greater than you are comfortable with, but today you can make a change. People all around you are looking to see how you will handle your own struggles. Your choices today may even lead someone to a life of faith. How Christians handle their hardships is the greatest witness we have to an unbelieving world.

Here are some ideas based on scripture for how we can shine as bright witnesses to the world:

1. Seek God First: our priorities get out of alignment with God's when we don't take the time to read the Bible regularly. We read not as a literary exercise, but to glean God's wisdom and encouragement to persevere through hard times. Bible study and prayer allow us to experience fellowship with the Lord and helps to correct the influences of the world we receive each day.

2. Be a generous giver. Christians should be known for their generosity. We have received eternal life how can we not share with others. By giving to the Lord we demonstrate He has first priority in our lives. I encourage people to give to the Lord a portion even if you are in financial hard times. The Lord knows your situation and giving is an outward indicator of your trust in him to provide through your difficulties. Consider ways you can share with others your time and talents. Everyone can reach out to someone else. While you give to someone else, be sure to tell them of your faith so that others can come to know Jesus Christ as their Savior; that is a gift that will bring glory to God!

3. Live within your means. God owns everything and he has chosen to fund your level of provision for a purpose. He has promised to supply your needs, but not necessarily your wants. Critically look at your standard of living to see if there are changes that you can make that will reduce the cost of living for you and your family. Have a family meeting and talk together about what your hope to accomplish with your lifestyle and what choices will allow your life to speak more boldly of your faith in Jesus Christ and your trust for God's provision in your life.

4. Look for other income opportunities: Many families have cut back as much as they can and still struggle to make ends meet. Get creative about ways that you can increase your monthly income. This is a great opportunity to do a family entrepreneurial venture to earn money and teach your children the value of work.

5. Consider selling items to generate cash. Think about it; all that stuff will end up in a dump one day anyway. Capitalize on its value now and transform the cash into something that will have a greater impact on your financial future (like paying off debt and establishing savings). Besides our treasures aren't here anyway.

6. Pay more than the minimum on debt. Every little bit helps. Compound interest is a phenomenon that works against families who owe, so the way you defeat the enemy of compound interest is to take away the force used against you by paying more than the minimum. As Christians, our responsibility is to be people of our word, so we should never not pay our debts; our testimony depends on it.

7. Establish a habit of saving. The Bible encourages us to consider the costs and prepare before beginning a project. We witness to the world through savings because we show that we are willing to wait for God's timing to move on purchases and that we don't presume upon God's future blessing by getting ahead of him through the use of debt.

I believe you need three kinds of savings.

A. Irregular expenses: those things that don't come due each month like: insurance, taxes, school clothes, Christmas, gifts etc.

B. Emergency fund: everyone has emergencies from time to time. The more you can save in advance the less painful they will be when they happen. Especially in times like these you need savings of at least six month's salary to sustain you if you should lose your job. Begin with a goal of $1,000 in savings and build on it over time. You can get that by selling items or living on austerity for a couple of months to get some extra cash.

C. You need long term savings for things like school expenses and retirement. You can't depend on other pools to carry you through. Long term savings is a great way to begin investing for your future. I recommend participating in your employer retirement if it is available. If it isn't begin an IRA of your own and just start putting some money aside. Many people live nearly as long in retirement as they did in the workforce, so the reserve will need to sustain you through those years. The earlier you begin the better - like today. No matter how old you are, you should begin to prepare for your long term future.

8. Train your children: Money management should be a family affair. Find creative ways to bring the children into the process. They will learn from the experiences they gain at home so that they will be wise stewards in the future. The investment in training your child is more important to their future success than any degree could ever be. By training them to look to God for their provision and be wise with the provision they have received they will be well equipped to avoid the trappings of materialism and be free to serve God where ever he leads.

9. Avoid debt. Paul said in Philippians, that he had learned to be content in whatever circumstance he was in. It didn't come natural. Our inclination is to want things quickly and let's be honest, we hate to wait. The more we can train ourselves to be content with what we have and thankful for God's provision, the less inclined we will be to lust after more stuff that we can't afford right now. If you had to use debt to get it; you couldn't afford it right now.

10. Right size where needed: Companies do it all the time. We can too. If your total debt payments are greater than 10% of your income, now is the time to right size. If your housing expenses are greater than 35% of your income, you know the financial pressure it is placing on everyone in your home.

Find ways to get credit balances down so that you don't become controlled by historical purchases. We need to be people who put the past behind us and live abundantly today and in hope of our eternal future. We can't do that if we are dragging around the evidences of our past. When I confess my sins, my Lord is faithful to forgive my sins and I put them behind me. We need to do the same with our debts; make them a thing of the past.

Make the hard choices: Sometimes making a new financial start means admitting that we can't afford what we have and moving to something we can afford. Is your car too expensive? Find ways to sell that car and get into a less expensive but reliable vehicle to get you where you need to go. Is the home you are in consuming too much of your income? Moving to a smaller or more affordable place is an option. Begin planning and praying now that the Lord will reveal the buyer and the affordable alternative.

10. Be a cheap date: Fun does not have to be expensive. We all need entertainment from time to time. It is part of our social nature to want to share fun activities together. God made us that way. Fun doesn't have to be expensive. You can find ways to make fun almost anywhere. Make every day an adventure. Get the kids involved in making up games that everyone can play together. Remember back to days when you had less perhaps. What did you do for fun then? It didn't have to be costly; it just needed to include the people you love.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Brand New Blog

I created this blog to share thoughts about God's perspective on the money we manage. We have so many players in our lives directing our spending decisions, often we leave out the most important one...God. He gave you what you have in the first place and it all belongs to him to begin with and in the end. I hope that this blog will give you courage to stand boldly for the Lord in all of your decisions.

I believe that our spending decisions are a key indicator of where our priorities lie. We witness everyday to the world about what is important to us by the way we spend the money in our hands. I hope that in this blog, I can help encourage you to make godly decisions and learn what God says about our responsibilities as stewards and take encouragement as we learn about how God has promised to supply our needs.