Archive for February, 2012

The Biblical Budget

Posted on February 26, 2012. Filed under: Culture, Money | Tags: , , , |

Recently I found myself hunting for children’s shows that won’t drive me insane and teach things completely opposite of my value structure. In my search this week, I found one where a little bear came up to his dad who was diligently working at the table. Here’s how the conversation went:

Little Bear: Dad, what are you working on?

Dad Bear: Oh, the budget.

Little Bear: What’s a budget?

Dad Bear: It’s a list of all our bills.

…and ??? Is this show funded by Congress? This ‘educational’ ditty neglected to mention planning out your expenses given an income. Sadly, this is a pretty accurate way of how most people ‘budget.’ It is normal to live paycheck to paycheck and buy anything you “need” with a credit card when the money runs out. It’s also normal to a lack plan on how to pay off debts. Not only is this a terrible way to spend money, but it’s counter to biblical finance.

Jesus said, “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?” (Luke 14:28). As Christians, we’re called to be intentional with our money – to have a plan for our money that includes expenses and income. Some might call this a budget. If you recall when God created man, the fist thing He did was make Adam His steward, to look after God’s creations and to take care of them (Gen 2:15). The question is – how do we?

First off, God calls us to live on less than or equal to what we take in. That means He’s not a fan of debt. Debt for yourself (Prov 22:7). Debt for a another, i.e. cosigning on a loan (Prov 22:26-27). Or asking others to go into debt for you (2 Thes 3:8). And if you happen to find yourself in debt, get out of it as fast as possible, which doesn’t mean sticking to the ‘minimum payment’ technique (Prov 6:1-5). Interestingly enough, did you know what 75% of the Forbes Fortune 400 (the 400 richest people in the US) said the best way to build wealth was by avoiding debt? You won’t become wealthy by accumulating airline miles, making one or two car payments, and certainly not by playing the lottery.

So, what is the Biblical way to budget? First, God expects you to give 10% of your income (before taxes) back to the Church. Though the patriarchs tithed, it didn’t become mandatory until Moses was given the law (Deut 14:22-29, Matt 23:23, Heb 5:10). This isn’t because God ‘needs’ our money, it’s because we need to be reminded where we feel it most that the money isn’t ours to begin with (Deu 14:23).

Next comes taking care of your own family’s needs (1 Tim 5:8). This is where the rent/mortgage (if you all ready have one), utilities, food, transportation etc comes in. Notice it’s your family’s needs, not wants. Shoes are a need, but the new Jordan’s are a want. A car is a need (spoken like a true American), but a $30,000 financed car is a want. Also keep in mind your ‘family’ refers to your spouse, children and those not able to take care of themselves (not to be confused with the boomerang generation or those unwilling to take care of themselves – another topic).

Scripture also reminds us that taxes are a necessary evil (Luke 20:25), so ensure your with-holding is set-up properly to avoid paying Uncle Sam on a credit card. Save up for emergencies and retirement, which will happen whether you are prepared for them or not (Prov 6:6-8, Prov 21:20). And good news for the grand kids, God thinks it’s cool to build up enough wealth to shower them with the Benjamins (Prov 13:22).

Other than that, the best I can tell, income is ours to allocate as we see fit. It’s a pretty good idea to get advice from those who understand money, but keep in mind that appearances can be deceiving. Just because someone drives a nice car and lives in a nice house, doesn’t mean the bank isn’t the one who really owns those toys.

So, what’s the key to sticking to a biblical budget? Discipline (Prov 13:18). You will need to practice saying the word that is forbidden in Congress: “No.” I’ve talked to plenty of people who think all this advice sounds great, but if you can’t tell yourself, your spouse, and your kids ‘no’, it won’t work.

How do I know all this will work? Because I lived it. We used to be normal when it came to debt. We bought into the ‘I deserve it’ culture. But once we got on a written budget, my husband and I paid off about $40,000 in a little over 2 years. In that time we also paid cash for a new (used) family car and were able to buy furniture for our growing family without any payments. Now that we are debt free, we’re able to completely focus on saving for emergencies, investing for retirement, and preparing for kids’ college. I can personally attest that God’s plan is a whole lot less stressful and rewarding than any new car or financed vacation.

(Note: Full disclosure, I’m a big Dave Ramsey advocate.)

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Pause for Feedback

Posted on February 19, 2012. Filed under: Culture, Economics, Government | Tags: , , , |

English: U-Haul van being refueled on the Rout...

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As some of you know, right now I’m in the process of transitioning to a bigger home to accommodate our expanding family. While I’d love to sit and write a moving post on what the Bible has to say about Uhaul, I’d rather take this opportunity to ask my readers to provide some feedback and guidance on what they’d like to read more about. Feel free to take the following poll or just ‘comment.’ Thanks everyone, and I’ll be back next week.

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I Will Always Love You…Until I Fall Out of Love.

Posted on February 12, 2012. Filed under: Culture | Tags: , , , , , |

The Bodyguard: Original Soundtrack Album

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What is love? Open up a Danielle Steel book, listen to one of Whitney Houston’s songs (too soon?), or watch any romantic film and love always looks the same. It is a powerful, uncontrollable, consuming, sensual, wonderful emotion. Many of us hopeless romantics (i.e. women) swoon to this concept of love. But is that really all love is? Or has the world, through Dove, Pro-Flowers, Hallmark, and Hollywood, commercialized and distorted love?

If love is just an impassioned emotion, what happens when the emotion is gone? If the feeling of ‘love’ is the basis for a relationship, what foundation still exists once the emotion no longer meets our ‘needs’? By defining love as an emotion, we grant ourselves permission to act without reason (or with a poor one), usually having sex or shacking up because the movies tell us that’s what people ‘in love’ do. Likewise, we also grant ourselves permission to act in other ways when the emotion is gone. Usually by seeking ‘love’ elsewhere via divorce or an affair. Sometimes people simply quit. Ever heard someone say, “we just fell out of love?”

If love isn’t just an emotion, what else is it? I think it’s a choice, a way we choose to live. When the Jewish teachers asked Jesus what the greatest commandment was, he answered ‘love’ – love God, love others as yourself (Mark 12:28-34). Specifically, he quotes the Shema I mentioned last week. God actually gives us some insight as to what love looks like in this commandment: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength” (Deut 6:5).

Heart, soul, and strength each imply that love has different elements to it (in some text ‘mind’ is also included because English doesn’t have an equivalent word). The Hebrew word for heart, lebab, shows us love involves our inner-self, mind and will.  The ‘soul’ or nephesh involves our passion and emotion (maybe closest to how the world views love). And finally, the ‘strength’ relates to the might of our love or outward demonstration – how we show the others we ‘love’ something or someone. Sounds like the biblical definition of love is a lot more complete than than the world’s.

Jesus told us to love our enemies (Matt 5:43-48). Not something that flows naturally for most. Paul told husbands to love their wives by giving themselves up for them as Christ gave himself up for the church (Eph 5:25). I don’t think Jesus ‘fell in love’ with the cross. And then there’s the classic wedding verse: Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. (1 Cor 13:4-7). Call me crazy, but maybe Paul had to write it out for us because we don’t naturally treat those we ‘love’ this way.

Love is a choice and a way we commit our lives to someone. It’s much bigger than an emotion. For me, that makes love more romantic and fulfilling than anything Shakespeare or Carrie Bradshaw could distort. Biblical love sustains because it is not founded on our emotions, which are bound to season (anyone who says otherwise hasn’t been with their partner long enough). It is complete because it isn’t centered on “me” (selfishness) or even the other person (idolatry); it’s centered on God and how He has called us to love.

So, perhaps Valentine’s Day is the perfect commercialized way to celebrate a completely commercialized concept of love. While the world’s view of love won’t last too much longer than the obligatory rose, a love based on your heart, soul, and strength will see you through the other 365 days this year (it’s a leap year…and yes, honey, you still owe me a gift).

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If We Only Had a Brain

Posted on February 5, 2012. Filed under: Culture | Tags: , , , , , , , , |

Last week, I tried to illustrate that I was guilty of putting faith in something I knew very little about. But I’m not so sure that (my lack of) thinking is reserved for the secular world alone. Do Christians today focus too much on how we feel?  Do we rely too much on heart-felt experiences to guide our ‘faith’? Are we just trying to bypass the mind and  fulfill the emotional needs of our hearts?

Obviously, the heart is important because we generally won’t do something we feel is wrong (Proverbs 4:23). But scripture also warns us of the importance of using our head.

Some might be familiar with the Shema, probably the most important prayer in Judaism, which is found in the book of Deuteronomy (Deut 6:4-9). This was the prayer that baby Jesus probably said when he went to bed. While it’s content is enough for another post, it is important to note that the Lord calls the Hebrews to continually think about His words or as He said, “bind them on your foreheads” (some took this a little too literal). God tells us that we should contemplate His words each day and use it, not our feelings, to purposefully guiding our actions.

What happens when we just ignore the Bible (or remain ignorant on its content)? The New Testament warns that if we do not “retain the knowledge of God,” we become corrupt, and give into our sinful nature (Romans 1:28). Eventually, our character becomes schizophrenic as we preach one lifestyle and live another (James 1:8). This is probably one reason why the world has negative opinions about us, sometimes we’re hypocrites.

Paul wrote, “We use God’s mighty weapons, not worldly weapons, to knock down the strongholds of human reasoning and to destroy false arguments. We destroy every proud obstacle that keeps people from knowing God. We capture their rebellious thoughts and teach them to obey Christ” (2 Cor 10:4-5). Here, Paul wasn’t warning that our heart would deceive us, but that our mind would fall under attack from deceivers (which are inside the Church as well). Christians are  called to fight false arguments that keep us from God. While some arguments might be obvious, the majority of them aren’t. The lies we give into are the ones we are either are not aware of because they are subtle or they are the ones we want to believe (Proverbs 22:3Romans 16:17-18).

So, how do we defend ourselves in the battle of wits? Certainly not by shutting off our mind. God wants us to use our heads as He commanded us to do so (Deut 6:8). He doesn’t want us to become the stereotypical ‘blind-faith’ Christian that feels our way through life, which as we see inevitably leads us to sin. Instead, we are called to renewed our mind (wow, that would be a good name for a blog…) and become purposeful about how we think (Romans 12:2).

Inevitably, this all means Christians have to spend time reading, learning about, studying, and memorizing scriptures. We can’t claim to love God if we don’t take the time to know Him and what He is telling us. It’s His words, not our heart, that will show us His perfect will (Matt 15:19). After all, as a famous scarecrow once said, if your “head’s all full of stuff in’, your heart’s all full of pain.”

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