Monday, January 30, 2006

Gen. Update

Peg and Arlene, I loved your comments. Congratulations, Peg, on the hard work and sacrifice it took to realize the commitment to regaining control over your finances. Arlene, I think the model of a group like you mentioned is a very healthy way to seek peer input instead of the ways we usually try to get unnecessary peer approval. I think that would be a great use of accountability. I am not blind to the fact that this blog is not exactly widely read so this idea may not spread much from this point, but perhaps others will get the same idea and it will grow from there.

We have a new children's minister at our church. She is someone with whom I have worked for the past few years so I have very mixed feelings about her new position. I will greatly miss her, but I am also excited about her new role and know she is extremely capable. I have had little nicknames for her in the past and I thought her new job should also mean a new name; something fitting a ministerial-type person. I thought about Reverend something or Pastor something. I finally decided on "Nutter Superior." I really hope it catches on because I think it could drive her crazy.

Connor has really gotten into golf in the past few weeks. He even used his own money to buy a set of clubs. The sad part is, he is already better than I. Even more sad is the fact that that's not saying much. Still, for you relatives reading this, the next time you come to visit, you'd better bring your clubs.

I remember where I was 20 years ago when the Challenger blew up. I was in a biology class at Harding Academy in Searcy, Arkansas taught by the football coach. I still remember how he told us through tears and a cracking voice what had happened. That image is a permanent snapshot in my mind that has faded very little in the years since.

Michal Kate had a surprise birthday party Friday night which also included 16 or 17 girls spending the night. If any you have ever considered such a thing, I highly recommend it. It is well worth whatever trouble could possibly arise*.

For those of your who don't know me, I love my truck. It's not that I love it in a material way. It's just that it has been very good to me and seldom complains and I cannot help but respond favorably to that kind of loyalty. I am sure you must understand and not think I am crazy. Which is why I am also sure you'll understand how sad I was to get into a wreck on Thursday. I saw the guy coming and tried unsuccessfully to get out of his way but James (my truck) took a shot to the left hip (driver's side bed). Had I not sped up he may have been hit in the ribs (front or rear driver's side doors) which would have been worse. Still, I hated to see him get hurt. He's never hurt anyone and doesn't have a mean piece of metal in him. In fact, he loves to help people. So anyway, James will be going under the knife soon for surgery once we decide on a good doctor- er, body and fender guy. Like Kendra said, too bad it wasn't the van.

* Misery loves company.

Thursday, January 26, 2006

Part Three

Now let me clarify something which my bug some of you. I am a capitalist. I am not against commerce. One only needs to look at history to see how capitalism works where socialism does not. (I know a few people who think they are socialists, but their way of living gives them away.) If you take away a reward system in commerce, the kinds of people who dream big will not pursue their dreams and jobs will not be created and eventually all will suffer in a manner not unlike what happened in the Soviet Union. I think God can use rich people and poor people and you don’t have to look very far to see examples of both. Remember, our perspective on who is “rich” and who is not is pretty skewed in our society. Wealth is not the enemy; irresponsibility is. Rather, the keys to this discussion are more likely motivation and application.

What is one’s motivation in doing what they do? Is it only to attain wealth? There are many doctors and businessmen and inventors and on and on who have been motivated by a desire to help human-kind and in so doing have also achieved great wealth. I am at a loss in how to find fault in those motives. However, there are also many people of means who chose their occupation solely based on the potential income it might provide. I doubt that God wants material blessings to be such a strong motivation (no offense to all you Jabez fans).

Like we discussed in the last post, the question of motivation is not merely a matter of why we make money but also of why we spend it the way we do. I must reiterate that this is a core part of truly denying ourselves and following Christ if we are really motivated to do so. Though it is so often ignored in our society, the concept of opportunity cost is such a crucial consideration in this discussion, which brings us right to application.

How do we apply our faith to our spending? How do we integrate Christ-like living into our finances? Is it as cut-and-dried as Dave Ramsey suggests on his radio program? I doubt it. While I agree with him on some things, there are other things with which I do not agree. For instance, he suggests that getting out of debt is such a critical need that one should work multiple jobs and refuse any and all excesses to accomplish the task as quickly as possible. I have heard callers argue that they want time with their kids and his response is that their kids will learn financial lessons that are more important than attention. I do not think the two are mutually exclusive. I think debt retirement is important but time well-spent is more so. In John 12, Christ’s feet were anointed with an extremely expensive perfume in what some said was a financially irresponsible display. However, Mary may have understood that the value of fleeting time with someone she dearly loved outweighed the opportunity cost mentioned in verse 5.

So with a moving target like this, how are we supposed to know how to properly handle our finances? Well, it is not necessarily easy to identify the absolutely correct way to do anything and it is harder still to implement it. That is why we need to be steadfast in encouraging one another instead of fostering an environment that only makes financial irresponsibility more likely. It seems like you can’t swing a dead cat without hitting someone that is in a support group for something- sex, eating disorders, anger, addictions, and more. But how many support groups are out there wherein people can talk out their frustrations over money or find strength to overcome temptations of financial irresponsibility? There are not many. How often do we talk about it as a sermon topic? Not very often. When do brag to our friends about how we resisted the urge to purchase some luxury? Seldom.

Maybe that should change.

While I cannot pretend to be a money expert, as a former banker I have seen debt ruin many people and I have counseled several friends in financial trouble. Sometimes the counsel is nothing more than encouragement to stay strong, sometimes it has involved formulating a plan to get back on track. Still, I struggle and try to resist the temptation to measure up to the people around me. Luckily, I am married to someone who is very grounded and extremely wise (except for the one obvious exception where she agreed to marry me).

But I also have these suggestions. First, I recommend a little book called “The Richest Man in Babylon.” It is a very easy read that presents healthy financial advice in story form. Second, I would be more than happy for anyone to use this blog as an open forum wherein anyone can seek input or encouragement. I allow anonymous comments if that helps. And don’t worry if the post has nothing to do with your concern. Leave a comment and maybe the half-dozen or so people who read this can air things out and serve as a helpful community to one another. If that does not interest you, I encourage you to find a small group of trusted acquaintances with whom you can work things through.

I think this topic is a cancer that is being ignored and as a result is spreading. It need no longer distract us from matters of true importance to the kingdom if we are able to do something about it.

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Well we're movin' on up... or maybe not

Feedback here, in person, by phone and by email lead me to believe that the topic of my last post is something we think about a lot- never far away in our thoughts and, sadly, probably never resolved. We have also all probably heard or seen the statistics saying that financial problems are consistently the most common factor seen in issues of marital problems. The obvious question is this: If matters of finance are such a prevalent problem, why do we do so much more to make them worse than we do to correct them?

One obvious problem is our everlasting desire to “keep up with the Joneses.” In other words, we place a very high value on the image others have of us as it relates to what we have- not necessarily what we try to accomplish. We move into nicer homes simply because of the status it affords us rather than to satisfy a legitimate need. We go on vacations that impress others rather than truly to connect as families. We buy our kids the latest and most expensive shoes, the smallest iPods, or the most outlandish toys. How many times have you determined the amount you would spend on a Christmas present primarily on your knowledge of what someone else spent?

If we are to live our lives in such a way as to help each other and spur one another along to greater things, why do we surround ourselves with people against whom we feel an unrelenting need to compete? Is it really healthy to get so involved in such relationships that we engage in self-destructive behavior as well as behavior that endangers our families and sends harmful messages to our kids?

Consider too, that this is a two way street. If I am engaged in a constant struggle to keep up with the society around me, part of the problem may be me. If we did not surpass one another, the struggle would eventually cease. The goal would be achieved and having successfully scratched that itch we would move on to other things and seek healthier satisfaction rather that competing and wallowing in perpetual discontent in how conspicuous our materialism is. The harsh truth of the matter is that if you are struggling in relationships like this, you may be part of the problem, too.

I have identified this tendency in myself. It is a bit unsettling to acknowledge such a thing. I try to rationalize certain behaviors or purchases or in my case, even savings habits. But often rationalization is a somewhat pathetic effort to look at things in the attractive light of society’s flickering candle rather than cast in the sunshine’s blaze of what God hopes for us. Well, who gives a flying rip if how we use our resources is better than our neighbor when King of kings demands our complete allegiance? He is our bench mark, not those around us. Comparing ourselves to people is just an easy way to stroke our own ego.

We can always find someone who makes us look better. At the bank where I used to work the first repossession on record happened to be someone who is leader at a local church. How great is it to be compared with someone like that and come out ahead? The answer is, not all that great. We are all people. Comparing ourselves to one another, or trying to emulate one another or trying to impress one another is folly. Christ is the only one we should imitate or from whom we should seek favor.

Coming soon, how might we better encourage or assist one another in matters of finances?

Wednesday, January 18, 2006


Lately I have been so disappointed in how we (myself included) live as so-called followers of Christ. The very basis of following Christ is wrapped up in denying ourselves. In our society this is something we simply do not do. Rather than try to correct this, we try instead to excuse it. The fact is, we cannot excuse it.

Lives of comfort were never promised but the opposite was guaranteed.

Lives of luxury were not encouraged, but were instead repeatedly the reason for warnings.

Pleasing men was not promoted by Christ but serving them was.

Nevertheless, we persist in turning our backs on this and instead finding teachings that are more comfortable to follow. In doing so we are not only failing to serve God to our greatest ability, but we are in fact harming Him.

What does it say when we buy a $75 shirt when $75 might have fed an entire third-world family for a few weeks? What does it say when we throw away functional furniture in the interest of the latest style when someone on the other side of town may not even have a blanket- let alone a bed? What does it say when someone may have vacation homes or other multiple homes when countless people have none? I think it say a lot about where our allegiences are... and quite loudly.

What would Jesus think of fashion? Is being in fashion even a Godly principle? The money our society spends in pursuit of being fashionable is staggering.

What about style? God created natural beauty, but is it in His design for people to manipulate the definition of beauty and in so doing make some feel worse about themselves instead of better?

What about luxury and oppulence? If you're reading this on your own computer you are easily among the wealthiest 10% of people in the world. How else is your status refelcted in how you live?

I am sorry for the rant, but I am sick of seeing how we continually congratulate each other for our virtue when in truth we are blind to our sinfulness. I have stopped reading so many blogs because they were filled with people-worship rather people-serving; with people-praising rather than praising God. Beating our chests and praying loudly on the street corner just ain't getting it done and that just makes me sad- especially when the bruised chest is my own.

Monday, January 02, 2006

As it worked out, tonight the girls were staying overnight with friends so Kendra, Connor and I finally went to see The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe. It was excellent! I found myself getting choked up several times. It was so well done.

I understand the need to present the ugliness of evil (as seen in some of the disturbing characters both in Narnia and LOTR), but I thought Kendra had a great point. Ugly evil is not nearly so dangerous as that which is attractive. Still, Narnia brings out that point well in the interraction between Edmund and the witch.

Add my name to the long list of people who think C.S. Lewis is a genius. The true flavor of his book was maintained in this film presentation and all who see it and thoughtfully consider the story are blessed by it's telling