Archives For Contentment

       About a month ago, Trent at The Simple Dollar posted an article titled Theming in Personal Finance: Do Dave Ramsey and Larry Burkett Work Without Jesus?. Trent says he thinks it’s a good thing when people tie Christian beliefs with good personal finance advice in a way that reinforces both. He goes on to say that the personal finance information in many books that do this would work without the other material (the Christian parts).

       I agree with Trent. Good personal finance advice is good personal finance advice. It doesn’t matter if you dress it up with Bible verses or political views. Spending less than you earn is always going to be good advice. Saving for future needs is wise. Avoiding ridiculous consumer debt just makes good sense.

       But I find his initial question interesting. Do Dave Ramsey and Larry Burkett (‘s advice) work without Jesus? In other words, can Christian personal finance advice work without Jesus? And my answer is that if it can, it isn’t Christian!

What Makes Christian Personal Finance Christian?

       Here’s what I mean. If all the advice that any “Christian” finance guru gives can work without Jesus, then the advice itself is not Christian. If Christian personal finance blogs are just giving the same advice that all other personal finance blogs give, then there’s nothing uniquely Christian about them.

       Now I’m not saying that Christian personal finance advice should not include any of the same material as “regular” personal finance advice. As I said before, good personal finance advice is good personal finance advice. It doesn’t really matter where it comes from.

       But for it to be Christian personal finance advice, it needs to be consistent with the message of Christ.

Twisting Scripture

       On Trent’s post, I left a comment saying, “Perhaps the reason ‘Christian’ personal finance can work without Jesus is because we’ve twisted the message He brought to fit our society’s desires.” You see, if Christian personal finance advice just takes regular personal finance advice and dresses it up with a few carefully chosen Bible verses, then it’s just twisting Scripture to fit in with the ideals that our society already accepts.

       But if you start with the message that Jesus brought and that Scripture as a whole teaches, then you’re not going to come up with advice that fits in with society’s standard way of doing things. Too often, Christian personal finance does it the other way around. We start with the world’s ways and fit Jesus into it. There’s nothing Christian about that. In fact, that’s just telling people what they want to hear.

       If “Christian” personal finance advice revolves around budgeting, getting out of debt, saving and investing, and growing your income just so you can reach your goals and your dreams, then it’s no different from the regular personal finance advice. The focus is all about you – which is what we want to hear.

       But Jesus didn’t come with a message all about you. He brought us a message that was all about God and others. He didn’t come to tell us how to get rich and retire early. In fact, He had some strong warnings for the rich and a parable about a man who was all too happy with his ability to retire early. Rather, He taught about how we should serve others and how we should give God our primary focus. He told us that if we want to serve money we won’t be able to serve God.

       So if you’re reading a “Christian” personal finance book or website and there’s not something in it that’s really challenging how you think about money, it might be good to step back and ask yourself if it’s really giving you Christian advice or just plain advice.

The Emphasis Here at Provident Planning

       I’m trying to avoid that here on Provident Planning. When I did my initial study of personal finance in the Bible, I was very challenged by what I read. Rather than emphasizing material comfort and luxury, God emphasizes contentment. Rather than glorifying early retirement and amassing wealth for yourself, He holds up generosity as a greater goal.

       It’s not always easy to keep the Christian aspect of personal finance in the forefront. But I hope you’ve realized from what I’ve written that the kind of approach to finances that I’m encouraging can’t work without Jesus.

       When I talk about contentment, I’m talking about contentment in Christ. I’m talking about contentment that is steadfast through all trials and all circumstances. I’m talking about a kind of contentment that realizes nothing in this world compares to the glorious riches we have in Christ. I’m talking about a contentment that you can’t explain or experience without Jesus.

       And when I talk about generosity, I’m not talking giving just to meet your obligation to God so you can do what you want with the rest. I’m talking about generosity as the ultimate goal of your personal finances. I’m talking about generosity that sacrifices to meet the desperate needs of others. I’m talking about a generosity that you can’t explain or experience without Jesus.

One Voice Among Many

       I’m not the only one trying to emphasize Christian personal finance that’s true to Christ’s message.

       I’ve had great conversations with my friend Kevin Tupper at Christian Simplicity (currently under construction) about “living a life that’s inwardly rich toward God and outwardly rich toward our neighbors” and the implications that has for our finances.

       My friend Craig Ford at Money Help for Christians just announced that he’s going to spend more time focusing on spiritual issues of money and the problem of materialism in American churches.

       And I’ve just finished reading Chuck Bentley’s The Root of Riches and will be posting an interview with him next week. Chuck’s book is focused on how we will never be truly rich unless we’re rooted in Christ. All the right behaviors in the world aren’t going to help us if we still hold on to the wrong beliefs.

       These are just some of the people who are passionately pursuing a kind of Christian personal finance that absolutely cannot work without Jesus. And I’m glad to be working alongside them as I learn and experience a transformation of my heart that only comes from God. I pray you’ll join us as we seek God’s will for our personal finances rather than trying to find ways to justify our own will for our money.

Advent Conspiracy: Love All

Corey —  December 21, 2010

       So far, I have already discussed the first three concepts behind Advent ConspiracyWorship Fully, Spend Less, and Give More. Today, we’re going to look at the fourth and final concept – Love All. Here’s the Advent Conspiracy video in case you missed it:

Love All

       All of the concepts we’ve been discussing lead up to this final goal – Love All. When you choose to Worship Fully, Spend Less, and Give More, you enable yourself to Love All.

       God loved the world and gave His only Son so that anyone who believes in Him will not die but will have eternal life. Jesus showed love while He was on the earth – he cared for the poor, healed the sick, reached out to the forgotten, and showed mercy on the sinner. And then He willingly gave up His life so that we all would have the chance to choose Him over the world – to choose eternal life with God.

       When we choose to make Christmas about celebrating Christ and the love God has shown to us by sending His only Son, we give ourselves the opportunity to love like He did. Because we have chosen to Spend Less, we can join Jesus in Loving All people by giving resources to those who need help the most. We also reflect God’s love at Christmas by emphasizing relationships and presence instead of stuff and presents when we Give More.

       Your choice to buy just one less gift this year can also be a choice to show more love to someone in need. Take the money you saved from not buying that one gift and give it away to the poor. If we all buy one less gift, we can give one unbelievable present in the name of Jesus Christ.

       Advent Conspiracy is not trying to raise money for any project of their own. No money goes through them. They have partnered with Living Water International to dig wells for those who don’t have access to clean water, but you are free to give to whatever need the Spirit leads you. If you have a favorite charity, then give that extra money to them.

       This simple act of buying one less gift and giving that money to someone in need can change the world. And it just starts here. As you begin to Worship Fully, Spend Less, Give More, and Love All every day of your life, you’ll be walking in the footsteps of Christ. Your life will be a shining example of the power of God to change hearts, and you’ll change lives with small, simple choices. Join the conspiracy and enter the Story.

Advent Conspiracy: Give More

Corey —  December 14, 2010

       So far, I have discussed the first two concepts behind Advent ConspiracyWorship Fully and Spend Less. Today, we’re going to look at the third concept – Give More. Here’s the Advent Conspiracy video in case you missed it:

Give More

       When you choose to Spend Less, the idea isn’t that you don’t give anything at all. The goal is for you to Give More. Instead of buying something that doesn’t really let someone know you care about them, you give them something more – more valuable and more meaningful – like your time.

       Christmas should be a time to love our family, friends, and even our enemies in the most memorable ways possible. But what do you remember most from Christmas as a kid? Was it the presents? Or was it the time spent making memories with your family and friends?

       The best memories we have of Christmas are the times spent deepening our relationships with each other. So after you decide to Spend Less, choose to Give More by giving your time.

       Give your time by making a special gift that will be cherished for years to come. Or give your time by writing a letter of appreciation, encouragement, or just to keep in touch. You can give time by taking your kids sledding or going ice skating with your friends. Or take time to bake some really good cookies.

       When you Give More of your time, you’re making your love visible to others. You’re creating memories that both of you will fondly remember many years down the road. You’re choosing to make Christmas less about buying gifts and more about giving love.

       That’s what God did when He sent His Son to us. He was giving His love to us because He wanted a relationship with us. And that’s why we are drawn to the idea that Christmas should be a time to love our friends and family in the most memorable ways possible. God gave us the Greatest Gift not by going to the mall and buying lots of Stuff but by giving us a Way to have a deeper, more meaningful relationship with Him.

       So follow God’s example this Christmas season and Give More. Give presence!

Advent Conspiracy: Spend Less

Corey —  December 7, 2010

       Last week, I discussed the first concept behind the idea of Advent ConspiracyWorship Fully. Today, we’re going to look at the second concept – Spend Less. Here’s the Advent Conspiracy video in case you missed it:

Spend Less

       Once we begin to Worship Fully and make Jesus the most important part of the Christmas season, we’re free to Spend Less. Spending Less doesn’t mean you won’t buy any gifts this Christmas. You may eventually come to the point where you choose to no longer buy any gifts, but that’s not the idea behind Advent Conspiracy.

       Americans spend an average of $450 billion ($450,000,000,000) a year on Christmas. How much of that goes to gifts that no one really wanted in the first place? How many times have you bought a gift simply out of obligation? How many times have you received a gift out of that same obligation? Doesn’t really add much meaning to your Christmas, does it?

       Advent Conspiracy is asking people to consider buying just one less gift this year. Instead of buying that gift, make something or give your time instead. It sounds very insignificant, but the total effect is obvious if you think about what it would look like for everyone to choose to give presence instead of presents. If you need some ideas for gifts that don’t cost a lot of money, check out these resources:

       Spending Less lets you focus on Jesus and finding special ways to tell others you care about them rather than just buying stuff. Giving presence or home-made gifts conveys more meaning and love to others than store-bought gifts or gift cards. And it frees you up to Give More and Love All – the last two concepts behind Advent Conspiracy.

       So make the choice to Worship Fully this Christmas. Honor God – not Macy’s or Best Buy or Wal-mart. Then find ways you can Spend Less and do something special for at least one person.

       Make sure you’re here next Tuesday for the third concept behind Advent Conspiracy – Give More. Sign up for free updates to Provident Planning if you don’t want to miss it!

Advent Conspiracy: Worship Fully

Corey —  November 30, 2010

       This was a series I ran last year before Christmas. I’m running it again because I think the lessons are a valuable reminder each year. Let me know what you think!

       On Black Friday, I highlighted this video from Advent Conspiracy:

       Over the next four Tuesdays (including today), I’m going to discuss the concepts behind the idea that Christmas can still change the world if we choose to give presence. The four concepts are:

  1. Worship Fully
  2.        

  3. Spend Less
  4.        

  5. Give More
  6.        

  7. Love All

Worship Fully

       It starts with Jesus. It ends with Jesus.

       A meaningful Christmas is not about gifts, trees, Santa Claus, lights, or fruitcakes (thankfully).

       No, a meaningful Christmas is about celebrating the birth of our Savior, Jesus Christ. It’s about rejoicing in the fact that God loves us so much and so deeply desires to have a relationship with us that He sent His only Son to die for our sins so we can be reconciled to Him and have eternal life.

       If we want a meaningful Christmas – if we want to see Christmas still changing the world – we must begin by worshiping fully. We must start by focusing on Who, what, and why we’re celebrating. We have to choose to make the Christmas season all about Christ and not consumerism.

       When we begin to worship Jesus fully we’ll realize how wonderful and meaningful Christmas can really be. We’ll lay down our burdens and reject the worldly idea of buy, buy, buy – and instead we will rejoice in God and His Son. We’ll celebrate His Love and focus on sharing His Love with others.

       Worshiping Fully is essential if we’re going to understand and use the remaining three concepts of Spending Less, Giving More, and Loving All. Until you stop letting the world and Satan dictate what you should be doing during the Christmas season, you will never have a meaningful Christmas.

       We must choose to find contentment in worshiping Christ instead of things. You must make this choice if you want to honor God during the Christmas season!

       So take some time to remember what Christmas is all about. Stop and worship the Lord. Give thanks to Him for His most precious Gift – the unspeakable riches we have in Christ. Worship Him Fully and make this the most memorable and meaningful Christmas you’ve ever had!

Make Christmas Meaningful

Corey —  November 26, 2010

       What if Christmas meant more than shopping in packed malls?

       What if you spent more time with your family than you spent trying to pick out gifts?

       What if you could wake up on December 26th with no debts from the day before?

       What if you could throw out all the stress, traffic, and shopping and just focus on worshiping Jesus, giving to the needy, and loving all people?

       What if we gave up Consumermas and went back to Christmas?

       The folks at Advent Conspiracy have a great little video (2 minutes and 39 seconds) about a meaningful Christmas.

       And here’s the promo video from 2009:



       So why not make Christmas meaningful again? Why not do it this year? If you want to change how you celebrate Christmas, here are some good resources:

       How will you make Christmas meaningful this year? Let me know in the comments!

Greed Contained - If only it were that easy!       I’ve been thinking a lot lately about a Christian’s proper relationship to material wealth – especially in terms of what’s appropriate for us to desire and what’s not. The difficulty comes in trying to draw lines. When do our desires become excessive? How do we know when we’re pursuing the things of this world above the kingdom of God? Where does ambition stop and greed begin?

       Greed – that’s what I want to talk about today. But not so much talk about as discuss with you. What I want to know is how you define greed. What is greed? How do you know when you’re being greedy? How can Christians protect themselves from becoming greedy?

       Let’s look at a few definitions of greed, and then I’ll show you why I think it’s such an important concept to understand. The Bible says quite a bit about those who are greedy, and it’s not good…

Definitions of Greed

       Dictionary.com states that greed is “excessive or rapacious desire, especially for wealth or possessions”. In other words, greed is when you’d extort, rip off, and even steal to get more money. Obviously, that would violate Scripture and Jesus’ command to love our neighbors.

       On the other hand, WordNet, a project at Princeton University, defines greed as an “excessive desire to acquire or possess more (especially more material wealth) than one needs or deserves”. That’s a much more difficult definition to wrestle with, isn’t it? Where do we set our level of “need” or of what we “deserve”? And when does a desire to acquire more than that level become “excessive”?

       I’ve talked before about needs versus wants. We act like many things are needs when they’re actually just wants. Our needs are very few: food and water, clothing, and shelter and warmth depending on your local climate. In the strictest sense, that’s all we truly need.

       And within each of those categories there’s a level beyond which the need becomes a want. We only need food that’s edible and enough to keep us going. We only need clean water. We only need enough shelter and warmth to protect us from the elements and provide a place to rest. And even that one is debatable to some extent.

       I don’t say these things to make myself or you feel greedy if we want anything beyond the most basic of necessities. I say it to point out how difficult it is to get a grasp on what greed really means. Most Americans would not think me greedy if I wanted a modest 1,000 square foot home. But even the smallest of homes in the U.S. are luxurious by most world standards simply because they don’t have a dirt floor!

       In the same way, it’s easy for me to look at Dave Ramsey’s new house and say “That’s too much!”, but I’m sure my friends in Haiti would consider me quite wealthy to be able to rent the small house I’m in now. I think they’d say the same of Dave Ramsey, but it does cause me to step back and examine myself a bit more closely.

       What do you think? Is greed more of the stop-at-nothing-to-get-more definition, or is it closer to the “excessive”-desire-for-more-than-you-need definition? Let me know what you think in the comments at the bottom of the page, but let’s take a look at greed in the Bible.

Greed in the Bible

       Checking the dictionary is all fine and well, but I think it’s more helpful to see what the Bible says about greed if we’re trying to look at this from a Christian perspective. Most of what I read online tends to point at the Christian definition of greed as the stop-at-nothing-to-get-more style. I certainly think that’s included, but I wonder if we’re not held to that higher standard.

       So I’ve found several verses that discuss greed. Coveting is another way the Bible talks about greed, so I’ve included verses that use either word or concept (like “love of money”). Let’s look at them and see if we can draw a conclusion about the Bible’s definition of greed. I’ll list the verses below and include any additional verses needed to get the context. All verses are from the World English Bible (WEB) version, but if you click the link on the reference you can get just about any version you want.

       You shall not covet your neighbor’s house. You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, nor his male servant, nor his female servant, nor his ox, nor his donkey, nor anything that is your neighbor’s.

Exodus 20:17

       Neither shall you covet your neighbor’s wife; neither shall you desire your neighbor’s house, his field, or his male servant, or his female servant, his ox, or his donkey, or anything that is your neighbor’s.

Deuteronomy 5:21

       You shall burn the engraved images of their gods with fire. You shall not covet the silver or the gold that is on them, nor take it for yourself, lest you be snared in it; for it is an abomination to Yahweh your God.

Deuteronomy 7:25

       20 Achan answered Joshua, and said, “I have truly sinned against Yahweh, the God of Israel, and this is what I have done. 21 When I saw among the spoil a beautiful Babylonian robe, two hundred shekels of silver, and a wedge of gold weighing fifty shekels, then I coveted them and took them. Behold, they are hidden in the ground in the middle of my tent, with the silver under it.”

Joshua 7:20-21

       2 In arrogance, the wicked hunt down the weak. They are caught in the schemes that they devise. 3 For the wicked boasts of his heart’s cravings. He blesses the greedy, and condemns Yahweh.

Psalm 10:2-3

       17 For in vain is the net spread in the sight of any bird: 18 but these lay wait for their own blood. They lurk secretly for their own lives. 19 So are the ways of everyone who is greedy for gain. It takes away the life of its owners.

Proverbs 1:17-19

       He who is greedy for gain troubles his own house, but he who hates bribes will live.

Proverbs 15:27

       There are those who covet greedily all day long; but the righteous give and don’t withhold.

Proverbs 21:26

       One who is greedy stirs up strife; but one who trusts in Yahweh will prosper.

Proverbs 28:25

       Yes, the dogs are greedy, they can never have enough; and these are shepherds who can’t understand: they have all turned to their own way, each one to his gain, from every quarter.

Isaiah 56:11

       But your eyes and your heart are not but for your covetousness, and for shedding innocent blood, and for oppression, and for violence, to do it.

Jeremiah 22:17

       In you have they taken bribes to shed blood; you have taken interest and increase, and you have greedily gained of your neighbors by oppression, and have forgotten me, says the Lord Yahweh.

Ezekiel 22:12

       They covet fields, and seize them; and houses, and take them away: and they oppress a man and his house, even a man and his heritage.

Micah 2:2

       21 For from within, out of the hearts of men, proceed evil thoughts, adulteries, sexual sins, murders, thefts, 22 covetings, wickedness, deceit, lustful desires, an evil eye, blasphemy, pride, and foolishness.

Mark 7:21-22

       He said to them, “Beware! Keep yourselves from covetousness, for a man’s life doesn’t consist of the abundance of the things which he possesses.”

Luke 12:15

       33 I coveted no one’s silver, or gold, or clothing. 34 You yourselves know that these hands served my necessities, and those who were with me.

Acts 20:33-34

       For the commandments, “You shall not commit adultery,” “You shall not murder,” “You shall not steal,” “You shall not give false testimony,” “You shall not covet,” and whatever other commandments there are, are all summed up in this saying, namely, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”

Romans 13:9

       9 I wrote to you in my letter to have no company with sexual sinners; 10 yet not at all meaning with the sexual sinners of this world, or with the covetous and extortioners, or with idolaters; for then you would have to leave the world. 11 But as it is, I wrote to you not to associate with anyone who is called a brother who is a sexual sinner, or covetous, or an idolater, or a slanderer, or a drunkard, or an extortioner. Don’t even eat with such a person.

1 Corinthians 5:9-11

       17 This I say therefore, and testify in the Lord, that you no longer walk as the rest of the Gentiles also walk, in the futility of their mind, 18 being darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God, because of the ignorance that is in them, because of the hardening of their hearts; 19 who having become callous gave themselves up to lust, to work all uncleanness with greediness.

Ephesians 4:17-19

       3 But sexual immorality, and all uncleanness, or covetousness, let it not even be mentioned among you, as becomes saints; 4 nor filthiness, nor foolish talking, nor jesting, which are not appropriate; but rather giving of thanks. 5 Know this for sure, that no sexually immoral person, nor unclean person, nor covetous man, who is an idolater, has any inheritance in the Kingdom of Christ and God.

Ephesians 5:3-5

       1 If then you were raised together with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated on the right hand of God. 2 Set your mind on the things that are above, not on the things that are on the earth. 3 For you died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. 4 When Christ, our life, is revealed, then you will also be revealed with him in glory. 5 Put to death therefore your members which are on the earth: sexual immorality, uncleanness, depraved passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry; 6 for which things’ sake the wrath of God comes on the children of disobedience.

Colossians 3:1-6

       3 If anyone teaches a different doctrine, and doesn’t consent to sound words, the words of our Lord Jesus Christ, and to the doctrine which is according to godliness, 4 he is conceited, knowing nothing, but obsessed with arguments, disputes, and word battles, from which come envy, strife, insulting, evil suspicions, 5 constant friction of people of corrupt minds and destitute of the truth, who suppose that godliness is a means of gain. Withdraw yourself from such. 6 But godliness with contentment is great gain. 7 For we brought nothing into the world, and we certainly can’t carry anything out. 8 But having food and clothing, we will be content with that. 9 But those who are determined to be rich fall into a temptation and a snare and many foolish and harmful lusts, such as drown men in ruin and destruction. 10 For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some have been led astray from the faith in their greed, and have pierced themselves through with many sorrows.

1 Timothy 6:3-10

       For the overseer must be blameless, as God’s steward; not self-pleasing, not easily angered, not given to wine, not violent, not greedy for dishonest gain;

Titus 1:7

       Be free from the love of money, content with such things as you have, for he has said, “I will in no way leave you, neither will I in any way forsake you.”

Hebrews 13:5

       1 Where do wars and fightings among you come from? Don’t they come from your pleasures that war in your members? 2 You lust, and don’t have. You kill, covet, and can’t obtain. You fight and make war. You don’t have, because you don’t ask. 3 You ask, and don’t receive, because you ask with wrong motives, so that you may spend it for your pleasures.

James 4:1-3

       In covetousness they will exploit you with deceptive words: whose sentence now from of old doesn’t linger, and their destruction will not slumber.

2 Peter 2:3

       There’s no doubt that the majority of those verses cover the stop-at-nothing-to-get-more definition of greed. But several of the verses point toward greed as the “excessive”-desire-for-more-than-you-need idea. In particular, Proverbs 21:26, Luke 12:15, and 1 Timothy 6:3-10 all seem to describe greed as being selfish, not being content, and desiring things for the sake of having more (often, more than your neighbor). That certainly fits in with the broader definition – greed as excessively desiring more than you need.

       Personally, I think the Gospel of Jesus Christ eliminates any semblance of greed as an option for Christians. If we’re to be focused on loving others and helping the poor, how can we spend our time daydreaming about bigger houses, nicer cars, more exotic vacations, and lazy retirements? That certainly wouldn’t fit the instructions of Colossians 3:1-6.

Your Thoughts

       But I want to know what you think. What is greed? What does it mean to be greedy? Is greed limited to the stop-at-nothing-to-get-more definition? Or is it more broad as in the “excessive”-desire-for-more-than-you-need definition? And in that same line of thought, when does a desire for more than you need become excessive and when does it remain acceptable? (That’s a question worthy of it’s own post!)

       Let me know what you think in the comments below, and we’ll work through this issue together.

(photo credit: See-ming Lee)

This post was included in the Carnival of Personal Finance.