Archives For October 2010

Bible with Cross Shadow by knowhimonline on Flickr       Today’s Personal Finance Bible Scripture comes from 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18. I find it to be a good reminder of what we should do as Christians even when we’re experiencing hard times. If you are going through a difficult period right now, financially, spiritually, or otherwise, I recommend you write out this verse and put it somewhere you can see it every day.

       16 Rejoice always. 17 Pray without ceasing. 18 In everything give thanks, for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus toward you.

1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 (WEB)

We can easily break this passage up into four main points:

       1. We should always be joyful – even in the very worst of times. And we have a very good reason to be joyful. God gave His only Son to cover our sins so we can join Him in Heaven. That fact should overshadow any adversity in our life if we really take it to heart.

       2. We should always be praying. This is how we communicate with God. Continual prayer means our minds are always focused on God. Whatever we focus our minds on will have a profound impact on our actions and attitude, so keeping God foremost in our minds is the best thing we can do in any situation.

       3. We should always be thankful – and not just in the good times. God has blessed us so much more than we realize. We get caught up in looking for material blessings, but the greatest blessing we have is Jesus. He has taken away our sins and brings us into communion with God. Even if we’re naked and starving, we still have the blessing of Jesus.

       I think most Christians in the U.S. can agree we’re also very blessed materially. Nearly all of us have a home, clothes, food, and much more. There are billions of people worldwide who would be ecstatic to have a home the size of the average American living room, much less all the amenities and abundance of food we find in our homes. So even in what seem like “hard” times, remember that you are very blessed and be thankful.

       4. This is God’s will for us. This is what God wants us to do all of our lives. He wants us to be joyful and happy, to be very close to Him and always in prayer, and to be thankful at all times. Our lives would be so much more fulfilling if we pursued these three things with relentless passion.

       A while back, I received a free copy of Upside Living in a Downside Economy by Mike Slaughter from the publisher for my review. Mike is the lead pastor at Ginghamsburg United Methodist Church in Tipp City, Ohio. In this book, Mike offers insight into God’s perspective on our money concerns using passages from the book of James and other Bible verses. At 96 pages and 5″ x 7″, it’s a short little book. However, it contains some powerful ideas about how Christians should approach their personal finances. I’ve broken down this review into the four chapters you’ll find in the book:

Seeking God’s Perspective

       In the first chapter, Mike focuses on getting the right perspective on our finances. First, he looks at God’s character as a loving father. Next, he mentions a couple of God’s perspectives on money and emphasizes that we must seek to put God first and serve Him with our money. This is key to following God’s plan for our finances and fully understanding His desire for our lives. Then, Mike talks about checking our motives. We have to be careful about pursuing material things and loving money. Finally, he finishes the chapter by asking us to look at the source of our motives and who we are listening to. He warns of listening to the media and recommends that we seek God’s Word and wise advice from Christians instead.

Rebalancing Life Investments

       Mike then looks at seven “right actions” we should take as a response to God’s priorities for our finances and lives:

1. Do the first “right” thing: planned giving to God.
2. Seek wise counsel through an accountability group or counselor.
3. Write or rework a budget.
4. Perform plastic surgery and reduce your debt.
5. Set future goals and practice delayed gratification.
6. Nurture an attitude of gratitude.
7. Pray, pray, pray.

       These seven actions cover some important ideas God teaches us through the Bible. They’re not comprehensive, and Mike’s discussion of these actions is mostly motivational. It is not a step-by-step guide, and Mike never claims that it is.

Do It Today

       Mike then discusses the importance of planning in accordance with God’s Will. Planning for the future does not mean we are not relying on God. Throughout the Bible, God encourages us to prudently plan and prepare for the future. However, when we are planning for the future, we should be careful to make sure we approach it prayerfully and seek God’s Kingdom first.

       Mike covers what he calls the “fundamental life principles of sowing and reaping”:

1. You reap what you sow.
2. You determine the size of the harvest at the time of planting.
3. You will reap more than you sow.
4. The harvest comes in a later season than the sowing.
5. You are responsible for the work of sowing; God is responsible for the harvest.

       Anyone familiar with gardening or farming can tell you these are accurate statements regarding sowing and reaping (with the exception of disasters that wipe out the entire crop). When you apply these principles to your finances, God can bless you just as He has promised. Your actions show your faith in His promises.

       Finally, Mike talks about seven steps in creating a financial plan:

1. Do a financial analysis.
2. Begin an aggressive program of debt reduction.
3. Create an emergency fund.
4. Be sure you have adequate life insurance.
5. Write a will.
6. Look at your giving.
7. Create a budget.

       Again, this is not a full list of the things you should do when creating your financial plan, but they are a good start. If you can do these seven things, you’ll be ahead of most people. This section is more about leading you down the right path rather than directing you along the way.

Investing in God’s Future Harvest

       In the final chapter, Mike discusses three ways we can invest in God’s future harvest. First, he looks at living and giving thankfully. We must realize that all we have is from God, and we should be thankful for the blessings he gives us. We need to appreciate what we have, even during hard times. Second, he talks about living and giving faithfully. God calls us to live by faith regardless of our circumstances. We must always lean on God and trust in His teaching. In this way, we can live free from fear.

       Finally, he covers living and giving sacrificially. As Christians, we have to remember we are the body of Christ. We are how He blesses and cares for people. Our purpose is to complete the work He has prepared for us—not to achieve the “American Dream” or other materialistic goals. Mike challenges us to give everything over to God—our money, our time, our entire being. Though it seems foolish or impossible from the world’s viewpoint, it is the true calling God has for those who follow Christ and it is possible through faith in Him.

Rebalancing Your Life

       At the end of the book, there’s a short section where you can reflect on the ideas in the book and write down goals for yourself. It’s only four small pages, but it’s a start to looking at how you should use the lessons in this book in your own life.

My Recommendation

       Upside Living in a Downside Economy is not a book that will guide you through the steps needed to fully align your finances with God’s Will. But it will give you a good start at understanding God’s perspective on our finances and our lives.

       My only concerns with Mike’s teaching in the book have to do with his emphasis on tithing and the incongruity of his views on giving to the poor and his own personal life. Any emphasis on tithing as God’s desire for Christians fails to acknowledge that Christians are called to give much more generously than just 10% of their income. There are also other problems with teaching the tithe that I will address when I discuss giving in my personal finance Bible study.

       I also found it hard to give credence to Mike when he discusses how Christians must live and give sacrificially in the same book where he explains that one of his personal goals was to have a mountain home by 2004. It’s difficult for me to think that having a second home of any sort is really sacrificial when millions of people around the world don’t even have suitable shelter. There were a couple other passages in the book that gave me this same feeling. I don’t mean to attack Mike and I’m not saying I’m better than him. There are areas of my life where I am not congruent in my actions and God’s teaching, but God is changing me as I grow in Jesus Christ. I agree with his ideas about living and giving sacrificially and most of his ideas in the book, but I would have liked to see him living out examples of this more clearly as a teacher of God’s Word.

       At a cost of $8.00, I’m not sure I can recommend that you buy the book. It is short and doesn’t contain much on the side of practical application. However, if you’re just starting to seek God’s perspective on money and want to start with an easy read, Upside Living in a Downside Economy may be right for you. Borrow it from the library, your church, or a friend if you can, otherwise feel free to click the picture of the book above and purchase it on Amazon.