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.

       As promised in my post summarizing the Contentment Bible study, here is your free e-book to download and share with anyone you like. In addition, the “Contentment is Wealth” e-book is 52 pages including the title page and table of contents. I even added some questions for reflection. You’re definitely getting your money’s worth here, folks! Click the picture of the e-book below to download the PDF file. Let me know what you think in the comments!!!

Contentment Is Wealth

       This post is a short summary of the Personal Finance Bible Study on Contentment. It contains links to all the articles in this Bible study. You can also read about Bible verses on contentment here.

The World’s Message

       The World’s Message
       The Problem with the World’s Message
       The Solution to the Problem

       In the first three parts of this Bible study on Contentment, we looked at the World’s message. “If we get more of the stuff the World has to offer, we’ll be happy and satisfied.” We then looked at the problem with the World’s message—it keeps us from serving God, and it has no eternal reward. Finally, we looked at the solution to this problem—giving God our hearts and allowing Jesus to fully live through us.

Getting God’s View

       Getting God’s View (Part 1)
       Getting God’s View (Part 2)
       Getting God’s View (Part 3)

       In the next three parts, we looked at God’s View of the world, money, and our lives so we can focus on serving Him instead of serving Money. First, our focus on the Things of This World keeps us from seeing the importance of love and relationships. This keeps us from fully serving God. Second, we must focus on storing up treasures in heaven rather than on Earth because that will show whether our hearts belong to God or Money. If we let the concerns of this life take priority over the concerns of eternal life, we will be unfruitful. Finally, we learned that everything belongs to God. And even though these ideas go against our human nature, it’s not worth gaining the whole world (being rich) if we end up losing our souls.

Practical Applications

       Practical Applications (Part 1)
       Practical Applications (Part 2)
       Practical Applications (Part 3)
       Practical Applications (Part 4)

       The next four sections are about the practical applications of God’s View and Contentment in our lives. First, we looked at how we should focus on God instead of being worried about our Earthly lives. This means we’re more worried about doing good and showing love than earning money and gaining wealth. We also learned that if we follow Jesus’ teaching we will receive a great reward (though probably not monetary). Second, we learned that we don’t have to be concerned about our needs because God has promised to always be with us. Third, we looked at how we should react in all circumstances and the importance of asking God for our daily bread—just enough. Finally, we learned that we shouldn’t wear ourselves out trying to get rich. And if we are rich, we should be very generous and doing good so that we don’t trust in Money but in God alone.

The Results

       The Results (Part 1)
       The Results (Part 2)

       In the last two sections, we looked at the results of God’s Contentment in our lives. First, we learned that we will delight God, really enjoy life, and always have God as our strong tower—our protector. Then, we learned that God’s Contentment will teach us the secret to happiness in all circumstances and will bring us greater wealth than we can imagine.

Free E-book

       I’ve compiled all of these lessons into a free e-book for anyone to download. I also added some questions at the end of each lesson to help you reflect on the reading. Feel free to share it with family, friends, church members, and anyone else you want. Download your free copy of Contentment Is Wealth: A Bible Study on Contentment now!

       As I write more about personal finance and continue to expand my knowledge, I’m becoming increasingly aware of my own limitations. I’m only one man writing in a tiny little corner of the Internet. There are many other personal finance blogs out there providing great content and different perspectives. I wanted to take some time to highlight 20 of my favorite personal finance blogs.

       These are the blogs that I continue to return to every day. Their content is solid. They make me think. And they challenge me to expand my ideas beyond my own experiences. I can confidently recommend them to you as a good resource for learning about personal finance.

       I’ve broken them up into two groups: Christian and General. Some of the blogs in the General section are written by Christians, but the content they write is not predominantly from a Christian perspective.

       I’ve also noted my personal top 7 blogs by putting them at the top of the section they’re in and adding ***’s around their name. These are the blogs that I think are the most helpful, most well-written, and most thought-provoking. The others are good, but these are the ones that are great in my personal opinion.

       Finally, if you’re a personal finance blogger and I didn’t include you, please don’t feel offended. These are simply the blogs that I like the best. There are plenty of other good blogs out there, but I wanted to limit this list to the best based on my opinions.

My Favorite Christian Personal Finance Blogs

       ***Money Help for Christians*** – You’ve seen me highlight Craig’s writing several times here, and that’s for a very simple reason. He does an excellent job of presenting a solid look at personal finance in the Bible. I connect with him well because I can see his passion for Jesus in what he does in his life and what he writes on his site.

       ***Redeeming Riches*** – Jason has really caught my attention on several of his posts. I appreciate his willingness to challenge his readers to follow Jesus more closely and to strive to become even more generous.

       ***Dollars and Doctrine*** – Rob’s blog doesn’t have quite as much content as others, but you can find a good bit of his writing elsewhere online. Free Money Finance ran a series on his book Dollars & Doctrine that was a great overview of money in the Bible. I’m looking forward to reviewing Rob’s most recent work on a 4-part Sunday school series called “Redefining Riches”.

       Bible Money Matters – Pete has created an excellent resource for Christians wanting to learn about money and how we should approach it. I’ve been a big fan of his since I began reading Christian finance blogs.

       Christian Personal Finance – Bob has the most popular Christian personal finance blog by far. He’s been doing this for quite a while and has built up an excellent archive of content.

       Debt Free Adventure – Matt’s just coming back from a summer hiatus, but I expect to see more great things from him. He’s accomplished a lot in meeting his goals to become debt free, and he’s extremely interested in helping his readers do the same.

       One Money Design – Jason is also another excellent Christian personal finance blogger who started near the same time I did.

       Personal Finance by the Book – Joe is a relative newcomer to the blogging world, but I’ve really appreciated his perspective as one of the older bloggers among us. His life experience is a valuable resource to learn from as he combines it with his Biblical knowledge.

       Faithful with a Few – Khaleef is also a fairly new blogger, but I’ve been excited about the content he’s writing. I’m expecting great things from him and looking forward to watching him grow as he works to share his faith and knowledge of finances.

My Favorite General Personal Finance Blogs

       ***Get Rich Slowly*** – If you’re reading personal finance blogs, I doubt J.D. needs any introduction. He’s got the most popular personal finance blog and there’s no question why. He’s been doing this longer than most of us and he’s an excellent writer. I’m never disappointed by his work.

       ***The Oblivious Investor*** – Mike has a real gift for taking complex topics and making them simple and clear. I cannot recommend any other investing blog more highly.

       ***Bad Money Advice*** – It took a while for “Frank” to grow on me. He can be a little harsh and critical, but he also makes some excellent points. I don’t think his purpose is to just bash people. He wants us to think about our personal finances rather than blindly accepting the mainstream advice.

       ***Financial Samurai*** – “Sam” established himself very well early on. His site doesn’t have a huge collection of the foundations for personal finances, but he does make you think about things. That’s why I’ve included him as one of my favorites…that, and his humor.

       Len Penzo dot Com – Len is another writer who excels at combining humor with great content. I’ve enjoyed reading his articles since I found him.

       Free Money Finance – FMF is always sharing the financial advice he finds and offering useful commentary on it. He does share Christian content on Sundays and his faith comes through when he discusses giving, but most of his content is just general in nature so I included him here.

       Bargaineering – Jim has a prolific archive of great personal finance content. He’s also helped me with several blogging questions, and I appreciate how he gives back to the community.

       Early Retirement Extreme – Jacob’s story is fascinating and his financial philosophy helps keep my mind questioning the cultural norms.

       Punch Debt in the Face – The Debt Ninja’s comics and humor crack me up. This site isn’t generally heavy on in-depth financial topics, but it’s worth reading just for the laughs.

       All Financial Matters – I think one of the reasons I like JLP’s site is because he shares my love of spreadsheets and data. He gets more into the politics and economics of money than I do, but he’s also got a huge archive of useful posts as well.

       Man Vs. Debt – When it comes to getting out of debt and simplifying your life, Adam knows what he’s talking about. His content is very thorough and well-written. He’s also helped me by answering some of my questions even though he’s a very busy guy.

What Are Your Favorite Personal Finance Blogs?

       Well, there are my favorites. How about sharing yours in the comments below?!

Bible with Cross Shadow by knowhimonline on Flickr       Today’s Personal Finance Bible Scripture comes from Proverbs 21:17.

     17 Those who love pleasure become poor;
     those who love wine and luxury will never be rich.

Proverbs 21:17 (NLT)

       Think the Bible doesn’t have relevant financial advice? Consider that verse one more time. Personal finance experts generally agree that avoiding hard work and buying things you can’t really afford will never lead to financial success. (And by afford I mean that you can still cover all your necessary expenses and save for all of your goals after purchasing your luxury item.) Even though this little bit of wisdom seems like it should be common sense, God wanted to emphasize it in Proverbs as well. I’m guessing it must be pretty important! ;)

       It’s not that God doesn’t want us to have any enjoyment in this life. You really have to look closer at what that verse says. If you love pleasure and luxury, you’re probably not putting God first in your life. As I’ve discussed many times before, God wants your heart and if your heart belongs to something else then you can’t serve Him. It’s fine to enjoy the good things in life, but make sure you have a wise (God’s) definition of the “good” things in life and make sure you put God above all else. That’s the only way you can truly be rich.

Bible with Cross Shadow by knowhimonline on Flickr       This is a question I have asked myself many times. Many people have already tried to answer this question as a quick web search will show you. But I often see where people have twisted the Scripture to fit their message rather than looking at the Scripture first to find the message. I’ve also read that there are over 2,000 Scriptures about money in the Bible, but I can’t seem to find a free resource online that shows all of these Scriptures in one place. Bob at Christian Personal Finance has the most comprehensive list of Scriptures discussing money in the Bible that I have found anywhere online, but it’s a bit short of the 2,000 number that’s so often quoted.

       So I decided to do my own Personal Finance Bible Study to list and categorize as many verses in the Bible that I can find pertaining to some aspect of personal finance. From that resource I hope to cull the Bible’s message about personal finance and apply it in practical ways to our lives today. My biggest worry is that I might also fall into the trap of using Scripture out of context to fit my own message, especially since I’m a financial planner and already have my own ideas about personal finance. If you ever catch me doing this, please let me know!

       As I complete this work, I’m going to share it with you on this website. I’ll start a page showing the categorized list of Bible verses I’ve found along with a running total of the Scripture references and number of verses in each category. I’ll also share Personal Finance Bible Studies with you via individual posts. I encourage your participation as your wisdom and insight will help me improve this Bible Study and my own understanding.

Why Spend So Much Time on Personal Finance in the Bible?

       I don’t want to focus on money so much because of any personal fascination with it or because I’m greedy or because I want to be rich. I’m doing it because it has such an important impact on both our spiritual and material lives. It can be used as a tool to serve God and our needs, or it can keep us far away from God and take control of our lives. The problem isn’t when we’ve got money – it’s when the money has got us. Jesus told us this in Luke 16:13.

13 “No servant can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and Money.”

Luke 16:13 (NIV)

       Jesus is clearly telling us that we must have the right views about Money if we’re going to truly love and serve God. That’s why I think it’s so vitally important to focus on Personal Finance in the Bible and how it should affect our lives as Christians. If we can get that right, it’ll make it much easier for us to serve God completely and wholeheartedly.

Stay Tuned!

Stay Tune by shop boy on Flickr       So stay tuned for more spiritual resources to come. I’ve already got a good bit of the work finished, but I can tell I have a good bit left to finish.

       In the last part of this series, we started talking about the results of following God’s teaching on contentment. How will contentment benefit you, and what kind of effects will it have on your life? We’ll finish that discussion and this entire series on contentment today.

       Paul speaks about contentment in two specific ways that clearly show the results of being content. First, he talks of facing every situation with contentment. Second, he discusses how contentment brings great gain and saves us from many sorrows.

The Secret to Happiness

       In Philippians 4:10-14, Paul thanks the church at Philipi for the gifts they gave him. He explains that he’s not trying to get them to give more, since he has never been in need because he’s learned to be content in any situation through God’s strength. But he thanks them just the same.

       10 But I rejoice in the Lord greatly, that now at length you have revived your thought for me; in which you did indeed take thought, but you lacked opportunity. 11 Not that I speak in respect to lack, for I have learned in whatever state I am, to be content in it. 12 I know how to be humbled, and I know also how to abound. In everything and in all things I have learned the secret both to be filled and to be hungry, both to abound and to be in need. 13 I can do all things through Christ, who strengthens me. 14 However, you did well that you shared in my affliction.

Philippians 4:10-14 (WEB)

       These verses highlight the striking difference between God’s kind of contentment and the world’s kind of contentment. We generally view contentment and happiness as something we get after some certain requirements are met.

When I get that new car, I’ll be happy.
When I get promoted and start making more money, I’ll be set.
When I can move to a nicer neighborhood, then I’ll be content.
When I retire, life will really start to get better.

       From the world’s perspective, contentment is almost always something that comes in the future. But the contentment God wants to give us is for the past, present, and future. It’s not for just the good times but the bad also. God’s contentment brings us happiness and peace in any situation. The world’s contentment only happens when everything’s turning up roses.

       How is it possible that we can learn to be content in any and every situation that comes our way? How can we possibly be content if we have to drive a beat up, old car to a dead-end job just so we can pay the rent on our drafty apartment? And that’s where we make our first mistake. We don’t have to do anything. God has already handled it all for us.

       All we really have to do is realize two simple things. First, there is nothing worthwhile that the world can offer us when compared to the blessings God has already given us. We have eternal life in Christ. What does it matter if we’re not wearing Armani suits and driving BMWs while we’re here on Earth? Second, Christ will give us the strength we need to make it through any situation we encounter—we are not alone in our struggles. We can be happy in every circumstance because God is with us and our standing in this life does not matter in our eternal life.

Contentment Is Wealth

       The next passage I want to look at is 1 Timothy 6:3-16. Paul is speaking to Timothy here, giving him instructions on how to lead a godly life and teach others the way as well.

       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.

       11 But you, man of God, flee these things, and follow after righteousness, godliness, faith, love, patience, and gentleness. 12 Fight the good fight of faith. Lay hold of the eternal life to which you were called, and you confessed the good confession in the sight of many witnesses. 13 I command you before God, who gives life to all things, and before Christ Jesus, who before Pontius Pilate testified the good confession, 14 that you keep the commandment without spot, blameless, until the appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ; 15 which in its own times he will show, who is the blessed and only Ruler, the King of kings, and Lord of lords; 16 who alone has immortality, dwelling in unapproachable light; whom no man has seen, nor can see: to whom be honor and eternal power. Amen.

1 Timothy 6:3-16 (WEB)

       This is a clear message against the “Prosperity Gospel” that’s so prevalent today and was apparently widespread in the time of the early Church as well. So many people see God as a means to get rich in this life by preying on others, and they preach that God will bless us with material wealth if we’ll just call in right now and give them some money for “God’s work”. Others preach that God will bless us abundantly if we give more money to our church, or that we can’t really receive God’s full blessing unless we’re giving a full tithe (ten percent) to our church.

       But you see, God is not so much concerned about whether we’re blessed in our earthly life. He wants to see us blessed in our eternal life. God has already blessed us abundantly by giving us His Son so that we can live with Him in Heaven. How much money we have or how comfortable we are here on Earth matters very little when we bring eternity into the picture.

       And God has abolished these rules of “you do this, and I’ll give you that”. For those who are living in Jesus Christ, there is no law saying we must give 10% of our income to the church. We try to impose rules and laws for God and end up missing the entire point. When Christ came and taught the Jews, he spoke with authority about the laws of Moses. What did He teach? That God doesn’t just want us to meet some minimums and go home from church thinking we’re good to go for the next week. No, when Jesus taught about the laws he told us to do much more than the laws tell us to do. We’re supposed to go above and beyond the expectations we think we’re supposed to meet. So while I’m in no way against giving generously to your church or the needy, I am 100% against teaching Christians that the tithe is a requirement they must all meet. But we’ll look at this more when we discuss giving.

       We also see here the famously misquoted scripture about money being the root of all kinds of evil. People often leave out the “love of” part, thus changing the meaning dramatically. Money in and of itself is not evil—it is just a thing, a tool to be used. But the love of money takes our focus off God and leads us into all kinds of evil things. Again, it comes back to whether or not our hearts belong to God. If our hearts belong to God, we will serve and glorify Him in all things. If they belong to money, we will never be able to please God and will always be led astray. Paul tells Timothy, and all Christians, to run from all these evil things and not let the love of money take over our lives.

       I’ve gotten sidetracked a bit, but those were important points. What this passage means for the results of contentment lies in verses six through ten. Godliness is not a means to financial gain, but true godliness with God’s contentment provides us with great wealth. First, we receive spiritual wealth because contentment allows us to remain focused on God and ignore worldly materialism.

       Second, we receive great material wealth through contentment because we’ll “need” less. When we are content and need less “stuff”, we don’t need to be as rich or make as much money to be happy. That is to say, we don’t have to be as focused on making money or building wealth if we can be happy living on $25,000/year versus $50,000 or $75,000/year. Once we learn to be content in any situation through God’s strength, what used to seem like so little becomes great wealth because we just don’t need as much. Despite what numerous websites and scammers may claim, the best way to get rich quick is to be content.

       The point is this: contentment and godliness together give us great gain because we will be blessed spiritually by being more focused on God and materially because we’ll just “need” less of the world’s “stuff”. Though it’s strange to hear and difficult to believe (from a worldly perspective), learning to be content with whatever situation you’re in by relying on God can make you richer than Bill Gates and Warren Buffet combined.

Want to read the entire Bible study series on Contentment? Download your free copy of Contentment Is Wealth: A Bible Study on Contentment now!