Fear in Finances

Have you ever been afraid to obey God? One mark of being a Christian is that we fear God (in that we deeply respect, awe, and know that God is not to be taken lightly or played with). But I am wondering if you have ever been afraid to follow God’s commands to obey Him.

I remember a line from a movie as a youngster: “Humans fear what they do not understand.” So as a young kid, I made up in my mind to always understand everything—therefore I would never be afraid again. Although it helped me somewhat, I am sorry to report that “understanding” alone was not sufficient. I am still afraid of rodents, snakes, spiders, the ocean, roller-coasters, and various other things.

I have heard it said that the only unlearned fear we have as humans is the fear of falling. That is the sense of falling out of the sky and no one to catch you. Every other fear we exhibit as humans is learned behavior, according to some scientist. I can see some validity in this statement. I have witnessed parents laughing with a toddler to teach a toddler not to be afraid of a person or movie. I have witnessed children running away as they follow their parents running away from a “dog.”

Fear, terror, scariness, and being afraid are powerful emotions we face as humans. If we are honest, these emotions dominate our lives more than we are willing to admit. So are you willing to briefly think with me about how fear can dominate the way we handle money?

Because of fear relating to our finances:

  1. We either horde and fill our barns (Luke 12:13-20) or we spend like there’s no tomorrow (Is.56:11-12).
  2. We value riches over wisdom. (1 Kin.3:11-14).
  3. We make plans to gain dishonestly rather than prayer and wisdom-filled planning (Prov.13:11).
  4. We acquiring fiat currency as if it should be the number one priority instead of first seeking the kingdom of God and His righteousness (Matt.6:33).
  5. We completely miss true life (1 Tim.6:17-19).
  6. We ignore that God is ruler of rich and poor (Prov.22:2).
  7. We separate giving money to the Lord and living righteously before the Lord (Matt.23:23).

I am sure we could list more, which would be a beneficial exercise. And as we list the ways fear leads us to sin concerning our finances, may we began to bring every thought obedient to Christ, so that the fear of the Lord— and not worldly fear—will regulate how we handle finances.

There is a practical wisdom in dieting that says “all types of food, in moderation, are okay.” Perhaps there is a practical wisdom of planning we can apply to our finances; giving to the Lord, savings for retirement and emergencies, paying taxes, and living—being content and having fun with the remainder. Planning out our finances can be frustrating, but I’ll end with words of a radio talk show host: “There’s ultimately only one way to Financial Peace, and that’s to walk daily with the Prince of Peace, Christ Jesus!”

 

Balancing the Books

The phrase, “Where’s Waldo?” is, I’m sure, one that’s very familiar to most. Waldo is the token character seen in children’s illustrated books and was definitely one of my favorites growing up. These past few months, I have taken on the phrase “Where’s Waldo?” and renamed it, “Where’s Saba?!”

I have been MIA to say the least! I work full time at Golfland Sunsplash Water Park in the mornings and then go to school full time in the evenings, studying for cardiac sonography. On my good days, I may squeeze in an early morning or late night gym session. All of this leaves my days long and exhausting. The water park season was extremely busy this year, and the weekends were packed. I generally never work weekends, but this year brought about a new work schedule. My Sundays were robbed from me, and at times, I would feel guilty for not being able to worship on Sunday with God’s people. I found myself reasoning, “God gave me this job to honor Him, yet I can’t even make it on Sunday to worship Him.” I had a dilemma: I could either walk away from a job that was keeping me afloat, with all my expenses as a broke college student, or I could continue to work Sundays. Though it may seem minuscule, it is a real issue that I have struggled with, and I’m sure many of you have as well.

God has been so gracious to me in providing me with work to use money for good things; things like my education, supporting the local church, and the occasional Cane’s chicken box combo (one of my favorites). I have grown to see that God is in total control, and there are some Sundays when I have seen how His sovereignty pans out. I have had incredible witnessing opportunities with co workers and even customers on Sundays, and I see how God wanted me at work just so I could share the good news with those who don’t know Him. This is by no means a reason to neglect the corporate time of worship with God’s people, but I see how God has called me to reach beyond the confines of the church to those in the back woods and share the Gospel with them. Isaiah 40:28 reads, “Do you not know? Have you not heard? The Everlasting God, the Lord, the Creator of the ends of the earth does not become weary or tired for His understanding is inscrutable.” I make it personal and insert my name: “Saba, do you not know? I am God and you are not; therefore trust and rest in my Son.” God’s wisdom surpasses any human understanding, and if working a few extra hours means God’s glory is displayed to others, then I will continue to bless Him by doing all things in His name.

So after working multiple weeks without time off, paying back Sally Mae, giving to the local church, laboring on Labor Day, and everything in between, I greatly look forward to the ultimate rest that Jesus Christ the Messiah will bring when the worries and cares of this world will no longer consume me. Working and using the money to provide for the temporary will be a distant shadow as I stand face to face before Him worshipping fully! So dear Christian, continue to ask God for wisdom as we seek to balance the books with our legitimate life issues, but remember the books were balanced when Jesus wiped the sin debt and gave us true rest!

Financial Freedom

As a nation we just celebrated Independence Day and I suppose many of us took some time to pause to consider the freedoms we enjoy as a nation. Indeed, the ideas of liberty and freedom are tightly woven into the American culture. However, there is probably no philosophical or political idea as contentious as the concept of freedom. Political freedom and economic freedom or, as I’ve entitled my post, “Financial Freedom” is often what we think about when we think of freedom as Americans. In his book “Capitalism and Freedom” (1962), Milton Friedman argues that “economic freedom is an extremely important part of total freedom.” But what exactly is economic freedom and financial freedom?

When I was a teenager I set a goal to be “financially independent” by the age of 40. My thought process was if I’m financially independent no one could control me. I could do what I want, when I want, and how I wanted to do it. Boy, was I off track and obviously lost. Second Peter 2:19 points out the irony and folly of my thinking at the time. Although I wasn’t aware, the quest for freedom from God only drove me to slavery of sin and self. My whole concept of freedom was skewed. Galatians 5:13 says we are to use our freedom to serve others, not to indulge our own selfish desires.

So, if I were to “re-write” my boyhood goal to be “financially independent”, it might go something like this: Because Christ has died for my sins and FULLY paid the debt that I could not pay, I am free to generously give to others all that He has given me.

 

Best Ever

It’s summer, it’s hot, and the kids are home from school. The big question in many families is: What are we doing for vacation? I remember as a child, vacation meant long car rides to a destination with my siblings as I crammed into the station wagon…the 70’s version of a minivan but way smaller. My mom would pack the ice chest with enough food to feed an army, my dad would make sure the car had a full tank of gas and was ready for the road. Why did we travel this way? Because it was the budget friendly way to travel with 5 kids. I don’t think it was the intention of my parents to “make memories” but in their ordinary, everyday parenting, they created long-lasting memories.

Once I had my own family, I wanted to be intentional about making memories with my children. One special memory that my now adult children still call the BEST VACATION EVER was our Disney cruise. Disney World is pretty amazing but the cruise takes it to the ultimate. However, beyond the obvious Disney experience, one of the best and long-lasting memories of this trip was not about the trip at all.

Managing my “teacher salary” budget to afford such an adventure taught us three life principles about money. First, deciding to spend it now or later requires wisdom (Prov.21:5, 20). Second, investing in the future requires planning and patience (Luke 14:28; Prov.13:11). Finally, it’s important not to take your eyes off the goal and squander money (Luke 12:15; Prov.6:6-8).

Giving your family the best possible experiences and memories doesn’t have to be extravagant or cost a fortune. What is does require is remembering God owns it all, being a good steward of what He has provided, and wisdom and patience to live with God’s will and timing.

 

Get Rich or Die Tryin’

Back in the early 2000s this was a popular mantra of our society and I would even venture to say that there is still a remnant of this mindset and attitude in our society today. The phrase “get rich or die tryin’” was made popular by an artist named Curtis Jackson III—better known as 50 Cent—when he released his music album in 2003 and then a movie in 2005 with the same title, “Get Rich or Die Tryin.’”

Unfortunately this desire to obtain material wealth has found its way into the church. Many of the Tele-evangelist and prosperity preachers have perpetuated this desire by teaching that, if you come to Jesus, He will bless you with material and financial riches. However, is this what Jesus Himself really taught? And does the Bible even teach this at all?

Jesus once said of Himself, “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head” (Matt.8:20). Jesus was saying that He Himself was living on this earth without the material or financial wealth that the prosperity preachers proclaim Jesus wants you to have. But Jesus even goes as far as to say that “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God” (Mark 10:25). Why did Jesus say that?

Jesus understood the danger of desiring to be rich, because “those who desire to be rich fall into temptation, into a snare, into many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction” (1 Tim.6:9). And it is this craving for wealth that causes some people to wander away from the faith and pierce themselves with many pangs. And I believe that is why Jesus could ask what it profits a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul.

But let me be clear—I am not saying, nor do I believe, it is a sin or sinful to have or to earn a lot of money. I am not promoting a theology of poverty, for God Himself is the one who provides the power to get wealth (Deut.8:18). But I do believe there is biblical warrant to say that desiring to keep a lot of money or to make for yourself “bigger barns,” so to speak (Luke 12:16-21), is where the danger lies and where we get ourselves into trouble.

So as Christians how are we to truly and rightly view finances in a society that says “Get rich or die tryin’”? As believers we are told that we are no long citizens of this world, but that our citizenship is of a heavenly kingdom because of our union with Christ. And since our permanent or eternal home is not this world, God never promises us that we will have riches in this world; but God does promise that “the light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are temporary, but the things that are unseen are eternal” (2 Cor.4:17-18). So as God’s children we can live knowing that God will supply all our needs according to his glorious riches that are in Christ Jesus (Phil.4:19). And since our eternal resting place is not this world, let us be a people who have an eternal perspective by keeping our eyes on Jesus, who is our ultimate prize possession and in whom all the fullness of riches dwell.

 

Tired

I feel the need to admit something. As Pastor Knight says, “Confession is good for the soul”—right? Although confession or admission don’t usually feel good, I believe there’s truth in that statement. If you want think about what God’s Word would say about it, 1 John 1:9 is a good place to turn: “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” This is good news for my soul, because the clean slate of God’s forgiveness and cleansing is exactly what my soul needs to start over!

So, my admission: I’m tired. I’m tired of the struggle. I’m tired of the stress and pressures. I’m tired of feeling like life hours are being traded for money, simply to try to stay “in the black.” I’m tired of feeling squeezed, the emotional pitfalls that come, and the dark clouds that stay. Most of all, though, I’m tired of my being tired. Where is my joy in this journey?

There are moments or days when the heaviness of our trials doesn’t bother me so much, and I’m grateful at those times for God’s abundant provision, because I get to experience regularly the promise made to us in Philippians 4:19—“…my God will supply all your needs according to His riches in glory in Christ Jesus.”

Unfortunately, I don’t always bask in gratitude as I consider the road we’re on. In fact, as I was very recently watching those dark (emotional) clouds swirling overheard, God directed me to another starting over verse—“Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come” (2 Cor.5:17). This is another promise to hold on to as well as a reminder that my life is no longer to be about worldly things anyway: now, because I was made new, all that I live for is to be about spiritual things—namely, God’s glory!

As I concern myself with who God is, what He has done, and what He requires, I can trust His competent and compassionate care for my family. And because I’m a new creature, I don’t need to worry myself with the tiresome trials or stressful struggles of this world; my spiritual eyes can look to Jesus, who will provide.

The Good Life

There is this popular idea in our world today that the best thing that could happen to you would be to win the lottery. Then you could spend the remainder of your days on a beach somewhere, living the “good life.” But nothing could be further from the truth. Interestingly, many people end up going broke within a few years of winning.

 “What if the life you wanted was actually right in front of you?”

A year and half ago, I transitioned to working part-time. I thought I had prepared and planned for everything. However, I discovered there was still one big shift I hadn’t planned for… silencing the call of my desires. My desire for shopping and other material indulgences seemed perfectly fine to me, especially since I didn’t have anyone to take care of but myself. Although my spending habits have never been extravagant, I did enjoy this newfound freedom. However, as I settled into my new lifestyle and income, I became increasingly aware that the end game as a Christian is not about acquiring more and more material goods and wealth. In fact, it’s quite the opposite.

It is dying to self and living for Christ.

This change in my lifestyle is more than just a journey to own less stuff and live for Christ. It’s about not allowing myself to fall into the trap of how society defines success—brand name clothing, price of your car, square footage of your house, dollars in your bank account, even the model of your cellphone. Too often, those who make, spend and keep the most resources for themselves are labeled as the “successful ones.”

 

It’s quite the contrary in the economy of the Kingdom: it all comes down to dying to self and living for Christ (Gal.2:20; 2 Cor.5:17). This simple yet essential truth changes hearts and minds. For me, it has meant a shift from being rooted in the nebulous idea of what I wanted to accomplish, into a new approach to life that is fueled by the excitement of being known and used by God. Each day, I have the opportunity to see life through this lens and everything has changed. In fact, it infuses meaning into everything I do from the seemingly mundane to the obviously profound.

 

Lord, my life is not my own, what would you have me do?”

 

 

 

Loving Christ More Than Stuff

Last year, my son Stevie was asked to write about how he knew that his parents loved him. He responded that we tell him and show him by giving him hugs and kisses. He also mentioned that we spend time with him and take care of him. I like his definition, and it made me think about my relationship with Christ. By the young Stevie Lack standard, does it seem like I love Christ more than I love my stuff?

First, how do I love Christ with my words? Do I praise Him in song and in prayer? Yes, but not as I ought. Do I praise Him openly to others and with exuberance, as one who is overflowing with gratitude for the one who has purchased me at the expense of His Son? I fall pitifully short here. When I think about the content of my conversations with others, believers and nonbelievers alike, I know it more often addresses “stuff” than God. To be sure, I don’t run around with a megaphone professing my love for money, but I do talk a lot about things that are purchased with money. Even more, I can sure complain when material objects break or wear out or when I feel I have a lack of money. I need God’s forgiveness for not telling Him, and especially others, how much I love Him, and I need His grace to loose my lips so that people will clearly hear whom it is I serve. I also need Him to help me bridle my tongue, which can lead me into frequent unfruitful conversations about money, or the things purchased with it.

So far, I have been found guilty of wasting too many of my words on finances and material “stuff.” What about time and care? When I look at my schedule, do I spend more time and care attending to my job and its needs or to my relationship with Christ? Does it bother me more if I am struggling to meet a deadline more than if I am struggling to meet in quiet fellowship with Christ each day? I in no way am trying to imply that we should not work heartily, as unto God. The Bible tells us to do so, and we need to be responsible. However, if my time and efforts to please my boss (and procure money) are greater than my efforts to spend time with the one I claim to love above anyone and anything else, there’s a problem. I am guilty here too. Thanks be to God, who provides forgiveness and new mercy every morning, for I need to confess that my tie to finances and material goods, though they are temporary and have no eternal value, often occupy my time and efforts more than my Lord.

Journey of Financial Freedom

Finances! Even the word scares me a bit, I must confess. But, being honest and real about my disobedience and mistakes, confessing all and seeking direction have been blessings for our family. I cannot continue typing and not mention this journey has been and continues to be a humbling experience; but as we continue to pray as a family and make decisions together, we are starting to see that the journey will soon be over. I know we will continue to apply everything we have learned. Especially because we want to be an example to our Olivia.

Continuing our journey of financial freedom, we as a family with a new toddler have noticed many changes in our lives, as well as how we are affected by our choices. We have seen how our past choices have affected our freedom from debt today. We continue to seek the Word of God to be aligned with what honors the Lord (Philippians 4:6-7).

Praise God! We have started to see good changes: we have eliminated our debt by at least 50% or more of what we had just six months ago. What a blessing! God remains faithful, even when we are not. Remembering that God’s promises are good causes His peace to take over us. Knowing He will always be with Olivia is just an indescribable assuredness (Psalm 119:90).

Although, the journey is not and has not been easy, we again and again realize we are being molded with His mighty hands (Isaiah 64:8). We lift our eyes to the hills and SHOUT! Our help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth. He is our great provider (Psalm 121:1), the One who has the words of eternal life. Where else can we go to, but you, Lord (John 6:68)! These words, as we read them in the Bible, reassure us that we are going to make it, and know it is all in His good timing (John 14:27).

We pray we be an example of good stewardship. All we can say today, as when we started, “Praise Him at all times”; it is worth the journey.

 

Striving for Wisdom as You Work

Oh, how easy it is to get distracted by mounting bills, shrinking paychecks, the never-ending list of needs, and the fear about whether the amount in your checking account will last until the next payday! How do we balance it all? There are some truths we need to keep in mind when we think about God’s provision of our financial needs. First, God created work for mankind before Adam chose sin; therefore, work is good and right and doing our tasks to God’s glory (Col.3:23) honors Him. Second, God owns the cattle on a thousand hills (Ps.50:10)—it all belongs to Him and He gives as He chooses to whom He chooses. Third, God expects that we strive to fulfill our part in the work-provision equation (2 Thess.3:10).

But we need to take a step back in order to understand what this has to do with striving for wisdom as you work.

Find your goal in God. We have to always start here. Why are you doing what you’re doing? What is it that you’re working for? If we’ve gotten off track and are headed toward a lesser (or wrong!) goal, wisdom will not be found. We must strive in our desire to attain Christlikeness; in our love for God’s Word; and in our single-minded focus on that one, all-consuming goal: the knowledge of God. Knowing that God created work and that He will be honored as you work for His glory will help you keep your eye on the right goal.

Find pleasure in your treasures. God didn’t give us five senses and expect that we reject the pleasure they bring. He didn’t give us the love and warmth of family and friends, only to require that we remain cold and untouched. No, He chose to provide pleasure for us as we walk with Him on this earth. Do you treasure your family? There is pleasure to be found there! Of course, when we treasure Jesus, the ultimate pleasure is found in Him! And, ultimately, it all belongs to God, so give thanks to Him and choose a daily attitude of gratitude.

Find joy in the journey. Yes, even in the trials, there is joy to be found. Remember, Jesus hasn’t changed—He’s the same today as He was during your recent time of relative ease. The journey He has carved out for you includes your continuing to strive. So don’t give up and don’t give in. When we stand strong, by His grace, in our faith, our eyes remain focused on truth—His truth. And it is always in His truth and by His Spirit that we find wisdom.