The Parent Trap

trapLast week, Solomon gave us some clues to identify a wicked man. He told us there is no one with the intelligence or smarts to go against God. Don’t think you can fight against God either – He will always win. Names can evoke a lot of emotion and God says there is power in the name of Jesus. In fact, having a good name in the community is better than riches. Rich or poor, everyone belongs to God in the sense that He is the Creator. Prudent people pay attention: fools do not. It’s good to be humble and recognize that whatever greatness you may have on this earth is because God has given it to you. The reward for humility is riches and they may or may not be material, but the reward is assuredly eternal life in the presence of God. This morning, we’ll look at some restated principles and clear up a verse that many people have used as a parenting mantra.

Take a look at our passage today found in Pro. 22:5-11.

Solomon has painted a picture of wickedness and foolishness throughout this book. He continues by saying, “Thorns and snares are in the way of the perverse; he who guards himself will be far from them.” Again, he’s speaking in generalities. The way of the wicked is problematic and leads nowhere. Don’t confuse short term gain for long term rewards. The crooked, foolish, and the wicked way are synonymous. It’s filled with problems, with road blocks, with hurdles and it’s never smooth. It is contrary to God’s way. Do you find yourself consistently tripping through life? If you are a follower of Christ, I assure you that while the path of righteousness is straight and narrow, there are bumps and detours along the way. We have no guarantee of an easy life, but if you find yourself frustrated, angry, depressed, discouraged, hopeless, and defeated, you might consider the path you’re on. When you are on the path of righteousness, Satan will do all he can to get you derailed. While we all may experience those moments of wandering, if you are on the path that God had prescribed for you, there will be joy, there will be hope, there will be fulfillment because you are doing what you are supposed to be doing. The brief moments of frustration or doubt will pass because you are maintaining your focus on pursuing Christ and He will give you what you need when you need it. What happens to you in this life does not define who you are. The experiences God allows do help shape you and mold you and give you unique perspectives in life to enable you to rest in God and help you minister to others. Don’t discount your experiences.

Here’s the main point for today and it’s called the parenting trap. Probably every parent at some point has heard this next verse. New parents are given this verse on pictures and plaques to set around the house. Older, well-meaning parents teach it to young parents and sometimes think if the verse is said enough if will come true. Saying verses over and over again with the hope that the verse will come true in your own life is not the intent of God speaking through His Word. Solomon tells us to, “Train up a child in the way he should go, even when he is old he will not depart from it.” It would be awesome if every instruction we gave to our kids was understood and followed immediately. I have met parents over the years that actually believe their kids were perfect, or at least more perfect than other kids. This verse is tucked in between unrelated verses and seems awkwardly placed. Having children is one of the most blessed and challenging things that two people can do. I say two people because the conception of a child does require the input from a male and a female. It doesn’t matter if it occurs inside the womb or in a test tube. All life, every single time, is conceived by the power of God.

This verse is traditionally applied to parents, but the instruction also applies to anyone that has influence over any child . . . so that really means everyone. So, let’s break it down. Train means to teach a skill or behavior through regular practice. Athletes train for sporting events. Musicians practice. Coaches teach new skills. As a gymnast and a diver, I was always learning new skills and it generally involved pain of some sort as I learned to do whatever trick it was. The training Solomon is talking about has to do with, “The way he should go.” There are lots of things kids must learn. Reading, writing, arithmetic, biology, dressing themselves, etc. Every kid needs to learn basic life skills to function in society. That’s the responsibility of parents, but Solomon gives parents specific instruction about eternity.

“The way he should go” doesn’t mean finding their own way, but being taught THE way. In Eph. 6:4 Paul said, “Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.” I find it really interesting that parents do what they can to get their kids in the best nursery or child care program and groom the kids from a young age to go to the best schools, or get the best coaches or teachers and are determined that the kids follow a particular path, but when it comes to God, they back off and say they want them to find their own way. That is utter nonsense. Parents must take an active role in teaching their kids about God. If you doubt what I’m saying, let’s turn over to Deut. 6. This is what we have to do with our kids. Don’t leave the responsibility and privilege to teach your children about God to other people. I’m glad to do it, but I have limited time with your kids. Solomon concludes his thought by saying, “Even when he is old he will not depart from it.” The “it” refers to, “the way he should go.” When the kid grows up, when he is older, he won’t depart from the teaching. There are parents that have diligently instructed their kids in the way only to have their kids choose the path that is not pleasing to God. This is the nature of many of the proverbs we have looked at. They are generalities and are not applicable to each and every situation out there. As a general rule, when parents intentionally include God in all that they do, the child remembers it because it was part of the DNA of the family. God wasn’t compartmentalized to Sundays only. The principles found in Scripture were lived out on a daily basis. Parenting isn’t a do as I say, not as I do endeavor. We must demonstrate by example what we expect out of our children. That is the gift of parenting, but it also represents a challenge to all of us.

This next one is a tried and proven fact. “The rich rules over the poor, and the borrower becomes the lender’s slave.” The rich and poor have a common bond in that they are all made by God, but as to the things of life, we see this ruling aspect every day. Those that have little will be in subjection to those that have much. There is an entire movement dedicated toward opposing the rich. According to the Occupy Wall Street website, their movement, “is fighting back against the corrosive power of major banks and multinational corporations over the democratic process, and the role of Wall Street in creating an economic collapse that has caused the greatest recession in generations. The movement is inspired by popular uprisings in Egypt and Tunisia, and aims to fight back against the richest 1% of people that are writing the rules of an unfair global economy that is foreclosing on our future.” Right or wrong, good or bad, this is the principle Solomon is presenting.

The second half of the verse has been used a proof text prohibiting borrowing money. There is no such prohibition in Scripture, but the Bible does talk about caution when doing so. When you are indebted to someone, whether it be a bank, a title loan company or the local rent a center, you are their slave. You cannot get around it. You must pay back what you borrow. It is a whole lot easier to secure loans today than it was a couple of decades ago. You can get a loan from the comfort of your couch. People enter into a contract to borrow money and often don’t know what is in store for them. Did you look at the amortization schedule for the mortgage before you signed? You’ll see that the loan company gets its fees up front and that makes sense because they’re the ones taking the risk. There’s been pushes in recent years to forgive debt and it doesn’t matter whether its mortgage debt or student loan debt. For some reason, people secure a loan and then later determine that it’s not fair to have to pay back what they owe. It seems that people do not like being placed in bondage to others. This is the principle that Solomon’s talking about. It’s not good or bad, Solomon is simply stating fact. When you borrow money, you’re a slave to the lender.

Be careful what you sow. When you plant corn, you expect to reap corn. When you plant wheat, you expect to sow wheat. Whatever you sow, that’s what you’re supposed to reap. Solomon says, “He who sows iniquity, will reap vanity.” Vanity means trouble. If you sow iniquity or sin, you will reap trouble. “And the rod of his fury will perish.” This is talking about the man who sows iniquity. Rod is a symbol of power. When men rule with the thought of their own desires rather than the desires of people, the authority they possess will be stripped away.

We’ve seen the generosity of v. 9 before. And we’ve seen what to do with the scoffer from v. 10. And also, the relationship with a king in v. 11.

We started by looking at the way of the wicked. If you are continuously tripping through life, you might want to check the path you’re on. What happens in your life does not have to define who you are. We spent some time on the parenting trap and most parents will tell you that some of life’s biggest challenges result following the birth of their children. Take the time to instruct your kids about the way they should go. While there’s no prohibition against borrowing money, understand that the borrower becomes a slave to the lender. You will reap what you sow so be careful in what you choose to plant. We finished by quickly reviewing several principles already covered. My prayer is that you will really grasp this thing called wisdom as you continue your journey of faith in Christ.


Rapid Fire Principles

rapid-fireYou can check out the podcast here.

The last time we were in Proverbs, we learned the wise man stays away from strife, but the fool argues about things that don’t matter. Don’t allow yourself to be baited into an argument. There are fights to fight, but this isn’t what Solomon is talking about. He’s talking about nonsensical arguments where you’re wasting breath. Be mindful of the plans others have or present to you. They may not be what they appear to be so take the time to ask the right questions. Loyalty and trustworthiness are qualities that are diminishing as we move through time. Become the person that God wants you to be. We saw the value of a godly king and the Queen of Sheba recognized that quality in Solomon. This morning, we’ll see some rapid fire principles; some that we’ve already looked at and we’ll also dive into the issue of trustworthiness.

Take a look at our passage found in Proverbs 20:9-19.

Let’s start with one of my favorite topics. Solomon says, “Who can say, ‘I have cleansed my heart, I am pure from sin?’” It’s a rhetorical question, but we can quickly answer it. The standard for holiness is not being good. The standard for a relationship with God is not made on our terms.  No matter who you might think God is, you have to approach Him in the manner He has determined. The only way to approach God is in perfection and folks, we fall short. That’s why Solomon asks the simple question, “Who can say I have cleansed my heart, I am pure from my sin?” The answer is no one. Rom. 3:10 reminds us, “There is none righteous, not even one.” But it didn’t stop there. The conclusion to that thought is found in Rom. 6:23, “The wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” New life can come only after death. I know it may not make sense, but it’s true. When there is new life, the old is passed away. Your life is like the changing of the seasons. The dead, cold winter gives way to new life in the spring time. This verse is a realization that we are sinners and we cannot do anything to cleanse ourselves. 1 Jo. 1:8 says, “If we say that we have no sin, we are deceiving ourselves and the truth is not in us.” In Rom. 3:9, Paul made sure everyone was on the same page when he asked the rhetorical question, “What then? Are we better than they? Not at all; for we have already charged that both Jews and Greeks are all under sin.” We are all born into sin. We can choose to stay in our sin or acknowledge that Jesus is Lord and Savior and turn from our wicked ways. Read Rom. 5:18-21 to learn that the purification comes from what Christ has done.

The shady business practices in v. 10 are the same things Solomon addressed in 11:1 when he said, “A false balance is an abomination to the Lord, but a just weight is His delight.”

Look at the lad in v. 11. Notice it’s not what someone says although that’s important. “It is by his deeds that a lad distinguishes himself if his conduct is pure and right.” The lad Solomon mentions is a young man. The idea is that young people generally are free from the pretenses grown-ups have. They have not yet learned the finer points of discretion. You’ve heard the phrase, “Out of the mouths of babes?” Kids are generally are a what you see is what you get kind of people. Kids don’t hide their motives. When they want something, they ask or demand it. The point is that it is the actions of the child indicate who he really is. Of course, the conduct of people can be evaluated as well. Solomon says so in the next verse: “The hearing ear and the seeing eye, the Lord has made both of them.” This points to the fact that the Lord has given us ears to hear and eyes to see. You are able to judge the character of someone by what you see and hear.

Here’s a series of verses regarding work. There’s a lot here, but it’s pretty straightforward. Solomon says, “Do not love sleep, or you will become poor; open your eyes, and you will be satisfied with food.” Before social media, if you were tired, few people knew about it and it really didn’t matter because you had to live life. Today, being tired is a viable excuse not to fulfill any commitments you may have. You’re too tired so you call out of work. I’ve heard of people that are too tired to do housework and yard work; they’re too tired to go to Bible study, or Community Group and sometimes people can even be too tired to go to church. What’s funny is that people are rarely too tired to go to a party, baby shower, the movies, a concert, or the beach. I bring this up in light of the previous verse Solomon just said about the seeing eye and the hearing ear. You can talk a good game, but your actions scream out true intentions. Don’t be sleeping when there is work to be done.

“Bad, bad,” says the buyer, but when he goes his way, then he boasts.” This is for you people that love to shop in places where you can negotiate for the best price. You’re looking to get the best price so you tell the merchant what a piece of junk it is he’s trying to sell. You talk him down to a lower price then you go about bragging about how slick a negotiator you are.

“There is gold, and an abundance of jewels; but the lips of knowledge are a more precious thing.” This is a common theme throughout Proverbs. It’s way better to have knowledge than gold.

“Take his garment when he becomes surety for a stranger; and for foreigners, hold him in pledge.” Back in Bible days, it was common practice to use a garment, a coat or cloak, as security for a debt. Today, we could think of this a title loan. There are a number of warnings in Proverbs about acting as security for other’s debt. We’ve seen it in 6:1, 11:15, 17:18, and we’ll see it again in 22:26. This isn’t a verse promoting harsh treatment. The point here is that if a person ignores this sound financial advice and makes a pledge for a stranger, then hold that stranger accountable. Take his garments or hold him in pledge as a servant so you don’t suffer loss. There is a difference between Christian charity and a lack of accountability. In today’s society, we think if someone is held accountable for their actions, whether it’s debt or holding to their faith or challenging someone on their ungodly beliefs that we are judgmental, unloving, and intolerant. Remember the housing crash where people were foreclosed on their homes? They couldn’t make their payments and the bank took back the house and somehow, the banks turned out to be the bad guys. Now, it’s awful that people lost their homes, but if you say you’re going to pay back a debt, shouldn’t you be held accountable?

“Bread obtained by falsehood is sweet to a man, but afterward his mouth will be filled with gravel.” This is about honesty. As I have mentioned many times, we often get requests from people that need help with a variety of financial issues. From the electric or water bill to repairs for their vehicle. Many times they have just gotten a job, but won’t get a paycheck for another week or two. Some of these people are telling the truth and some are not. How do you tell the difference? You don’t. If the Lord leads you to help someone and they misuse your generosity, that’s not on you, it’s on them. The advantage gained by someone being dishonest will be short lived. The gravel is not literal gravel, but the discomfort, pain, and suffering that come as a result of being dishonest.

“Prepare plans by consultation, and make war by wise guidance.” This is pretty self-explanatory, but I want to point out something I have experienced a number of times. As a shepherd or pastor, I am rarely brought into a discussion early in a decision making process. Too often, the person that has willingly submitted to membership and has voluntarily placed themselves under the authority of the church and her leadership, refuses to seek my guidance or input. There are a few exceptions, but my experience is that people will typically do what they want to do. Is it the day in which we live. The church has become really no different than any other organization. “He who goes about as a slanderer reveals secrets, therefore do not associate with a gossip.” A secret is just that.

It doesn’t mean there’s anything wrong or sinful about it, but the person may not want it revealed at this point in time. People do have a right to privacy and no one wants that privacy violated. Maybe you reveal a secret under the guise of, they wouldn’t mind if I tell so and so. There are people I will never tell anything private. Solomon says don’t even associate with someone that has loose lips.

We began by asking the rhetorical question, who is without sin? The cleansing we enjoy is not because of anything we have done, by because of what Jesus did. Youngsters say what comes to mind because they haven’t developed the ability to hide their motives. We looked at a number of principles for daily, principled living whether it’s at home, the job, or in church. Next week, we’ll hopefully finish up this chapter by continuing to look at principles for daily living.

Curious Creating

CuriousYou can check out the podcast here.

Last week Solomon told us that it’s easy to conclude that our plans are good and right, but asked did we consider God’s plan? It’s a good idea to step back and see eternity’s plan from God’s perspective. A great way to evaluate your plans is to use Scripture. God evaluates plans based on motive and His sight is perfect. Just because something is a good idea doesn’t mean God wants you to be engaged in it. Just because you’re presented with a good opportunity doesn’t mean that God wants you to take advantage of it. When you’re in a vibrant, daily, engaged relationship with God through His Son, His plans become your plans. This morning, Solomon addresses a question many people ask.

Pro. 16:4-6 says, “The Lord has made everything for its own purpose, even the wicked for the day of evil. Everyone who is proud in heart is an abomination to the Lord; assuredly, he will not be unpunished. By lovingkindness and truth iniquity is atoned for, and by the fear of the Lord one keeps away from evil.”

Here’s a question of the ages. Solomon begins by telling us, “The Lord made everything for its own purpose.” If you’ve ever watched Ask This Old House on PBS, they have a segment where they show an obscure tool or piece of equipment and the guys on the show try to figure out what it’s called and what its purpose is. I have a number of tools in my shop that are not obvious as to what they’re for, but they are invaluable for getting the job done quickly and correctly. That’s what Solomon is telling us. Everything God created has a purpose. We may not understand it all, but all things have a purpose. When you consider the far away planets, stars, and galaxies, it points to the incredible creative power of God. Those things in the sky are incredibly beautiful. They’ve provided astronomers with objects to spend years studying. We love spending time on the beach and we marvel at the incredible diversity of the fish living in the sea. The seas also provide opportunity to get from one place to another. Scientists continue to discover new species in the animal kingdom. We still find new ways to use items we’ve had around for years. There are 438 million hits when you Google new uses for old items.

Everything God created has its own purpose. Of course, sin corrupted many of the intended purposes of God’s creation. That’s what happened to the wicked. They are part of the rebellion of Lucifer and his demons which were a driving force behind Adam and Eve’s poor decision making skills. The progression of evil started before the garden and culminated in Gen. 6. Gen. 6:6 says, “The Lord was sorry that He had made man on the earth, and He was grieved in His heart.” In that pivotal chapter, you’ll remember that we’re introduced to a new character who was given very clear instructions. His name was Noah and to say he built a boat would be a tremendous understatement. Even though the wicked exist, God had an intended purpose and plan for them, but they had and continue to have other plans. Rev. 4:11, “Worthy are You, our Lord and our God, to receive glory and honor and power; for You created all things, and because of Your will they existed, and were created.” Sin changed God’s design for humanity. “Even the wicked for the day of evil.” They were not created evil, but became that way because of sin. And they have a purpose too. Perhaps it’s to show God’s mercy or show His wrath. Maybe it’s to show judgment or maybe grace. Even the wicked will serve God’s purpose.

Here’s another restatement. Pride is on the list of things God hates and Solomon repeats it again. “Everyone who is proud in heart is an abomination to the Lord; assuredly, he will not be unpunished.” There again is the root of where it begins. Everything starts in the heart. We’re not talking parental pride which is really delight, we’re talking personal pride. We’re talking my way is better than anyone else’s. Pride is what sets sinners against God. Pride causes people to go their own way. Pride causes people to consider only themselves. Pride says it’s all about me. Pride says I don’t need anyone else. Solomon says “proud in heart” which gives us the idea that this is really who a person is. It’s not a prideful moment, this is who they are. Remember the word picture for abomination – rotting flesh. As a result of the rotting flesh that is your heart, Solomon reminds us that, “He will not be unpunished.” When we read verses like this, I think we too often think in terms of our timeline. Don’t confuse the here and now with eternity. Nobody gets away with it.  Remember in Pro. 11:21 Solomon said, “Assuredly, the evil man will not go unpunished.”  Do you ever wonder why I use so many cross references? A great principle in Bible study is to allow Scripture to interpret Scripture. The Bible does not and will not contradict itself. That’s why we study the whole counsel of God’s Word and don’t pick and choose topics that won’t challenge us. When you work through the Bible, you will come across every modern issue we face.

Next, Solomon points to the future. This is a pretty exciting verse and contrasts what he just said. The proud person won’t go unpunished, but “By lovingkindness and truth iniquity is atoned for.”  God cannot allow sin to go unjudged. We have people these days that say God has changed and that the rules of the Old Testament are no longer valid. I think we lack a fundamental truth that is found in God’s Word. The Apostle Paul says in 1 Cor. 6:9-11 “Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived; neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor homosexuals, nor thieves, nor the covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers, will inherit the kingdom of God. Such were some of you; but you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God.” Paul is writing to those misguided people at Corinth. Even in all their fussing and fighting, Paul says they, “Have been sanctified in Christ Jesus.” (1 Cor. 1:2) Jesus Christ affected the change. This is what Solomon is pointing to. Solomon is talking about the atonement found only in Christ. Ps. 85:10 says, “Lovingkindness and truth have met together; righteousness and peace have kissed each other.” Lovingkindness is also translated mercy. Tit. 3:5, “He saved us, not on the basis of deeds which we have done in righteousness, but according to His mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewing by the Holy Spirit.” It’s not anything that we have done because God did it all for us in the person that is Jesus Christ.

The word atonement is typically translated propitiation in the New Testament. The “atonement of iniquity” Solomon mentions is the same “propitiation for our sins” that John talks about in 1 Jo. 4:10. “By lovingkindness and truth iniquity is atoned for.” Iniquity is a synonym for sin. There is no amount of doing that will erase your sin. There is no process that will earn your way to heaven or that will cause God to forget. It’s not what we do or did, but what God did in Christ. Why would He do this? Paul says it this way in Eph 2:4: “But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us.” That came to light in Jo. 3:16 that many people in and out of the church know, but have not fully understood: “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.” This is what Solomon is talking about. When you have a life atoned for by Christ, Solomon concludes, “By the fear of the Lord one keeps away from evil.” Once again the idea is not that you go through life looking over your shoulder because you’re afraid of God like you’re afraid of being mugged or attacked. Solomon is talking about a reverential respect for who God is. It’s a recognition of the incredibleness and awesomeness of God, but it’s also recognizing that perfect justice will come from God – at some point.

Remembering who God is helps us keep away from those things that are not pleasing to Him. Sometimes we focus on what we think we’re not allowed to do as if God is preventing us from having fun. Growing up, there were lots of things I was not allowed to do, but I was allowed to do way more things than I was not. My parents established rules for my well-being and safety and so I wouldn’t annoy anyone. I followed them . . . mostly. God has established principles and rules for our safety and well-being and for His glory. Having respect and reverence for God with some straight up ‘I don’t want to face His judgement’ thinking will keep us away from evil. I’m not a fan of catch phrases or slogans in church, but the old WWJD does have an application. Of course you need to apply it biblically, but if you have in the front of your mind, “Is this                   going to glorify God or edify His people?” principle going through your mind, I’m certain we would not do a lot of the things we do.

There are questions we all want answers to. God did not create the wicked, but did allow His creation to choose the path of disobedience and rebellion to become the antithesis of His design. Evil and wickedness are present in the world and God will use even that to gain glory. If your life is characterized by pride, you’re like rotting flesh and you will not be unpunished. God loved us so much that He gave us His Son Jesus Christ who atones for our sin. Truth and mercy kiss each other in the person of Christ. Since we have such reverence and love for God, we keep away from evil. All this is part of God’s curious creation where He is the epicenter.

The Number One Myth About Money

Thanks once again to Dave Ramsey for providing the principles found here. You can listen to the podcast here.

I would like to talk about what Dave Ramsey calls the number one myth about money. We have an idea about what this might be, but if we don’t correct this misguided view, we’ll never really grow into the men and women that God designed us to be. Here’s the myth: the way to have more is to hold on more tightly. When we hold our money with an open hand, sure, we may lose some, but there’s room for more to come in. When we hold our money with a closed hand, we’ll hang on to what we have, but there isn’t room for more to come in. The fist is the international sign of anger. If you hold up your fist to someone, they know what you’re trying to say. The open hand is the international sign for acceptance. Even a dog recognizes the warmth of an open hand.

Ps. 24:1 says, “The earth is the LORD’S, and all it contains, the world, and those who dwell in it.” We need to change our perspective. When it comes to money, we all get a little tight-fisted. We feel like we have to protect what is ours. That brings up a great question. What is ours? Several years ago I had someone managing my money. I was investing a sum of money each month and this man was responsible for taking care of it. It wasn’t a lot of money by the world’s standards, but I entrusted him to take care of it. Over the course of time, it became apparent that he was not handling my money responsibly. He consistently lost my money. I would have been better off putting my money in a coffee can and burying it in my backyard. I was angry that the money I entrusted to this guy was mishandled. Instead of giving him more of my money, I took the money I entrusted to him and I fired him. That’s the way it is with God and us. God entrusted His resources, money, stuff, time, and talents to us. We’re just managing His stuff. It belongs to God. He owns it all.

Ps. 24:1: “The earth is the LORD’S, and all it contains.” We have a fiduciary trust responsibility with everything God has given us. If you’re a manager at a company, the owner gives you a responsibility for running a part of his company. That doesn’t mean you own it; it just means you’re responsible for part of it. If the owner wants it back, you give it back. If the owner tells you to write a big check to a vendor or charity, you do it. Your job is to manage the resources the way the owner tells you to. So what is real stewardship? Biblical stewardship is about managing what God has entrusted to you. 1 Cor. 4:1-2 says, “Let a man regard us in this manner, as servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God. In this case, moreover, it is required of stewards that one be found trustworthy.” When we talk about stewardship people usually hear give more. So what is a steward? Steward and stewardship has become a Christianized term. Oftentimes the church uses it wrong. A steward is a manager, not an owner. In medieval times, the second nicest property in the kingdom belonged to the king’s steward. His job was to see to the king’s business. The steward managed all of the owner’s affairs, and he enjoyed full use of every bit of the king’s property, but he didn’t own any of it. This is how we should view ourselves in relation to God’s blessings. We don’t own anything, just like the steward didn’t own anything.  We simply manage the Owner’s wealth.

Stewardship is about managing. Stewardship is not a campaign to raise money. Stewardship is a biblical principle for daily living.  The church goes about this all wrong. We usually just run around saying, “Give, give, give!” But if you actually teach people how to properly manage their money, you free them up so that they can, in turn, give like never before. That’s why we talked about basic financial principles in our first message and breaking the bondage of debt in the last message.

Before you continue reading, check out this video regarding the tithe. A lot of Christians honestly ask, “Why does God need my tithe?” That’s a bad question. God doesn’t need anything from us. As followers of Christ authentically pursuing God, we don’t have to give; we get to give. We’re not obligated, we’re honored. Giving makes us more like Christ. Gen. 1:26 says that God made man in His image. John 3:16says that God loved the world so much that He gave His only son. Giving is a crucial theme throughout the entire redemptive story in the Bible. Giving and God cannot be separated. If we’re made in God’s image and if God is a giver, then that means we are made to be givers, too. Giving changes us. We celebrate the image of God within us when we give. When we don’t give, we’re stopping up the flow of grace that God wants to pour through us. The Dead Sea is dead because it has a continuous inflow, but no outflow. It is not able to sustain life. Where there is no outflow – death results.

Giving may feel strange at first, but that’s just our selfish human nature trying to retain a grip on us. Over time, giving becomes more natural, like breathing. Giving turns good things loose in our lives. We become more creative. We become more passionate. We become less selfish. We become vested. Couples who tithe are less likely to get a divorce. Why? Giving makes you less selfish. When you’re less selfish with money, you’re less selfish with everything. Less selfish people prosper in their finances, business, relationships, families, and every other area. It’s not about money; it’s about character.

Giving helps us prosper. There’s no magical, “if I do this I get that” scenario in the Bible. But, as we become more responsible stewards, God can and will trust us with more and more. But don’t get confused. It’s not about money. It’s about management and faithfulness. Practically, givers are generally more likable and reliable. If you come across as a trustworthy, generous person at work, you’re more likely to be promoted. Who wants a selfish boss? Who wants a selfish employee? So what is the truth about giving? Giving is a reminder of ownership. Every time I put money in the plate at church or in reality through web bill pay, I am reminded that I am not the owner. For many people, money is a drug of choice. It’s almost as if we need to acknowledge it, “My name is Ian and I like stuff.” Giving is praise and worship. The offering isn’t something we pause to do at our church. It’s not a “half time” during the worship service. It isn’t an intermission. It is part of our worship!

Be a cheerful giver. 2 Cor. 9:7: “God loves a cheerful giver.” Cheerful comes from the word that means hilarious. A cheerful giver gives because it is a joy and a blessing, not a duty or obligation. If you cry when you give, expect your kids to do the same. If you’re excited to give, they’ll grow up thinking the same thing. Giving is spiritual warfare. Malachi 3:11: “Then I will rebuke the devourer for you, so that it will not destroy the fruits of the ground; nor will your vine in the field cast its grapes,” says the LORD of hosts.” Eph. 6:11 instructs us to, “Put on the full armor of God, so that you will be able to stand firm against the schemes of the devil.” The devil doesn’t want you to give; he convinces you that you can’t. He wants you to hold on to every penny you have . . .well check that. He doesn’t want any penny you have supporting the work of ministry. We trust God with many other things in our lives, why not money?

And please don’t give me the old, “Tithing was part of the Law” speech. Tithing pre-dated the Law by over 400 years. And equally lame, “They tithed off of their grain and their agriculture.” True, that was their currency. If these are your attitudes, your heart is not right with God. My experience with people that say these things is that they don’t give ANYTHING! It’s just that simple. Yes, the New Testament teaches generous giving. So what is generous? I would say 10% is a good start.

We’ll never be happier and more fulfilled than when we are serving and giving. Giving changes us, and it can change the lives of the people around us. It’s also how God funds the work of the ministry. It’s time for each Christian to do his part.

Breaking the Bondage of Debt

You can listen to the podcast for this message here. Thanks again to Dave Ramsey for supplying the principles in this message.

Don’t believe everything you hear. Think about this, who taught you that borrowing money was a good idea? Was it your friends that have bill collectors calling them every day? That’s like taking marriage advice from someone that has been divorced 7 times. Marketing tells us that borrowing money is something everyone does and that it’s something we need to do to be happy – that it will help us get ahead. But research indicates that 75% of the wealthiest people in the world said the most important financial principle is getting out of debt and staying out of debt. Have you ever heard anyone say that the reason they “made it” was that they got into debt? You will never meet a millionaire who made his fortune using cash back from a credit card. But that’s not what society tells us. The truth is that if you tell a lie often enough and long enough, the lie becomes accepted as truth – think Facebook beginning to charge for using the site. People believe the lie and pass it on. They’re not doing it to be mean, they’ve just bought into the lie themselves and accepted it as truth.

  • You need to build your credit score.
  • You need a safe car, so you should buy new or lease.
  • You need a credit card to buy anything.
  • Nobody pays cash for a car, let alone a house.

What direction do you think North is? If you were to ask people which direction it is, you’ll get a variety of answers. A lot of people will get it right, but the people who didn’t weren’t lying. They aren’t dumb, they weren’t trying to mislead anyone. They were sincere in their answer, but they were wrong. If you look at a compass, you’ll find true North. You and I have a compass; it’s the Word of God. It doesn’t matter how you feel. North is north. No amount of marketing; no amount of talking changes that fact.

Pro. 22:7 says, “The rich rules over the poor, And the borrower becomes the lender’s slave.”

We need a paradigm shift in the church and in America. Paradigm is defined as a way or manner of thinking. Debt has been marketed to us in such a way that it’s hard to imagine life without it. We need a paradigm shift to biblical principles. Take the FICO score, for example. FICO stands for the Fair Isaac Corporation that created the industry standard for determining a person’s risk for credit in the mid 1980s. The higher the score, the lower the risk for a bank or lending institution to lend money. We’ve come to believe that a good FICO score is the magic key that unlocks all financial doors, but that’s simply not true. A FICO score is nothing but a measure of the debt you can incur. You can’t have a FICO score if you’ve never had debt or don’t have the potential to incur debt. The calculation for the score has absolutely nothing to do with your income or your potential for success. It is completely based on your debt, what kind of debt you have, how long you’ve been in debt, and how well you pay on your debt. We give debt and that credit score way too much power in our lives. We worship at the altar of debt as our provider instead of realizing that God is our provider. Debt is a way of saying that God didn’t give you enough.

Sometimes, we need a fresh perspective. Here’s a fresh perspective on debt. It’s only been around for about 3,000 years. Pro. 22:7: “The rich rules over the poor, And the borrower becomes the lender’s slave.” The Bible is clear that debt is slavery. It’s like putting on hand cuffs. Regardless of how you feel, debt is slavery.

There are three ways to break the chains of debt. Get intense like a gazelle. Pro. 6:1, 4-5: “My son, if you have become surety for your neighbor, have given a pledge for a stranger . . . give no sleep to your eyes, Nor slumber to your eyelids; deliver yourself like a gazelle from the hunter’s hand and like a bird from the hand of the fowler.” The cheetah is the fastest animal on the planet and he is a chaser – a predator. He chases to eat – to live.  A cheetah can run about 75 mph. A gazelle can run about 50 mph. The very second a gazelle notices a cheetah running after him, he runs. His life depends on him escaping the cheetah. The cheetah is the lender and you are the gazelle. Even though the cheetah is faster, he can’t keep up that speed up indefinitely. A gazelle is slower, but he can run at top speed for 15-20 minutes. Lenders are not the devil incarnate, but they are on the prowl. My son got his first credit card offer in the mail and his first telemarketer phone call when he was around 12. We have people in national leadership saying everyone deserves to own their own home. There is 0% financing on everything from cars to couches, from lawn mowers to living rooms. You can finance pretty much anything you want to. If you don’t want to finance it, you can rent to own. Furniture, appliance, computers, tires, and wheels. Our local rental center offers a 47” LCD TV for just $119.99 a month. If you use the rent to own plan, you’ll buy that $1799.99 TV for $2879.76. That’s an additional $1079.77. People now a days don’t care how much it costs, they only care about the amount of the monthly payment. Don’t fall into the trap that you deserve a new car, a new phone, a new computer, a new whatever.

Proverbs tells us debt is not a plan. You’re putting yourself in danger. The cheetah is a relentless pursuer. You’ve got to be the gazelle. If you’re not running full speed, that cheetah will catch you and he will kill you. Your life depends on it. Your family depends on it. Pro. 13:22: “A good man leaves an inheritance to his children’s children.” You can’t do that if you’re in debt all your life. You can break the chains of debt for good. You can chase the cheetah.

Get out of debt. People say, “But debt is just a normal part of life, right?” Wrong.  Just because something is normal does not mean it’s right. Normal in America is just another way to say broke. If normal is broke, I don’t want to be normal. I want to be abnormal. You might say that’s all well and good, but how can I get out of debt? Quit borrowing money. Remember when you find yourself getting deeper and deeper in a hole, put down the shovel. Emergencies are going to happen. Cars break, they need new tires. People get sick and need to go to the doctor. Plan for these unforeseen events with an emergency fund and don’t rely on credit cards. Prayer really does work. God has crazy love for you. If you haven’t prayed in a while, He’s still there. It’s not like the connection has been removed. He’s waiting to talk to you about your life. Tell Him what you need help with. Sell something – liquidate some assets. Dave Ramsey says, “Sell so much stuff the kids think they’re next!” Find the stuff in your life that’s just cluttering up the house and get rid of it. Many people could have a $1,000 beginner emergency fund if they’d just sell the stuff they aren’t using. If you haven’t used something in a year, you probably don’t need it.

Take a part-time job. To get out of debt, you can either reduce spending or increase income. For most people, increasing income may not really be an option, but a part-time job might help bridge the gap in your finances. I’m not saying get an 80 hour a week job, but if you have debt, then you’re sitting in a mess. When your house is a mess, you clean it up one step at a time. A part-time job might be one step in the process. Remember, this is a temporary thing. It won’t be easy, but it will be worth it. With that extra money – don’t buy more stuff.

Attack your debts using Dave Ramsey’s debt snowball. List your debts from smallest to largest balance. Now, some of you will say that it makes more sense to pay off the debts with the highest interest rates first. That may make sense mathematically, but here’s the deal. If we were really doing math, we wouldn’t be in debt, would we? Put minimum payments on everything but the smallest one, and pay that one off as quickly as you can. Remember in our first message I quoted Dave Ramsey, “Personal finance is 80% behavior; it’s only 20% head knowledge.” Taking care of these smaller debts quickly will give you a sense of victory – that you are making progress. If you’ve got 10 debts and it takes you a year to knock out the first one, you’ll likely never get to the remaining 9. Go for the quick wins. After you knock out the first debt on the list, you take all that money you were throwing on it and move to the next one. Every time you pay off a debt, you have more money to put toward the next one. That’s why it’s a snowball – as the snowball rolls over, it picks up more snow. By the time you’re a few debts down your list, that snowball is moving faster and faster and gets bigger and bigger. Before long, that snowball will roll over all your debts.

Save money. Before you attack your debt snowball, save up $1,000 as an emergency fund. Remember this is your “Murphy repellent ” This is the buffer between you and life. If you don’t have any money in savings and your car breaks down while you’re paying off your debts, what do you think you’ll do? You’ll use your credit card. Don’t do it. Pro. 13:4 tells us, “The soul of the sluggard craves and gets nothing, but the soul of the diligent is made fat.” Be diligent with your effort and ask God to bless it. Don’t sit around belly aching to God about your finances. Get to work and ask God to get involved. It’s impossible for God to steer you when you’re not moving.

Gal. 5:1 says, “It was for freedom that Christ set us free; therefore keep standing firm and do not be subject again to a yoke of slavery.” Debt is slavery. You can’t get ahead financially by staying a slave to debt. How much could you give, save, and blow if you had no payments? What could the people of God do for the Kingdom of God if they were debt-free? I invite you to make that question a part of your prayer time this week, a part of your quiet time this week, a part of your devotion time this week, and see what God would have you to do. “What could the people of God do for the Kingdom of God if they were debt-free?”

Principles of Biblical Finance

You can listen to the podcast here.

Thanks to Dave Ramsey for the general ideas expressed here.

Money is fun … if you have it. Some people aren’t having fun. They may look like they are. They may act like they are. Some people have trouble checking the mail because of what they are going to find in there. Some sources say that 70% of Americans are living paycheck to paycheck. If you look down the row at the families sitting beside you right now, seven out of ten of them have too much month left at the end of the money. We have this idea that more money will fix all our problems. But that’s not true. More money is rarely the answer. More money usually just makes us more of who we already are. So if you don’t manage your money well now, chances are you won’t manage more money well. Everybody struggles with money, right? If you’ve done something silly or dumb with money, you know what that makes you? Breathing. If you’re struggling with money, if you’ve got bills piling up, if you’re worried about retirement or college expenses or just the power bill, guess what? You’re normal.

“Be of sober spirit, be on the alert. Your adversary, the devil, prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.” (1 Pet. 5:8) The devil wants us to think we’re the only ones with money issues. We look around at everyone else and see what they’re doing, what they’re buying and we think, “Man, it must be me.” The fact is, “normal” in these United States is flat broke. But that’s not what the devil tells us, is it? He wants us to be isolated; to be alone. Satan is a predator. If you check out any Animal Planet videos, there is something common about predators. They always try to separate their prey from the pack. When that is done, they make the kill. If Satan can convince you that it’s just you, he’s succeeded in separating you from the pack. That’s why money problems consistently rank as one of the leading causes of divorce in America.

Some quick facts: there are 307 million people in America. There are 171 million Master Cards and 269 million Visa cards. The average balance? $15,799.00. That’s why bankruptcy continues to be rampant in our country. The Office of the United States Trustee reports that from 1998 to 2008, there were 14,347,244 bankruptcy filings in the United States Bankruptcy Courts. Filings are down 14% for the first six months of the year, but there are still just over 1.3 million people that filed for bankruptcy. The problem isn’t money. The problem is a lack of hope, lack of trust, a lack of self control. The problem is our own bad behavior. We do dumb things and when we do those dumb things, we blame other people. We do everything we can to avoid the pain that comes when we do dumb things. As hard as this may be to hear, pain is a teacher. It’s instructive. Pain shows us where we went wrong and points the way back on track. If we spend all our time avoiding the pain, we’ll miss the lessons God has for us. Pain will make you open your Bible to find comfort, to find relief.

Our behavior is the key and our behavior reflects our relationship with Christ. Dave Ramsey says that personal finance is 80% behavior. It’s only 20% head knowledge. So, what behaviors do we need to examine in order to get our finances in line with God’s way of handling money? There are principles in Scripture to help us in this area. There are over 800 Scripture passages about money. Jesus talked more about money than He did any other topic, including heaven, hell, temptation, sin, and salvation. Clearly, money is a big deal. Sometimes though, people in church get confused about this. In church, we sometimes think that a sermon on money is just a plea for more giving. For Jesus, teaching about money was an essential preparation for a godly life. Show me your bank statement and I’ll show you what’s important to you. What you spend your money on is like a window to your soul. The Bible doesn’t have a complicated strategy about diversifying your portfolio. What the Bible teaches about money is shockingly easy to understand, but is really hard to do. Why? Because of our behavior. We still have this sin nature, but it is no longer supposed to control us. If I can get a hold of the guy that stares at me every time I look in the mirror, I can win with money.

So here are the Dave Ramsey’s five principles of biblical finance.

  1. Get out of debt. Pro. 22:7: “And the borrower becomes the lender’s slave.” Matt. 6:24: “No one can serve two masters.” What would it be like to have no payments? Sometimes people get confused and think they need to borrow money to do what God is calling them to do. Debt consolidation may not be the best solution either. Larry Burkett has said, “Debt is not the problem, it is the symptom.” When you are digging yourself into a hole, you can’t dig deeper to get out; you need to put down the shovel. Consolidation doesn’t fix the problem, it just redistributes it.
  2. Act your wage. Pro. 21:20: “There is precious treasure and oil in the dwelling of the wise, but a foolish man swallows it up.” 1 Tim. 6:6: “But godliness actually is a means of great gain when accompanied by contentment.” We’ve all done “stupid with zeroes on the end,” but you can learn to live on less than you make. Don’t think you have to have everything everybody else has. Don’t expect to have at 25 what your parents have at 55.
  3. Get on a budget. Sometimes people do dumb stuff and then ask God to bless it. If you’ve ever watched house hunters, they start out with a budget. They rarely stick to that budget. Luke 16:10: “He who is faithful in a very little thing is faithful also in much; and he who is unrighteous in a very little thing is unrighteous also in much.” A loving father gives you only what you can handle. You better have a plan for your finances. Be responsible. Be intentional. Be an adult. Make a plan and put it on paper and do it before the month begins. If you’re married, talk to your spouse and get on the same page.
  4. Save. You can’t out-earn bad decisions. It’s important to save money in several different ways: save money for an emergency fund. The rainy day saving. Life is coming and you need to be ready. This will become “Murphy Repellent ” Save up and pay cash for things. Why? You spend less when you use cash. A recent study showed that you spend 47% more at McDonald’s when you use a card than you do with cash. Why? Because you actually see the money moving from your hands to someone else’s. Some studies show that in general, you spend 12-18% more when you use a card. If you have demonstrated that you cannot spend responsibly when you use a card – use cash. When it’s gone, it’s gone and sometimes when you use cash, you can get a better deal.
  5. Give. There’s nothing more fun to do with money than to give. Have you ever had a meal anonymously paid for at a restaurant? Ever leave a ginormous tip? Ever pay for the meal for the people behind you in the drive through? The reality is God doesn’t need your money. He isn’t so concerned with the money you have or don’t have, He cares about you. He’s trying to change the person in the mirror. God has a plan. He is your father and wants good things for His children.

All of these things weave together. God’s ways of handling money work every time, but it’s not always smooth sailing. There will be tough times and the natural draw will be to do things man’s way. If you follow these principles, broke people will make fun of you. This is not the “normal” way of doing things everyone’s in debt, right? Heb.12:11: “All discipline for the moment seems not to be joyful, but sorrowful; yet to those who have been trained by it, afterwards it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness.”

Stewardship . . . Matters (Part 7)

Check out the podcast for this message.

Last time we were in stewardship we looked at the location of our riches. Wherever our treasures are located, our heart will be there too. If our treasures are stored up on earth, that’s where our mind will be focused. If we have a Kingdom mindset, our actions here will cause Jesus to store our treasure where He is, and nobody can mess with that treasure. This morning we’re going to look at the “acceptable” sin in the church that I believe affects more people than ever and no one is talking about it – until now.

Let’s begin by looking at Matt. 6:25-34.

Why worry? Matthew begins this passage by saying, “For this reason.” This reason is v. 24. As we saw last time, wherever your treasure is, that’s where your heart is. It is a deception of Satan that you can serve wealth and the Lord. Worry is the key word in this passage occurring 6 times. It comes from the word that means to feel troubled over actual or potential difficulties. Therein lies the key. It is to feel troubled or anxious. We often equate worry with love or concern. We use it as an excuse for the real problem – lack of trust in God. Prov. 3:5 says, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and do not lean on your own understanding.” If you trust in God, worry is useless. Remember all this is coming on the heels of Jesus talking about storing up treasure in heaven instead of on earth. He is showing us that it is foolish to put our trust, our confidence, our hope in something that quickly fades; in something that is not eternal.

Let’s keep it on context. Jesus is still talking and consistently speaks in Scripture about providing for the basic needs of life. We have established in past weeks that these are food and clothing – that’s it.        It’s not a cell phone. It’s not HDTV. It’s not the latest model car. He is not obligated to provide you with your dream home. He’s talking about food and clothing.

Maybe you’re a skeptic. You want proof? V. 26 asks a rhetorical question. “Look at the birds of the air, that they do not sow, nor reap nor gather into barns.” When you consider birds, they don’t do anything but rely on what nature provides – what God provides. No matter how hard they work, birds still need God to provide. God has given us the ability to plant and grow food, the birds can’t do that. Aren’t you worth more than the birds? We are the only creature that was created in God’s image. We are the only creature that can have a relationship with and fellowship with God. We are the only creature that God loved enough to send His Son to die for us. Check out the lilies. Verses 28-29 tells us, And why are you worried about clothing? Observe how the lilies of the field grow; they do not toil nor do they spin, yet I say to you that not even Solomon in all his glory clothed himself like one of these.” These are not flowers planted and arranged beautifully as in a garden. They don’t toil or spin. This likely refers to the primary occupations of the day. Working in the field and making clothing. The lilies do even less than the birds yet Solomon in all his glory, never surpassed the beauty of the flowers.

Jesus goes on in v. 30 to say, “But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the furnace, will He not much more clothe you?” Again this is more proof of God’s unmatchless love for humanity. He takes care of the birds, He takes care of the flowers that are growing one day and tossed into a furnace to be used as fuel the next. Jesus wraps it up by saying, “You of little faith.” That’s really the conclusion, but v. 27 asks another question we must consider in the light of what we know, “Who of you by being worried can add a single hour to his life?” Worrying not only demonstrates a lack of trust in God, it can be harmful to your health. On the WebMd site it says, “Worrying is feeling uneasy or being overly concerned about a situation or problem. With excessive worrying, your mind and body go into overdrive as you constantly focus on “what might happen.”  In the midst of excessive worrying, you may suffer with high anxiety — even panic — during all your waking hours. Many chronic worriers tell of feeling a sense of impending doom or unrealistic fears that only increase their worries. Ultra-sensitive to their environment and to the criticism of others, excessive worriers may see anything — and anyone — as a potential threat. Chronic worrying affects your daily life so much that it interferes with your appetite, lifestyle habits, relationships, sleep, and job performance. Many people who worry excessively are so anxiety-ridden that they seek relief in harmful lifestyle habits such as overeating, eating junk food, cigarette smoking, or using alcohol and drugs.” God provides day in and day out and yet we still worry.

There are clear instructions in vs. 31-32, “Do not worry then, saying, ‘What will we eat?’ or ‘What will we drink?’ or ‘What will we wear for clothing?’ “For the Gentiles eagerly seek all these things; for your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things.” The contrast again is between disciples of Christ and Gentiles. Gentiles try to “do” to get to God.  Remember Matt. 6:7-8? Don’t be like the Gentiles.

The mandate comes next. V. 33 offers the contrast that so many of us miss in our lives. We are to seek first the Kingdom of God. The people that Jesus is speaking to are not doing this. That’s why they’re worried. If self preservation is your top priority, then God’s Kingdom is not. When our priorities regarding treasures in heaven and on earth are lined up properly, God will provide. It is a conditional clause. When our goals are self serving, God’s not obligated.

In v. 34 Jesus comes back full circle to the beginning of His discussion in v. 25. The challenge is to depend on God daily, just like He said in the Lord ’s Prayer: “Give us this day, our daily bread.” Don’t worry about tomorrow.

Worry is sin. It indicates a lack of faith. God will take care of His children. We need to let go and trust that He will, but we need to establish priorities that match His.