I wish I had a straight answer for the question of giving vs investing, but any short answer does a disservice to the question itself. As believers we are called to give sacrificially and generously to those in need. And it is a part of our culture and even sensible to save money for things like retirement. If you are looking to build a retirement nest egg and give sacrificially it can be a struggle to find any balance between them.
Obviously this isn’t an easy question to answer but here are a few things to consider.
Take a look at your budget and your spending and ask “Is my giving impacting my lifestyle?”
CS Lewis put it this way:
I am afraid the only safe rule is to give more than we can spare. In other words, if our expenditure on comforts luxuries, amusments etc is up to the standard common among those with the same income as our own we are probably giving away too little. If our chartities do not at all pinch or hamper us, I should say they are too small. There ought to be things we would like to do but can not because our charities exclude them (Mere Christianity)
This is a concept most people don’t realize. Retirement isn’t something the bible even addresses. Retirement is a twentieth century invention and it was created to force older workers out of the system so they would stop slowing down production. The only way to do it was to pay them not to work. Now it is just assumed that we will get to stop working one day even if we can’t afford it.
We may need to save for the loss of income as we reach retirement age, but shouldn’t assume that there will come a time where we are not working.
As Christians we should think about our giving in light of God as the great giver. God planned to show his goodness to us before the foundation of the world in giving his son to save us. Jesus models for us what type of sacrifice we are supposed to display.
Philippians says “Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.” Phil 2:5-8
If Jesus was willing to set aside equality with God we can be willing to set aside equality with our neighbors’ standard of living.
This stems from a discussion I recently had on Facebook. It isn’t in my traditional category of personal finance, but it is about stewardship of a different kind. Something very important that we steward is our children. Our kids are in our complete care for temporarily before they come into adult hood. For some time and in some ways their relationship with the Lord is mediated through their parents until they are old enough to build one on their own. However before the throne of God we will all be equals, there will not be the hierarchy of family like we have here on earth.
Therefore, we are stewards of our children in as much as they are a gift from God given to us to raise for a short period of time. This is something very important to remember when considering how we raise our children.
I pointed out on Facebook that there is something more important than our relationship with our children, and that is the relationship we have with our spouses. Someone posted the picture above and I pointed out that my wife comes before my kids. A lot of people think that kids come first and should but I have to disagree. I have caught a little flack for this stance but based on my biblical understanding I can’t see it any other way.
Genesis 2:24 says “That is why a man leaves his father and mother and is united to his wife, and they become one flesh.” Children will leave their family and join in a special union with their spouses. They become one in a way that I am not one with my children. Many marriages start to focus so hard on their children when they come along that they allow their marriages to fall apart. It is why you see many divorces after the kids leave the house, the marriage has taken a back seat to the children and is an anemic version of itself.
Your relationship with your children is immensely important, but understand your marriage is more important, it is the foundation of the family to which your children belong. It is structure where they will learn about the Lord, and about love and covenant, before they ever read scripture for themselves.
How do you help your kids manage money? This is an article where I don’t think I have the one right answer. My girls are still young and have trouble understanding the value of money. We have tried a few things to help them get the concept, but I think these ideas are all part of the whole and not magic cures in and of themselves.
My wife and I have been fairly open about how money works and the value of it. (Although because kids talk I still haven’t told them how much I make.) We explain that everything costs money and how much. I explain that God has blessed me with a job to be able to pay for our home and our food. We tell them how we give to the church regularly and the other ministries we sponsor. My wife takes them shopping and they understand the cost of items. When they ask why things cost money I explain how capitalism should work and how it should be a win-win for everyone. They have a few business ideas I need to encourage because of these conversations and a few episodes of Shark Tank.
Well they work for it. They earn tickets for doing their chores which can be traded in for money or screen time. Their money is divided into a three part bank for giving, spending and saving. Any money is spending is theirs to do with that they please. (Although it is really hard when they want to buy crap.) Saving money must be targeted to a larger purchase they are working towards. Their giving must be directed outside of our home to church or to something else like the girls we sponsor through compassion international.
This is hopefully setting a pattern in their life. They are able to save money and delay gratification. They love to give money to good causes and have even thought of a few creative causes on their own. This is great because it gets them thinking about someone besides themselves.
You remember the saying, you can lead a horse to water? We show our kids the wise choices and explain them to them as best we can but we still let them make bad choices. “You can buy ice cream from the truck or you can buy a whole box from the store at the same price.” It seems to be working more and more as our older daughter is talking to us about her thought process and the smarter choices. I am sure they won’t always make the right choices but who does? We have let them suffer the consequences of their bad habits so they will hopefully learn a lesson down the road.
Did you parents do anything to help you understand money? What worked what didn’t work? What will you do with your kids? I really want to know because I don’t have the answers on this one.
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It was a while ago that I wrote “Please Give me my Idol“, an article where I talked about my personal idolatry in seeking a new job. Well, I had been seeking a new position for almost a year when God dropped two offers in my lap almost at the same time. It made me stress more than I have in my life, as I tried to use my own wisdom to make the decision instead of trusting in the Lord, because that is how I roll.
I essentially got the raise and promotion I had wanted, which is a blessing, but I have been wrestling with my own sinfulness in the process. How much do I rely on myself and my abilities instead of relying on God. How much of my career ambitions are sinful in nature as opposed to simply wanting to work hard and represent the Lord well. I understand that well paid or not I should be satisfied in the Lord; it is just really hard to do.
When I first started to talk about my job search, almost a year or more ago, I was discussing it at community group. Talking through why I wanted a new job and more money. I said when it comes to my career I really only wanted to go one more step. I feel that if I pursue my career further it will be too difficult to maintain a work/life balance that is important to my families well being. An uncomfortable conversation followed that statement. I am not positive who it was with, but I remember the conversation well:
Me: I really only want one more promotion, then I will be in good shape.
Someone: Until you get that promotion.
Me: No, I think I will be good
Someone: Until you get that job.
I got what they were saying, but thought they were wrong. Until I just found myself planning my next career move after just receiving that promotion that I was so sure would be good enough. It is possible that my heart may be pure in this matter and I am in a different place in my career now. That being said, it is best to examine my heart and pray asking God to reveal any sinfulness in this area. I know that I am not satisfied in the Lord nearly as much as I should be. I know I rely on my self far to much.
That being said, sitting down with some friends of our who are missionaries really opened my eyes to the reality that my money is to be used to further spread the gospel. The reason God would bless me is not simply to hoard the money, but to use it for his glory.
Being satisfied in the Lord is something we give lip service to but it is difficult in a culture where you are constantly being told what you need in the form of commercials. If we could only have the life they promise us. The fact is all those trinket will pass away and be trash at some point. Only the things that are eternal should be pursued to the degree we chase a better lifestyle. I want to be satisfied in the Lord but I don’t want to have to go through losing everything in order to learn that lesson.
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This leads to my impostor syndrome, feeling that I am a fraud and just fooling people in to thinking I know what I am talking about on this site and in my classes. But the reality is I am human. We make mistakes all the time in our finances. Experts in every field make mistakes, Microsoft had the Zune, Steve Jobs had the Newton and my wife and bought our house at the worst time in history, when prices were at their peak.
I was once teaching a marriage money class and one of the guests pointed out something that should be quite obvious. “There is grace for that.” She was talking about dealing with mistakes made about money between a couple, however it applies to all of us with our money. We are all going to be selfish, or buy stupid stuff, or make a less than optimal decision when it comes to how we handle our money. There is grace for that just like there is grace for all of our mistakes and sins.
It is OK to make mistakes. If we all had perfect foresight we wouldn’t have to worry about it but that isn’t the case. We don’t know what is coming so the best we can do is cover our bases and prepare. In the end our financial decisions matter to the degree they glorify God and promote the spread of the Gospel. Making 4% instead of 5% isn’t a big deal when you examine things in light of eternity.
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Warning: The following may be the ramblings of an idealist who has been researching too much for his upcoming book. (Sign up to say informed)
Whatever you give is acceptable if you give it eagerly. And give according to what you have, not what you don’t have. 13 Of course, I don’t mean your giving should make life easy for others and hard for yourselves. I only mean that there should be some equality. 14 Right now you have plenty and can help those who are in need. Later, they will have plenty and can share with you when you need it. In this way, things will be equal. 15 As the Scriptures say,
“Those who gathered a lot had nothing left over,
and those who gathered only a little had enough.” (NLT)
What would our financial planning and our giving look like if the local church could and would act as our emergency fund? If we weren’t so secretive about our giving? So we knew that the church was willing and able to take care of us in an emergency of some kind.
What if the all the members of a local body knew how everyone gave and we provoked one another to good works in this area in such that we knew when we fell on hard times we would be taken care of? Because that is “What we do” Craig Blomberg in his book Neither Poverty nor Riches puts it this way “And When believers realize that others will care for them if they unexpectedly find themselves impoverished they can be freed to give more money in times of plenty.”
What would that look like? Could we live freer if we knew this? I think it would be amazing. We could give more regularly stretching ourselves to more sacrificial giving without fear because we would recognize that God is revealing his grace to care for us through the local body of believers.
This is what Paul called the Corinthian church to do, they were not lacking and could give to the churches in Judea and if a time came when Judea was not lacking and the Corinthians were in need they would return the favor so that there could be some form of equality between them. I know this idea of economic equality has some baggage today but it should not be so in the family of God. We should not allow ourselves to be so selfish with our money that we allow others to be in dire straights.
Remember Paul was calling the Corinthians to this level of generosity “not as a command, but to prove by the earnestness of others that your love also is genuine.” v.8 How generous we are to those in need is in direct proportion to how we much we love God and his people.
What does my generosity say about my love for others? I don’t know if I want to know the answer to that.
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In doing some research for my upcoming book I stumbled into something I can’t believe I had never heard in all my years of being a Christian. It really makes a connection between discipleship and our wallets in a way I had never seen before.
John the baptist calls people to “Bear fruits in keeping with repentance.” They are convicted, or perhaps just scared and ask “What should we do?”
John calls them, not to a generic love, but to a specific material act:
“Whoever has two tunics is to share with him who has none, and whoever has food is to do likewise.”
Tax collectors also came to be baptized and said to him, “Teacher, what shall we do?” And he said to them, “Collect no more than you are authorized to do.” Soldiers also asked him, “And we, what shall we do?” And he said to them, “Do not extort money from anyone by threats or by false accusation, and be content with your wages.” (Luke 3:12-14, ESV)
John’s answer to each group was one dealing with money or material possessions.
This has me really wondering, more than I normally do,] about how much of a connection there is between your heart and your wallet. Maybe what Jesus was trying to communicate with us when we said “Where your treasure is there your heart will be also.” is much more serious than we would like to believe.
Jesus challenges us to understand the pull that material wealth and possessions will have on us in this life. If not checked these possessions will pull is hard enough to make us act in ways that are contrary to our profession of faith.
I can remember when our church was moving into a new building and my wife and I had saved up a decent amount of money we intended to use to pay off our second mortgage. When I realized we were going to need a lot of money fast to move into our new building my first thought was pretty selfish:
I need to pay off the mortgage as quickly as possible so I wont have the money to give it to the church.
I know I am the only one who would have thought this way, right? The fact in my heart was in paying off my debt and not in furthering the progress of the Gospel in our city. Is it bad to pay off debt? Absolutely not! But is is bad to be so focused on doing so that you give up being generous? Yes.
How we act with our money is a direct indicator of our much we treasure God and his plan over the things of this world. You always have enough money for the things you love and put first.
How do you think the church needs to work toward showing this fruit of repentance?
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These stewardship principles are crucial to getting off on the right foot. In fact if you were able to stick to all 7 you would be better than 95% of people in America.
image by Dee’lite
If you are going to try to live a life of simplicity and stewardship you are going to fight the cultural tide all the way. Not only the explicit powers of marketing, which are constantly trying to convince you of some felt need or another, that only they can solve, but there is implicit marketing going on all the time.
Think back to how many homes in old sit coms were large enough to have two staircases. We grew up seeing people, even “middle-class” ones, living in luxury that most of us will never see. According to this article from Bankrate even the “2 Broke Girls” live in an apartment that costs $2000 a month. And Penny from the Big Bang theory is living in a $1500 a month apartment by herself with at least a $100 a week wine habit on the tips from the Cheesecake factory. That simply isn’t possible.
These lifestyles are just not realities for most of us, they aren’t even realities for the characters on TV, but we are told over and over again that this is the lifestyle we should have. If you are being a good steward of your money and giving sacrificially it can be hard to make ends meet let alone live up the lives we see around us constantly. In order to live as God calls us to we must learn as Paul said, “I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content.”
It is all to easy to find ourselves comparing our homes, cars and lifestyle to those around us. What we never see is the numbers underneath or the sacrifices that had to be made to accomplish that lifestyle. When I find myself struggling with wanting to keep up with the Jones’ I just assume they are drowning in debt and have no savings. Even if it isn’t true, it helps to crush my pride. I am not quite at the point where I can just be OK with it, it is part of my pride. I confess it.
Living contentedly means that our lives can be simpler. We can be satisfied in Christ and all he is to us and not have to worry about keeping up with the Jones’. Some times that means living with less and some times it will mean living with more, but always being satisfied with our lives and always giving joyfully. It is easy to think and live this way when you are young and your friends are all broke, but it takes a certain level of confidence to live this way without feeling inferior, as you get older and your contemporaries are moving into larger homes and driving newer cars. But, Christianity will be facing much more of an uphill battle as the common culture in America turns more secular, we should get used to it.
What do you think? Let me know in the comments below.
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