Dirty Green Paper – The Dark Side of Money

Before we wrap up this series, we need to address a very important truth: Money has a “dark side.” You can see this in the unhealthy way our culture relates to money. It seems like we constantly hear stories about people mistreating one another or exploiting one another for money. We hear stories about corporate greed, political corruption, and dishonest gain. Many of us are guilty of forgetting how rich we are because we are a part of a system that constantly tells us we do not have.

The Bible understands this tendency in our hearts. Paul wrote to his protégé, a young pastor named Timothy, trying to protect his heart from this lie of lack. Some false teachers at the time had fallen into the trap, and they began twisting God’s word to support their lifestyle of greed and exploitation. 1 Timothy 6:6 – “Godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into this world, we can take nothing out of it. But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that. People who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge men into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil.”

Money isn’t evil. It isn’t the root of all evil. The love of money, however, is the root of all kinds of evil. What are some dangers we need to avoid?

Hungering for Money: Greed – Greed is listed in scripture right alongside sins that generally get a more severe treatment from people – like sexual immorality, lust, idolatry, and evil desires. Even if it is such a common trait in our culture, the Bible does not find it acceptable. Greed is a dangerous thing. It has a numbing effect on your heart. What used to satisfy you cannot satisfy you anymore. Ecclesiastes 5:10-15 states this so poetically: when you love money, it will never be enough! As goods increase, so does consumption. This is the story of our culture – more, more, more. Everyone always feels like they don’t quite have enough money, no matter how much they have. We tend to just live right up to (and even beyond) however much money we have. So, there is an insatiable desire for more. It seems like in the eyes of our culture, success is the same as how much you have! Stuff is nice! We live in a world that values its stuff! We are a little bit backwards, in that we work so hard to be able to buy and upkeep all are stuff that we don’t have any time to use any of it…like we water our grass so it will grow just so we can cut it down again. A huge percentage of the gross national product is stuff. Not food, resources, materials, even labor. It is “consumer goods,” which is a fancy name for smart phones, video games, blue jeans, and other stuff. They need to sell you this junk, so they need to convince you that you need it. And we buy the lie all the time. What Paul taught Timothy here is so important: contentment. It is a choice of the heart that declares: what I have is enough. Listen to this: “Keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have, because God has said: ‘Never will I leave you, never will I forsake you.'” (Hebrews 13:5) FREE is the right word there. FREE as in not ensnared, not trapped, and not controlled by our desire for more.

Slavery to Money: Debt – Debt is very simply something that you owe. It is a tough spot to find yourself in. We have enough money for what we need, but not always for what we want, and this is where they get us. If you want something you cannot afford, you will buy it with “credit.” That is how money works: if we get it, it gets us. If we don’t have it, our lives are spent trying to get it. When we do get it, we don’t own it as much as it owns us. Check out Proverbs 22:7“The rich rules over the poor, and the borrower is the slave of the lender.” Another word for debt would be obligation. It is especially troublesome when your obligations or debts prevent you from going after what God wants for you. Debt takes away your choices. You might want to give, or to change something about your career or your life, but you can’t because you have someone else calling the shots. Whoever you owe has a claim on you. Even the stuff you have on credit actually has someone else’s name on it. According to Dave Ramsey’s FPU, the average college student has $2,200 in credit card debt and will graduate with $20,000 in student loans. Can you imagine starting your adult life with no job and $22,200 of debt? That’s a terrible way to enter adulthood. That debt will just hang around your neck like a boat anchor, always dragging you down and limiting your options. We are called to excellence, to lead the world and not be in bondage to it. Don’t buy something if you cannot afford it. Remember our vision for money: to be blessed by God to be a blessing to others. Hard to do when you are broke or in debt. People used to talk about “good debt:” debt that will later make you money. This includes school loans and mortgages. I wonder if there is any such thing as “good debt.” Home mortgages are not always good investments and the same is true of college loans. The prevention for debt is simple wisdom. No one really thinks it is a good idea to spend more than we have on stuff we don’t really need, but we do so little thinking, if we really stop to think about it. Thinking didn’t get us into debt – lack of thinking did. We have to think! This involves discipline and vision. It takes courage to do something different.

Questions for discussion:
-Do you feel rich? Why or why not? Why do you think we have a hard time recognizing our own wealth?
-What are some examples of why greed is so dangerous? Can you think of an example of people being mistreated for money?
-Why is debt dangerous and dumb?

Dirty Green Paper – Why Give it Generously

Echo is 3 weeks in to a conversation about the spiritual dimensions of our relationship with money. It might not seem like something spiritual, but Jesus taught that there is a connection between our money and our heart. Money matters to God because money matters to us. So, to address some of the issues we have with money (and they are MANY!) we have to understand that our problems with money have spiritual roots. You can basically do 4 things with money, once you get some:
• Spend it.
• Give it.
• Save it.
• Invest it.

The connection between your heart and your wallet becomes especially clear in the area of giving, something we explored this week in Echo. So, why should we give as a matter of personal and spiritual discipline?

First, We give to support the local church. Paul talks more about the practice of giving in his letters to the church at Corinth than anywhere else. Check out this passage in 1 Corinthians 9:13-14 – Paul roots the concept of church support in the New Testament in the concept of Old Testament “tithing,” a system that supported the function of the temple and provided for the priests. The idea Paul is trying to communicate is that it is right for those who work to preach the gospel to earn their living doing so. In the Old testament, the operation of the temple rested on this system: the ones that facilitate worship in the temple feed their families on the gifts brought to the temple in worship to God. This is the origin of the practice of supporting the leaders of the church with the gifts of the church members.

But giving to the local church is more than just giving to support the pastors and staff that facilitate the programs of the church. It is also giving to the work of God in the world, which comes through the ministry of the church. Sometimes the church gets criticized for being an “inefficient charity,” because a large percentage of its money goes to church services and programs instead of to helping the poor like a food bank or orphanage. Now, our church does those kinds of things, too, but I want to challenge this assumption. I think the local church, especially a good church, is the best charity there is. What the church does with all its programs is make disciples – it teaches people to walk in the ways of Jesus and to live out the mission of Jesus into their culture. Saying the church is a bad charity is like saying a medical school is a bad hospital: we are in the business of helping transform people – people that leave the church and go into their culture on mission. If the church is doing its job, it should be helping selfish people caught up in greed and gain and materialism become missional servants known for compassion and generosity. Who do you think started all the food banks, orphanages, free clinics, and such? MANY of them were started by disciples of Jesus. And that is what the church makes. So, the church is behind MUCH more actual help to the world than it gets direct credit for. Remember, our goal with money is to be a blessing to the world as God blesses us. Maybe the best way to do this is to support the ministry of making disciples in your local church.

The second reason to give we find in the New Testament is to give to support each other. Look at 1 Corinthians 16:1-5. The situation here is not that of regular church giving, like that used to support the teachers and pastors, but one of a mercy offering – a gift to help someone in crisis. This passage might answer some of the questions about “how” giving was done in the early church. “On the 1st day of the week, set aside a sum of money in keeping with your income.” They were expected, 2,000 years ago, to budget and plan with their money to help meet the needs of other people. This is not haphazard or random, but something planned and prioritized. It comes out 1st, and it increases as our income increases. This is about being available to help when people around you run into trouble. This would include giving to charities that help people and causes of social justice, especially good ones. In the Bible, there is a special emphasis on helping widows and orphans – taking care of people with no one else to take care of them.

Lastly, and most importantly, we give as an act of worship and thanksgiving to God. One of the most important texts about giving in the New Testament is 2 Corinthians 9:6-15 This passage is addressing the same situation Paul was talking about in 1 Corinthians 16: a collection is being taken in Greece and Macedonia to help the impoverished believers in Jerusalem. Here, Paul gets to the most important element of giving: what happens or is supposed to happen in the heart of the giver. We have clichés that hint at this: “It’s better to give than receive” and so on. We say this, but if we are honest, we don’t always believe it. Sometimes it hurts to give. This is the root of the problem we have with money, and here Paul gives us good medicine. We have a hard time giving because we love money. Paul teaches here to give generously and cheerfully. This happens only in a heart where the ownership issue is settled. From this kind of heart, giving is an act of mercy to the needy and an act of thanksgiving to God. This is the most important part of our relationship with money – our motivation and allegiance. It is about surrender. I don’t give grudgingly because I have surrendered my resources to God (or better, I recognize they are His to begin with!). The talk in this passage about prosperity should not be viewed as a strategy for gain. This is not “give to God so He will make me rich.” That attitude is exactly the opposite of what this is about. It is about a reality of peace and surrender and generosity that goes DEEP in our hearts; so that we don’t just do the right things with money but we feel the right way about money.

So, a New Testament picture of giving looks something like this:
• It is regular (habitual). Giving is not impulsive. It is not something you make emotional decisions on, based on the manipulative pleas of a fundraiser. It is something you plan and prioritize. Giving is a budget priority. It is not “leftovers.”
• It is joyful. What happens in the heart is an act of surrender and worship to God. It feels good, because there is life in surrender. Your heart rejoices to be a part of God’s kingdom work. It is not something you do reluctantly, but something you do enthusiastically.
• It is generous. What is generous? Well, in the Old Testament, the “tax” system of tithing that went to support the temple and the poor was 10% of your wealth or goods. When we define what “generous” looks like now and in our lives, we should take this into account. The average person that claims the Lordship of Jesus over their lives gives about 2.5% of their income to the church. This doesn’t sound very generous. How much should you give? You and Jesus need to answer that question together.

Discuss with your teen:
-If our local church could not continue doing ministry and vanished tomorrow, what would you miss? Is the value we place on the church reflected in our financial investment in the church?
-What do you think is the difference between a good charity and a bad charity?
-Why do you think the Bible warns to give “what you have decided in advance to give,” and not impulsively?
-Why do you think giving is important to God? Why is giving important to us?

Dirty Green Paper – Why to Save it Wisely

The Echo students have been exploring this idea: our relationship with money is closely linked to our relationship with God. The truth is this: we have problems with money that have spiritual roots. This week we talked about two important things you can do with money: Saving and Investing.

This may seem a silly thing to talk to teenagers about, who may believe savng money is something they’ll just take care of later, when they’re older and have a steady income. However, if we can help them learn good principles about saving now, they’ll be prepared to build wealth like crazy once a real income starts rolling in and have the character and skills to do something great with it. Besides, aren’t there some things teens need money for now? What about saving for a car, your own computer, or college, or a mission trip next summer?

The practice of saving gives you peace of mind in emergencies and the ability to make smart purchases. By faithfully learning God’s principles for saving money, you’ll be prepared to handle whatever opportunity or surprise He brings your way. No matter how old you are or how much money you make, being broke severely limits your ability to serve other people and take care of yourself. To avoid this trap, we need to understand Scripture’s wisdom on why and how to save money.

Proverbs 21:20 – While the wise man saves and plans for the future, the foolish man lives for the moment, spending and wasting every dime he gets his hands on. This is what we talked out:

FIRST, Saving is not hoarding.
Luke 12:16-21 – tells a parable about a man that was hoarding things for himself, but was not “rich toward God.” Hoarding is about selfishness and excess. It is about the pursuit of more. Hoarding is a closed fist, it is holding on to your money and possessions with inordinate affection. The heart that clings to and trusts in money is not aligned to the Kingdom of God. Sometimes people confuse hoarding with saving, and because they fear this attitude or have been taught wrongly, they act like accumulating any wealth is sinful. They spend or give away everything as soon as they get, sometimes talking as if that is a lifestyle that honors God because you trust in God alone and not your savings. I have a hard time believing that this attitude of irresponsibility is a reflection of deep trust in God, it seems reckless and unwise. The same people are those that end up needing help in a crisis, while the ones who save and invest wisely are the ones able to actually give help. Remember, our goal with money is to be blessed by God to be a blessing to others. It’s hard to do this if you are always broke! Saving is about security and availability to the plan of God. It is a way to protect your goals and give you peace of mind.

Second, We save to prepare for the future we cannot expect. We save because the future is uncertain! When you save and invest, you need to keep your mind not only on this world, but also on God’s Kingdom. You have the ability to avert crisis or to help others through crisis when you have managed God’s resources responsibly. This is the theme of several stories in scripture: the blessing or favor of God spills over on others from God’s people. Joseph averts the crisis of the regional famine through revelation, wisdom, and good planning. Nehemiah loans money at no interest to the rebuilding of Jerusalem’s walls. And there are others – examples where people who were blessed by God were a channel for the blessing of God to flow to others. Look at how Joseph did this in Genesis 41:34-36. With savings, it is about knowing that emergencies and calamities happen, so we need some security against it. It is about positioning yourself in such a way that you will always be prepared to do what God’s Kingdom requires of you, and that you won’t have the excuse of being under-resourced.

Third, We save to plan for the future we do expect. Saving is about thinking long term. We are not very good at this! We tend to live in the moment and sometimes in doing so, we rob the future. Saving is the opposite of debt. Larry Burkett said once: “Saving is making provision for tomorrow, but debt is presumption upon tomorrow.” We have a “play now, pay later” attitude that our culture encourages steadily, but sometimes we are not prepared to pay the cost we incur. Opportunities come: a mission trip, a special project, a need in a friend’s life, an act of mercy – and sometimes we cannot respond because we have lived with so little margin up to that moment. The American way is not the way of the Kingdom of God in this regard. Our culture encourages us to live right up to the level of our means, and sometimes even beyond it. Margin is a concept that could dramatically change our stories. The Kingdom of God would demand that we live well below our means, with margin, so that we can give and save significantly. It would employ simplicity and humility to keep us from running after stuff or the temptation to “keep up with the Jones’s.” With this concept, thinking about the future, time matters.

• Pay yourself first. This is a principle of smart financial planning. It says basically that we not to be trusted! If we wait until the end of the month and save whatever is left over, we will have spent it on things that really don’t matter to us. If you save right away, that temptation is removed. Every time you get $10, give one of them to God’s work FIRST. Then, immediately put one of them in savings. This makes sure that you prioritize what matters most. ALWAYS SAVE some of every dollar that comes to you! This makes the choice to save responsibly easier, because you make that choice right away. Otherwise, you are standing there looking at the new paintball gun and saving just doesn’t seem very fun!

• Start Early! Many teens think something like: “I am just a teenager, I can’t save now.” I think they control more money than they know, but they spend it and so quickly they don’t recognize the amount. One survey showed that American teen spending exceeded $169 billion in one year. While their income may be limited, they do have a greater amount of one resource now than you will ever have: time! Even small amounts of money can grow SUBSTANTIALLY over time. Because of something called “compounding,” investments generate more earnings as they increase in value. Albert Einstein was so impressed by compounding; he called it “the most powerful force in the universe.” Compounding depends on two things: time and the rate of return. This is where the difference between saving and investing really becomes important. Saving is normally for short term goals (I am setting aside money to buy a computer) and you use a savings account for that. Investing is about LONG term goals (like college or to buy a house or retire) and this is where you take a bit more risk to get a better interest rate. Buying shares of a stock is an example of an investment. You have time now, and you need to take advantage of it! Even if you start with just a small amount, get into the habit of saving now because you are giving yourself the gift of a better future. The amount doesn’t matter nearly as much as the habit, and the amount matters less and less the earlier you start! The earlier you start, the more powerful savings becomes. Look at the difference between Ben and Arthur in this chart made famous by Dave Ramsey’s Financial Peace University. When you are dealing with investment interest rate of 12% (some would say that is unrealistically high), time matters BIG. Ben started early, and Arthur never could catch him even though he invested far more.

Many people criticize the example of Ben and Arthur because of the unrealistic rate of return. Even with more modest numbers, like 7% instead of 12%, starting early is astonishingly effective. Imagine you start investing $2000 every year when you are 18. You put it into a mutual fund making 7%, and you do this for 10 years. Ten years later, you have a baby and you stop feeding the investment because you have to buy diapers or something. Your sister, who sees that you always seem to have money and she is always broke, decides to do the same, but she doesn’t start until she is 31. She puts $2000 a year into the same mutual fund that you used, and does it for the next 35 years. So, you have invested a total of $20,000, and your sister will have invested $70,000. Who will have more money at age 65? Believe it or not, you will. She will never be able to catch you because of the compound interest over time! You will have $361,418, and she will have $276,474. That is a difference of $84,944! That is the power of time! If you kept investing and didn’t stop, you would have $706,000 by age 65!

Dirty Green Paper

Money is powerful stuff! It might not seem like a topic that should come up in church, but money matters to us so it matters to God. Our country has a problem when it comes to money. We do not know how to deal with it. We are part of a VERY small percentage of the richest people on earth, and maybe even in history, yet we forget how rich we are because we are a part of a system that constantly tells us we do not have. Sometimes money works like this: if we get it, it gets us. If we don’t have it, our lives are spent trying to get it. When we do get it, we don’t own it as much as it owns us.

For these reasons and more, your relationship with money is closely linked to your relationship with God. Jesus spent a lot of time talking about money and how we relate to it, and he taught there is a line of connection from our wallet to our heart. The truth is this: we have problems with money that have spiritual roots. We will never truly find financial peace if we ignore the inner condition of our hearts that make us susceptible to money pitfalls like greed and debt. God talks about money all over the Bible, and if you were to follow his instructions, you would have more money, give more money, and make your money work harder for you. Money isn’t evil. It isn’t the root of all evil. The love of money, however, is the root of all kinds of evil. Money can be something powerfully evil, but it can also be something powerfully good! I think at a very basic level, our relationship with money should look like what God told Abraham in Genesis 12:2-3. God wants to bless us, and it is our job to channel that blessing to others! With this in mind, Echo is having a conversation over the next several weeks about how to relate to money righteously.

After we get some of it, we can basically do 4 things with it:
• Spend it.
• Give it.
• Save it.
• Invest it.

This Sunday, we talked about spending.

First, Good spending starts with settling the “ownership” issue. Jesus explained this once using a coin in Matthew 22:15-22. The way Jesus phrases his question would have reminded his audience of Genesis 1-2, where human beings are created in the image of God. In whose image was the coin created? Caesar’s. In whose image were we created? God’s! When Jesus says “give to God what is God’s,” he is not saying God is not concerned with money. Jesus is implying that God is asking for all of us. The message of the Kingdom of God is one of total surrender. Why should we be concerned about our cash? Because our feelings toward it and how we use it are a huge part of who we are. Remember, there is a line of connection from our heart to our wallet. The starting point to righteous attitude toward money is settling the ownership issue: everything belongs to God, so I have to use whatever He entrusts me with responsibly.

Second – Spending easily becomes out of control, and our culture has even invented ways of spending more money than you have. You combat this with a budget, which is a spending plan. A budget is a tool to help us plan and to help us make our money work toward our goals. It helps us do something we all have a hard time with: telling ourselves “no.” A budget means you have a plan, you have counted the cost, and you are working toward a goal. Budgets can be complicated or simple as long as they balance income and expenses. The simplest lesson anyone ever taught me about money: every time you get 10 dollars, give one of them to God’s work, put one of them in savings, and spend 8 of them wisely.

Third – Your spending habits reflect your values.
If you spent $50 a month on Mountain Dew, we could confidently say you really like Mountain Dew. The problem with that comes in when you consider “opportunity cost.” It means that if you use your $50 to buy the Mountain Dew, you won’t have that $50 to buy your friend’s x-box game when he sells it. We might have all the money we need, but we can’t have everything we want. What a budget does is help us make choices about how to spend money in advance, so our choices will better reflect our values instead of just buying things on impulse. Marketing is so effective, people often buy things unplanned in the moment and regret it later. Living on a budget, no matter how much money you make, will protect you against this. Another thing to consider is what you actually spend money on. This is about recognizing that you vote with your wallet. When you choose to guy a product from an organization or person that you don’t agree with, you are actually supporting them and their issue. You can do this the other way too: actively support products and companies you think are doing something right. This is just another way money is powerful.

Questions for discussion with your teen:

*Talk about the family’s budgeting process. If you can, invite your teen to join you paying the bills or planning the budget for the month. If you don’t have a budget, why not?
*Do you think you are more of a spender or a saver? What do you think about your spending habits?
*What does it mean to “vote with your wallet?” Is there anything we support as a family with our money that doesn’t reflect our values?