Monthly Archives: July 2012

Living within your means is a spiritual discipline

Man, I’ve been wanting to write this post for a long time!  I think about this a lot.  I am the executive pastor of a fairly young congregation.  I look over a lot of reports and numbers.  I have a lot of financial conversations with people from various generations.

And while I think my generation and subsequent ones after mine are particularly financially ignorant, this is not a new phenomenon and is definitely not limited to those 35 and younger.

I was raised by financially sound parents who started teaching me about money as soon as I could talk it seemed.  My grandmother tells the story of me being at the store and having a toy in one hand and my birthday money in the other as I soberly and tearfully had to make the hard, life altering decision of how I wanted to spend what little money I had.  My dad had to explain to me that he couldn’t just pull out the book of green papers (i.e., checkbook) when we didn’t have money in the bank for everything I saw and wanted.  I paid for my own Nintendo.  I saved up my own money to buy my trampoline.  The first thing I did when I turned 16 was open a checking account.  I had a Roth IRA at age 20.

I realize this is not a typical upbringing, but it is one of the things I am most grateful for in how my parents raised me.

All of this is simply to say that money makes a lot of sense to me.  It’s finite and measurable.  It’s earnable and spendable.

And while I realize that money is quite a hot button issue for church leaders to talk candidly about, I must say it is a far scarier prospect that we would leave it out entirely in the discipleship process or dance around it rather than equipping people to live in financial freedom.  After all, what is discipleship if it’s not learning how to live faithfully as a follower of Jesus?  And what are better indicators besides your time and your money on how faithful you are being with what’s been entrusted to you and where your affections & trust lie?

While I can’t unpack all of my thoughts on money & discipleship in one blog post, here are 3 of the things (in brief) that I most want to share:

1.  “Work” is not a four-letter word.

The ethic of work has been pitted against trusting God to “provide” and I  honestly can’t take hearing it anymore.  The Lord “provides” through work for the vast majority of us.  Sometimes that means we don’t get to spend as much time at home as we’d like for a season.  Sometimes it means we get a second job to make ends meet.  Sometimes it means we work a job we don’t feel “called” to (or even like) and we need to be grateful for the the provision of a paycheck.  God is not displeased by us taking personal responsibility for our finances.  On the contrary, Scripture is very clear  about the value of day’s work. (2 Thes 3.10)

Do not overspiritualize work or assume that because it’s hard or less than ideal that it isn’t from God. (Or that at the very least that He can’t use it for good in your life and the lives of those around you.)

2.  Don’t pass the buck.

Be self-aware enough not to dress up your desires or justify your poor decisions as God’s will or provision if those things compromise your ability to live within your means.  No, I don’t think He intended  for you to buy that “dream” house you can’t afford.  No, it doesn’t sound like the Lord’s will for you to buy a 2013 minivan when the car you’ve got runs just fine and you are already living paycheck to paycheck.  Nope, I don’t think the Lord ordered those steps into the Apple store to buy a Macbook Pro on Monday when you can’t seem to find your wallet when the offering plate passes you by Sunday after Sunday.

I know I’m being tough and pointed and everything about this aspect of discipleship is uncomfortable.  I do not mean to say that God does not give good gifts to His children.  Quite the opposite.  A good Father doesn’t give His children their wants at the expense of their needs.

I’m worn out by people who won’t take the initiative to ask for help to learn how to live within their means but who have no problem repeatedly making poor choices with money and wrapping those choices up in spiritual language and then expecting God to “fix it.”    You might not have had any financial education growing up.  You might not understand the value of compounding interest or what the heck a Beacon score is.  But the tools and resources you need for living within your means are available to you.  Do not live financially ignorant.  It’s simply not necessary and not worth the stress and turmoil it produces in your life.

3.  Self-control will sanctify your spending

We all have our weaknesses.  Shoes, clothes, electronics, coffee, eating out, cars, concerts, travel- surely you could name yours.  Mine is eating out.  I like to cook but eating out is convenient and a treat and fun for me.  So, I’d be happy to have 60-75% of my meals in a week not come from my kitchen.  However, we live on a tight budget and eating in 80-90% of the time means we can make it to the end of the month in the black.  It’s what is wise for us.  Let me be clear:  I would MUCH prefer the Original Pancake House for my usual Saturday breakfast over the Rouse Pancake House (though our chocolate chip pancakes and pumpkin waffles are pretty spectacular)!

No matter what income bracket you are in, living within your means, practicing the virtue of self-control, will always be a discipline.  There will always be more things you could spend your money on.  There will always be opportunities to blow your budget or compromise your financial health. There will always be a list of things you “need.”  That is not unique to those on a limited income.  It is unique to mankind.  Set some financial goals and boundaries, or at least a budget, and protect it!

The Lord is compassionate and gracious; slow to anger, abounding in love.  It’s true.  There is grace and mercy for our mistakes, for our carelessness, for our greed, for our lack of self-control.  But repentance requires change.  And discipleship is more than having a quiet time and fasting from chocolate during Lent.  It’s about faithful living.

The Constant

My sister, Trish, and I haven’t always been as close as we are now.

We use to fight over everything: who got to ride shotgun, who got to wear Mom’s earrings or whose turn it was to have a friend sleep over.

When I was 3 she convinced me to touch the electric fence in our backyard. When I was 8, I was insanely jealous that she got to go to the Tiffany concert and I didn’t.  (Can you blame me?!!)  Over the course of my entire childhood, my sister would find it amusing to sit on me, pinning me down and then proceed to pop my toes until I could break free.  She still thinks this is funny though it wasn’t and still isn’t.

I was forever blackmailing her and tattling on her. (In my defense, she was always getting herself into trouble. I was just using her rebellion to my advantage!) She was always trying to boss me around and I was always shouting “you’re not my mom!” at her.  It was a rocky decade or so.

Fast forward to 1993.

A shift happened when Trish left our home at the time in Mons, Belgium for college in Abilene, Texas.  I actually missed her! And I realized my need for my sister in her absence more than I could have known in her presence.  I was 13 and my parents were on the verge of divorce.

Fortunately for me, she came home to Georgia when they actually did file for divorce a year later.  That was the summer before I started high school in a new town.  Trish and I shared a room in an apartment with my mom. It was the first and only time in our entire lives that we shared a room.  (Luckily that didn’t last long!) For the next four years, I would have my sister by my side helping me navigate through the drama and friendships and relationships that are in full effect for any teenager.

Trish took me to freshman open house and dropped me off at band camp.  She attempted to teach me how to drive stick shift (which incidentally almost sent her into premature labor with my nephew)!  We ate pineapple pizza at crazy hours and watched the same movies over and over together.  She was always in the stands to cheer me on playing soccer and conducting half-time shows.

During that same season we watched our father remarry and our mother begin to date.  Both surreal experiences, I might add.

We survived it together, me & Trish.  When the foundations of our family began to be re-negotiated in every conceivable way, our sisterhood was the thing that remained.  It was the constant in the tumultuous equation we were forced to solve.

We stood beside each other on our wedding days.  Trish married an Army officer and moves every few years all over the country.  (In fact, he deployed for Afghanistan on the day of my wedding! What a bittersweet day that was for her!) We don’t see each other very often and don’t get to “do life” together now that we are adults.  But she remains a constant.  She’s my first phone call when I need another mother’s advice.  She’s who I want on the other end of the line when I have a problem I can’t solve or a crisis to weather.

I now have two daughters.

Lucy & Penny are 25 months apart to the day. They play and laugh and hold hands. They push and grab toys from one another. They vie for their parents attention and affection.  They hurt each other and cry and hug to make up.

I am smart enough to know it’s going to get harder before it gets easier for them.  They will likely slam doors and say hateful things to one another (especially in middle school, I predict)!  They will compare themselves to the other in academics and sports and appearances.  They will be each others’ source of comfort and frustration, seemingly simultaneously at times.

For as much as they will change and grow and make their own choices, it is my forever prayer that they always play and hug and fight and laugh and cry together.  Because they are sisters.  And, praise God, there’s no changing that.