Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Where is the church?

In our current economic situation here in the US, I'm confounded at times by the fact that the church should be at the forefront of teaching people about wise financial managment. While I can't attest to the sacred texts of other faiths, I know that the Bible is one of the best, (if not the best) financial managment handbooks. There is none better and what God says about how to handle our money and possessions not only makes sense, but it works!

Last week I met with one of our members for coffee. She's worked in banking, financial services and project management, but seemed surprised to hear there are almost 2,350 references to money and possessions in the Bible. Most people, both inside and outside the church are. Why? Perhaps because the church hasn't mentioned that fact to people in the past! Or perhaps they did, but many times it was only in reference to giving and only about the 10%, not about the other 90%.

I'm pleased that God has called me to be a part (a small one) of this generosity movement that's gaining momentum across the country. It's probably the number one issue for churches and their members, while at the same time a critical practical issue for most all Americans as we face rising gas prices, falling home prices, business cutbacks and all the other symptoms of what many economists are calling a recession.

In the midst of all that, there's a book that will help people understand and apply wise money management principles to their lives. It's called "Revolution In Generosity" by Wesley Willmer. It's a compilation of wise counsel and insight from 23 Christian leaders on how best to transform stewards to be rich toward God.

Included among the contributors are people like: Howard Dayton; Dick Towner; Ron Blue; Brian Kluth; Todd Harper; Dick Edic; Mark Vincent; Scott Rodin; Daryl Heald and many others who are well-known in Christian leadership circles.

If you get a chance, get a copy soon!

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Financial Freedom? How do you define it?

Financial Freedom is a word that gets thrown around a lot, particularly within stewardship & generosity circles. In fact, I was curious so I did a Google search on the phrase, "financial freedom". It took only .26 seconds (that's 1/4 of a second) to come up with 15.5 million hits on sites with that as a topic!

Many of the sites on the first several pages were of course those looking to make money, but I was pleased to see Dave Ramsey's site & a quick description of his Financial Peace University curriculum in the first handful of sites listed. And, as you'd expect, many of the sites had to do with reverse mortgages. Which, I've heard a little about them & the little I've heard scares me. Though I'm sure they can be fine in the right situation. I put them in the same category as debt consolidation. Any tool can be a good thing if used wisely.

My interest in a definition of financial freedom was piqued a week or so ago as the question came up on LinkedIn, a professional network that I'm a part of (I'd encourage you to check it out if you haven't). The question was posted, "Show me the money? How do you define 'financially free'?" Here's an excerpt of the some of the answers:
  • To me, "financially free" or "financial freedom" or "financial independence" all refers to the state where you no longer need to "work to live" but rather you "live to work". i.e. You have a net worth that is enough to sustain your desired lifestyle from now till the very day you leave this world.
  • Most people in employment couldn't survive for more than a couple of months, or a year at the most. You need to push that boundary out to several decades if you want to retire early.
  • Financial freedom is reached when you no longer think about the cost of things you need or want. Example: Mr. Financially Free: "I want to fly from New York to London at noon tomorrow." Mr. Not So Much: "You can save $1,500 if you leave at 3pm." Mr. Financially Free: "Who cares? Noon works better for me."
  • One would be Financially Free if you have all the money -- or means to access all the money -- you "want", when and where you want it.
  • About $2 million.
  • There is no absolute answer to this question since to each person, the amount is different. However, the subjective guage of this is to have enough money (properly invested) that you can live the way that you wish off of the earned income, and not have to worry about having enough income to pay your bills. BTW, $2 million is far from enough to consider yourself financially free.
  • When I can walk into my local BMW dealership, and order a 7 Series with full options, and pay full MSRP (without even bothering to ask what it is) to get bumped to the front of the line, I would consider myself to be financially free.

And finally, here's part of my answer (you wouldn't expect me to pass that one up, would you?)

  • Great question, but as I read the answers they're (mostly) all from a worldview, practical perspective. There's probably no right or wrong answer, but from my perspective, it means you have no consumer debt; have no student loans; have at least three months of living expenses saved up; have a good start on your retirement savings (depending on your age); have your car(s) paid off; give at least 10%; save at least 10%; have more money left at the end of the month; and perhaps even have your home paid for as well. We're all rich in the US. So...our biggest problem is that we have a serious problem confusing our needs with our wants. We profess to be a generous country but that would be a stretch as we give only about 3% of our incomes away for worthy causes.

Good question, how would you define it?

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Past columns...

occasionally thought I'd post past columns I've written for our church newsletter, this one is from our August 2007 issue. perhaps it may be of interest & helpful!

God owns everything. We’ve all heard it, but how does this impact the way we live? Being responsible for leading the stewardship ministry at Grace, I believe knowing that God owns everything is a foundational Biblical principle. My primary passion and focus is to help more of us become financially free and understand that God owns everything. These are concepts that we'll unpack in the months to come.

If we truly understand that God owns everything, then we are responsible for being a good steward (or manager) of everything God has given us.

Unfortunately many of us have difficulty managing our money well. Yet, most of us want to be free of the anxiety, stress, worry, guilt, and shame that result. Most of us would like to be more generous, but we’re either unable to (because of debt and financial commitments) or we really don’t understand God’s financial principles.

So, my hope for Grace is that stewardship will be modeled humbly, taught effectively, preached regularly, and celebrated joyfully. I long for the day when more of us are financially free and that all of us, including myself, are willing to rearrange our lives to give more of our time and treasure for God’s Kingdom purposes…and tangibly growing in our faith as a result!

In the months ahead, you’ll hear more about Good $ense, a stewardship ministry that is designed to help us work toward financial freedom. In the meantime, look for the “Roadside Assistance” insert enclosed in this month’s Grace Notes. It’s from my friend, Matt Bell, who leads a ministry called “Money, Purpose, Joy”. This card is an invitation for you to sign up for his free monthly e-newsletter. No strings attached, nothing to buy, just helpful tips and stories on how to handle money well. I’d encourage you to sign up.

Finally, if you’re financially free and would like to be part of our stewardship ministry, please let me know. Or, if you’re challenged by managing money well, the stewardship ministry is glad to help…confidentially and from a Biblical perspective.

For His Kingdom,

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Motivated & Inspired...

I just spent most of last week at a retreat center in northern Illinois with other stewardship leaders from around the country, brought together primarily because we use Good $ense materials to teach generosity and wise money money management at our Kingdom outposts and organizations. We heard much about generosity, how to better manage stuff and generally encouraged each other in our leadership roles to help people become more generous and ultimately release more and more resources for Kingdom work in this world.

Also, I had the pleasure of meeting Julie Bullock, a young, innovative church leader who serves as stewardship & generosity leader at Community Christian Church in Naperville, IL. They're on the forefront of a movement of generosity that's taking hold in many churches across the country. It's paramount that those of us who claim to be Christ followers do some digging and wrestle with the whole issue of generosity. We need to think deeply; check out one of the 2,346 passages on money & possessions in the Bible; and then do something.

We can't sit idly by while many needs that Jesus said we should care & do something about remain unmet. Wanna be like Jesus? Giving would be a great starting point...and midway point...and ending point. Let's be more generous & let the world see.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Musings on news I've heard lately...

First, I heard on the business news today that Delta Airlines announced a loss of $6 billion for the first-quarter. Then, I heard in the same report that Northwest Airlines announced a loss of $4 billion for the same period. Wow, two airlines looking at merging having a combined first-quarter loss of $10 billion! Just makes me wonder about their desire to merge into one airline, which, in my simple mind would only benefit the two companies and a handful of employees. But would not necessarily benefit airline passengers or the rank and file Delta and NWA employees. Hard not to scratch your head about that one.

Second, I had to laugh as Deutsche Bank in Germany announced a ground-breaking HR policy change. They advised company executives they could no longer use company credit cards at brothels or strip clubs, even if it were to entertain clients. Now there's some prudent belt-tightening going on!!

Finally, as many people in the US (& the world) struggle financially and food shortages create problems, it's sobering to think that much of today's financial challenges have been created as much by individual choices as external events and circumstances. Many of us may be making difficult lifestyle choices now when we could have made prudent, sensible decisions in the past that would have kept our financial heads above water during this difficult time. Guess I'm just a bit discouraged today and having a 'glass-half-empty' kind of day.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

What's your potential?

"Our potential is not limited to what we can own or how much we make. "
- Ross Levin, author The Wealth Managment Index

I always love it when I see articles on core issues related to generosity that show up in everyday news media. Ross Levin is a CFP who writes a column in the Minneapolis Star Tribune. A couple weeks ago his column was titled, "Sometimes, as you acquire, you lose". While his advice is focussed on financial planning, the main theme of his article was to invest wisely (which applies to whatever you're blessed with) and to think about your goals.

He told a story of several years ago, giving his two younger daughters $5 for allowance. He says, "Within minutes of receiving the money, they spotted a homeless person sleeping on the street. They were determined to give the most money that they'd ever held in their hands (maybe $5) to this somnolent vagrant who could not say thank you. We resisted any impulses to dissuade them. "

Levin goes to say that today, seven years later, they still remember giving the money to the homeless person and the joy they received from their selfless act. The article goes into further detail of asking us what's important to us and how that affects or happiness.

So what's important to you as you strive to be your best? Is it having, acquring and keeping up with the Joneses? And do you have any margins in your life just to be, to give and to be selfless...which oftentimes brings the most happiness and fulfillment in our lives? As Rick Warren says in his book, Purpose Driven Life: "It's not about you."

Take time to find your purpose. Which, by the way, usually starts with God...and involves being 'other-focussed' and not 'self-focussed'. Find your purpose and make this world a better place. And yes, that may mean giving some or most of yourself away!

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Live beneath your means

"Well, what you're supposed to do is the thing we talk about all the time, which is live beneath your means."

That's a quote from Allan Sloan, senior editor-at-large for Fortune magazine, in an interview on Marketplace on NPR this past Monday. He was talking about all the changes that US Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson is proposing in overhauling the regulatory structure of the Federal Reserve. All in reaction to the country's recent economic woes, brought on primarily by the subprime mortgage debacle. Sloan refers to it as the "New Great Depression" - whoa, that'll get your attention pretty fast! He also says, "There are certain eerie similarities between what's happening now and what happened in 1929."

It's interesting, if you talk with people who are old enought to remember the Great Depression. In general, they're mainly pretty good about organizing & using their finances & stuff in a responsible way. All shaped by their memories of what actually happened.

Wouldn't it be cool if we all tried to live beneath our means & be content with what we have? Besides, none of this stuff is ours anyways. And, all our financial decisions are really spiritual decisions anyway. Plus, as we live beneath our means and share first (10%), then save (10%) & then spend the remainder (80%), that usually puts us in a financial situation where we have no consumer debt & have considerably less anxiety about money than most people in this country.

Go ahead, I dare you. Try spending less than you make on a regular basis. It can feel pretty weird at first but pays off in the long-term. Trust me, it does work!

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Holiday Regrets Survey

My friend Matt Bell, (check out his website, recently published results of a nationwide survey of 1,000 adults that showed results from two main questions about Christmas time 2007:

1. In response to the question, "Thinking back on this past holiday season what did you wish you'd done more of?"

  • Spent time with family and friends. 54%
  • Spent time reflecting on the religious/spiritual significance of the holiday season. 40%
  • Gave money to charity during the holiday season. 31%

2. In response to the question, "Thinking back on this past holiday season, do you wish you had done less of?"

  • Spent money on gifts. 30%
  • Spent time shopping for gifts in stores. 28%
  • Spent money on myself while holiday shopping. 23%

So, in general, many of us desire to focus on the true meaning of Christmas but simply are unable to do what we really would like to, for whatever reason. (hmmm...the pull of the culture perhaps?)

And, along with the regret people may have, comes a significant amount of consumer debt from spending money on gifts and spending money on themselves while holiday shopping! Doesn't seem right does it?

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Giving makes you happy...I'm not kidding!

So what would you rather try:

a) spending your way to happiness & greater fulfillment in life?
b) giving your way to happiness & greater fulfillment in life?

If you said b), you're correct, at least according to a recent study.

Highligted in this article in Forbes magazine, researchers showed we really get more enjoyment and satisfaction from giving money away rather than spending it. Hey, that's an encouragement for many people (like me) who want to grow in this whole area of generosity. It's great to see some scientific data that proves giving makes you happier than spending! And from Forbes magazine, of all places.

And, if we use the Bible as a guide to live our lives, this secular study reinforces the truth that it's more (fun) blessed to give than to receive. As my daughter would say, "sweet"!

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Do you feel rich?

Part of our problem with understanding generosity is appreciating our wealth in terms of the world. Most of us here in the US don't think we are. But we are. Even with a household income of $50,000 a year that would put you in the top .98% richest person in the world. The average household income in the Twin Cities is $70,000 which would make put you in the top .85% richest person in the world. Or how about this: Three billion people in this world live on less than $2 per day while 1.3 billion get by on less than $1 per day. Seventy percent of those living on less than $1 per day are women. Just something to think about. If you're interested, the website to determine where your household income ranks you in the world is, Also, for those of us who are Christians, Jesus said our wealth will make it that much harder to live in God's Kingdom. "How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God!" - Mark 10:23