Saturday, March 24, 2007

Finances: Don't Take Another Bite

by Donna L. Watkins

It has been a few years since I have read through the Bible from beginning to end so with a new year beginning, I considered it would be a good time to do it again. I generally don't read far in the Bible before my mind begins thinking about the story behind the story.

I love to look up Hebrew and Greek words in Strong's concordance to get a deeper meaning of what is being said. This article on a bit of Genesis is written with passion for you! For individual lives caught in the devil's money trap. My prayer is that you will not just scan these words because you've heard similar ones before. Take these words and thoughts to heart and seek our Father's face.

I've read Genesis so many times and especially the familiar part where Eve was tempted with the apple and ate and then gave it to Adam who also ate in disobedience. What was the result? Man was cursed with having to work to eat and woman was cursed with pain in childbirth. Doesn't that make you think about what Adam and Eve did before they were cast out of the Garden of Eden? What was God's ideal plan for us when He created humans? He made a beautiful place to be enjoyed with plants, animals, sunshine and the garden being watered by a river flowing through it. God made man to fellowship with Him. God walked with them in the Garden.

Adam had been commanded to tend and care for the garden. Food was provided on trees that he could eat from, except for the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. The gardener role paints a picture of stewardship. Watching over something that was given to you to enjoy without ownership. As we know, all of that ended when they sinned and put disobedience between themselves and God, which has been passed down to all generations since, which is why we need a Savior to put us back into relationship with God.

Man was made to "do something." He was given the Garden to tend and a wife to be a helpmeet. Beauty all around him and a leisurely type of work. After sin entered in with the curses in Genesis 3, man was told he would sweat to eat his food and the ground would be cursed with thorns and thistles. What a change in lifestyle to be cast out of this beautiful garden into the land where they would "eat the plants of the field."

What I thought about as I read this was the contrast between what that curse was and the curse we have placed on ourselves. We have been given money to watch over and steward. Our attitude with all that comes our way should be that it is not ours, but the Lord's. Jesus gave us an example in Matthew 25 with a parable of the servants, who each were given a sum of money to manage while the Master was away. The Bible says that "after a long time" (our lifetime?) the Master (Jesus?) returned and settled accounts with them (Judgment Day?).

Those who had invested well and had made gains (rewards in Heaven?) were rewarded with being "in charge of many things." The one who gave back only what had been given to him was rebuked and what he had was taken from him and given to another. A hard saying for certain.

What does that say to us? How are we as Christians managing our money? Any differently than the world is doing? Are we building up rewards in Heaven? Will we be able to return an increase in what we have been given in our lifetime?

Consumerism and debt are at an all-time high and climbing. Things, gadgets, excess food and drink, and stuff have replaced the commands for stewardship of what has been given to us. We are a nation of wide-eyed looks on the newest, biggest and shiniest. Many of these trinkets are believed to be needs by the masses. The actual need is not fulfilled with objects and stuff because the need is love, which can only be fully gained from our Abba Father. Like the old song, people are looking for love in all the wrong places and coming up still empty.

Statistics are quoted about the low amount of savings that people have and when you consider the debt they have, in reality, they have no savings. People have spent their future on consumable products that are used up before they are paid for. Their life choices are limited because the "borrower is servant to the lender" (Proverbs 22:7).

God said we must work to eat ... but nowhere in the Bible do I see frantic-paced lifestyles. How many work hours a day are needed to provide adequate (not excess) food for our families? Not 40, 50 or 60 hours. How many hours to provide a home for people and actual needs, not a building that has 75% of its space used to store all the stuff.

The January 2007 AARP Bulletin had a segment called, "Plastic Appeal." Credit card companies are experimenting with various textures, sounds, and even perfume and coffee scents. American Express is testing a "butterfly" credit card that folds in half and has a nifty silver case. The goal is to get their credit card in that coveted "top of the wallet" position. Look at and think about these numbers:

$16 billion total profits in 2005 for the 10 largest U.S. credit card issuers
$14.8 billion is levied on cardholders in late and over-limit penalties

Late fees are not the only penalty of a late payment. With universal default now in place, if you’re late paying your credit card bill, your insurance, mortgage or car loan rates can also increase. If you’re late paying your insurance premiums and most other bills, your credit card interest rate may double. Would you buy that $24,000 vehicle with 6 year payments if you knew you were actually paying over $30,000 for it?

Do you know how much you're paying in utilities, insurance, taxes and mortgage to store stuff that you don't even remember you have? Is it worth it? Advertising makes us think something only costs what the monthly payment is, but it is costing us our future and is stealing a godly heritage from our children. The Enemy keeps us on the treadmill trying to keep up minimum payments while searching for meaning in life through plastic instead of Biblical principles.

Credit card companies are making billions while children are dying for lack of one meal a day. Unicef reports that some 4000 children die every day because they don’t have access to an adequate supply of clean water. We partner with an organization that puts in wells for communities in Africa that have no water supply at all. They walk miles to get water that is unsanitary. They have no crops and no animals for farming or food because without water all life dies.

How much money are you spending on interest each year? What could you do with that in the Kingdom of God? It costs $5,000 to put a well that provides water for an entire African community. That well changes the lives of so many. Unsanitary water does not keep death away for long, especially for children. That's only one of many passions I share with you. The Enemy is winning far too many to his way of thinking here on Earth. He can't keep us out of Heaven, but he make sure we have no inheritance when we get there by getting us to focus on what we want TODAY rather than what we want for ETERNITY.

As Christians we've eaten too many apples offered from the tree we were commanded not to eat from. Debt has disabled the ability to give joyfully and to live in freedom. Consider getting out! There are many books in the library that can help. Be accountable to somebody. You will need an arm to hang on to as you try to pull yourself out of the quicksand. It can be done if you contract with God to do it. In 1990 we had already gotten out of credit card debt, but we signed a $100,000 mortgage and two car loans. We knew better, but we ate the shiny apple (a different variety). The shine wore off and we repented and told God that we wanted out of debt totally, house and all, and asked for His help to free ourselves, committing to him our self-control. It became a hobby! It was a race to see how fast we could get out of the debt trap.

In 7 years we were totally out of debt including the mortgage and we tithed off of our gross income as we always had. Before your mind wanders to our huge annual income to do it, you need to know that in 1990 we made $10,004 annual income between the two of us. We had a business of our own and it was growing slowly but we knew this was the direction God had for us. In those 7 years we averaged $52,471 total annual income. You can't figure it on paper, but God did it as we stood on our commitment and made the choice to make freedom more important than today's baubles and dainties. Provision came in many ways other than income. Before we purchased definite needs, we would ask God to provide them and give Him time to send them. We were amazed at what we received with only God knowing what we needed. Our clothes, appliances and groceries seemed like the widow's oil. They all lasted longer. It's mystical to ponder because it's like a fairy tale.

You don't have to do it alone. All you have to do is say "no" to temptation and practice the Bible principle of self-control. It will bring in benefits you have never been able to imagine and they are all better than any "thing" you can purchase. I ask again, how much interest did you pay to lenders last year? Couldn't you do better things with it? Wouldn't you? Are you preparing for your future or expecting your children or the government to care for you? These are tough questions, but the financial statistics of those reaching 60 are not good, so expecting things to get better down the road is only another deception. You are forming lifestyles and habits that not only bind you, but the lives of your children also.

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