The Provision Gospel

Reading Time: 15 minutes

In my last two posts, on the “Poverty” and “Prosperity” gospels, we took an honest look at each teaching. We studied why each group honestly believes they have Biblical backing, but also addressed how each gets it wrong. On the narrow road, each stray to one side and the other…

While we touched on the appropriate response to each false argument on those posts, I wanted to write an article that summarizes the truth about how we are to handle our finances in the Kingdom. My hope is to give solid Biblical balance to a confusing debate and leave you with some actions to consider and pray about. While the post may not be comprehensive, given the broad range of financial topics, this will give you a solid foundation to build “Kingdom Finances” upon a bedrock of the Provision Gospel.

How does God want us to live?

Becoming more like Christ should be the ultimate goal of all believers. Let’s begin with a broader view of what this means when applied to our finances.

Focused on Him

Where both the poverty and prosperity gospels get out of line is that they focus on money rather than God. The creation over the Creator.

One of the most famous verses in the Bible is Matthew 6:33:

“But seek first His Kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.”

When we begin to focus more on our needs than the Kingdom, we’ve shifted our eyes off of Jesus. We begin to be like Peter, who looked away from Jesus and to the waves around him, only to sink.

Keeping our focus on Jesus rather than money is perhaps the single most important aspect of understanding the Provision Gospel. It is a subtle but powerful practice.

Imagine you are going to an anniversary dinner with your spouse. It’s a special occasion so you’re going to your favorite restaurant, which has great steaks.

In the days leading up to the date you start thinking about the steaks. Man, those are some good steaks. Mouthwatering. Perfectly crisp on the outside and tender on the inside. You can cut them with a fork. Even the a la carte mashed potatoes and asparagus are phenomenal.

The more you think about the meal, the more excited about it you become. You are dreaming about it and thinking about what you’ll order when you get there. You research the best wine pairings and make a list of what dessert you plan to get afterward.

Finally, the big night is here! You get to the restaurant and run in ahead of your date to sit down and order. The meal comes and you dive in, barely looking up from your plate till every morsel has been consumed.

Now suppose you take a different approach. In the time leading up to the meal you look up the menu online. You start noticing that the steaks cost $50/ea and the whole bill will likely top $200. You begin wondering if there’s cheaper options. After all, the money could be better used for giving. When the night comes, you are downtrodden and guilty as you order a $22 grilled chicken salad, the cheapest thing on the menu, and water. You barely talk to your spouse as you think and pray about where you’ll give the $150 you saved. The night ends with you feeling holy, but with little joy in your marriage.

Notice what went wrong in both cases here? Rather than there being a focus on your spouse, commemorating the anniversary and spending quality time with them, you focused on the meal.

If you had focused on the relationship you might have had either meal, but it wouldn’t really matter. It isn’t wrong to enjoy a good meal to commemorate a special occasion or eat a small meal to provide more to ministry However, if your focus is on the relationship rather than the output of the relationship, you’ll be content just being with that person in either case.

This is the way it is when we get our financial focus off in the Kingdom. Rather than focus on the relationship with Jesus and being content whether we’re eating steak or a salad, we begin to focus on the meal.

Some begin saying that God has promised we will always eat steak and that we can “claim it”, living in the promise of blessing and prosperity that flows from the Kingdom. Others say that we should always eat salad, so that we can give more money to the poor and needy.

A Kingdom perspective says we don’t really care either way. Sometimes Jesus will serve us salad and other times it will be steak. In either case, we can remain confident that He will always make sure we eat and rejoice in our relationship with Him. We don’t worry about the meal and start rejoicing in the relationship.

While we all agree with this and it sounds good in theory, how do we actually apply it in our finances? What does it look like to seek first the Kingdom?

Romans 14:17 says “For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking, but of righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit”. Let’s look at each of these Kingdom attributes in our finances.

  • Righteousness

When Matthew 6:33 says “His Kingdom and His Righteousness”, Jesus is simply emphasizing something that is part of the Kingdom. The Kingdom is Righteousness.

Righteousness is defined by God. He alone is Righteous. We are then called to be like Him in Righteousness, which is an impossible task…but for grace through faith. Through Jesus we have become the righteousness of God! (2 Corinthians 5:21)

In our finances, pursuing righteousness embodies realizing that it is impossible for us to please God on our own. We must surrender control of our finances to Him in order to redeem them. Our finances are not only an extension of ourselves, but the director of ourselves. Matthew 6:21 says “Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also”. Where we put our money determines where our heart will go.

Begin pursuing the Kingdom in your finances by realizing you can’t provide what you need on your own. Or, perhaps you can provide your basic needs on your own, but you’ll never provide what is needed to walk in the good works that God has prepared for you.

When we put our focus on the Kingdom, just as 6:33 says, God will provide for our needs. David said:

“I have been young, and now am old; yet have I not seen the righteous forsaken, nor his children begging bread” (Psalm 37:25).

God will always take care of those who pursue righteousness. Putting it first is the #1 step in structuring Godly finances.

  • Peace
    Another defining characteristic of the Kingdom is supernatural peace. This is the type of peace that doesn’t come just when the water is calm, but a peace that calms the waters. It is deep and wide and restful.What would it look like to have this type of peace in your finances?Philippians 4:6-7 says “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”To have Peace, we must pray. We must choose not to be anxious, but simply let our requests be made known to God.

    In His book “Anxious for Nothing”, Max Lucado talks about how crazy it would be if we went to an auto mechanic with our car and then waited around and bugged them every 5 minutes with questions and instructions about how they were going to fix it. Rather, we leave it with them trusting that as the experts, they’ll take care of it.

    Your finances will only be marked by peace when you submit your needs and questions to God through prayer. Do you need to pray over every single small spending decision? Perhaps not, but you absolutely should pray over your budget….and then stick to it!

    Having a prayerfully created budget is one of the most peace-giving actions you can do with your finances. Because of what we said about Matthew 6:21 (treasure leads, heart follows), deciding where we are going to spend, save, invest, and give our money is hugely important to where we put our focus. That alone is a good reason to pray!

When we know that we’ve submitted the decisions around our finances to God through prayer and then live in that guidance, there is peace. You no longer have to be stressed about how long it will take to get out of debt, when you can retire, if you should buy that new dress, etc. A prayer based budget guides all of those questions and gives such peace and freedom!

Should major or irregular decisions still be submitted to prayer? Absolutely! Just because you have $20k in your car savings fund doesn’t mean you want to make an impulsive decision about that size of purchase! Still pray about the big things, but pray about the strategy (your budget) for all the “small things” as well.

  • Joy
    This isn’t something we might really think of as one of the main attributes of the Kingdom. What is interesting is that if we are told to seek the Kingdom, we are told to seek Joy! Joy isn’t just an output of, but a guide to well managed finances.There are two specific ways I want to focus on how joy can help you with your finances.Giving
    How do you know how much to give and where? Pay attention to joy.2 Corinthians 9:7 says “Each of you should give what you have decided in your heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver

    I absolutely believe you should tithe 10% of your increase (income) as the first check you write. This is done out of obedience. Furthermore, as I laid out in my post “Balancing Giving and Savings”, I’d encourage you to match your offerings (gifts above the tithe) with your long-term investing.

    However, as you get above the tithe and start to give offerings, you should start paying attention to joy.

    Giving out of compulsion isn’t Biblical. Is it good to stretch ourselves and give? Yes! But that doesn’t mean we should be doing it with grumbling. We should give as much as we can give cheerfully….and no more.

    Additionally, paying attention to joy helps us determine where to give. If you get joy from giving $100 bills to homeless veterans, do it! If you get joy from giving to single mother ministries, do it! God has given passions and interests to different members of the body so that all needs will be met. Don’t feel guilty if you aren’t excited about giving to everything or you run the risk of not giving cheerfully. Rather, pray about where to give, keeping in mind that where you do will determine where your heart is, and then give cheerful to the causes, individuals, and ministries that God puts on your heart.

    Spending
    If you’re like me, the hardest spending decisions you have are ones of pleasure (hobbies, entertainment, etc.). I have an easier time writing a $500 check to a ministry than spending $50 to go play golf or shoot guns with some buddies for an afternoon.

    Paying attention to what gives us joy and building that in to our budgets isn’t just a good idea, but a Kingdom principle! Does this mean we should be frivolous in our spending and only pursue temporary pleasures? Absolutely not! Many Kingdom principles would be good if they were taken in isolation and pursued without consideration of the entire Kingdom.

    Having said that, as long as we are balanced in our other areas (giving and savings) and not living above our means (debt), we should not feel guilty in allocating money to what gives us joy. A nice car, hobbies, travel, good food, etc. are part of God giving us the joy found in His Kingdom through our finances. To make our finances all about rigor and structure, with no room for joy, is dipping back in to a poverty spirit.

    Furthermore, having some room for joy in your finances gives you strength! Nehemiah 8:10 ends with “the joy of the Lord is your strength”.

    I’ve seen people get a tenacious desire to get out of debt and build a budget that is basically rice and beans for years on end. They are determined not to eat out, go to a movie, travel, etc. until the debt is gone. Unfortunately, like someone who is determined to lose weight by eating dry brown rice and unseasoned boiled chicken with steamed broccoli for three meals a day, they almost always fail. Why? They didn’t leave any room for joy to be their strength!

    “But Ira, it says the ‘joy of the Lord’! Not, ‘the joy of hobbies’!”

    If you are asking that question, you may be falling in to the poverty spirit with dualism, that says only spiritual things are good and material things are bad. If all our possessions are God’s, is it that unbelievable that God would want us to use some for joy? Isn’t that part of what the joy of the Lord looks like? Just before the famous “joy of the Lord is your strength” part, Nehemiah told the people in that story to go home and have a feast! He said in the first part of v. 10 “Go and enjoy choice food and sweet drinks, and send some to those who have nothing prepared.” The joy of the Lord wasn’t just an abstract concept to be experienced in a worship service, but looked like good food and drink shared with everyone.

    Don’t over-spiritualize joy. Build some in to your budget.

Surrendered to Him
What do we do when we find the Kingdom?  We live in the Presence of the King! This means we must surrender to Him. Here’s some ways this manifests in our finances.

  • Diligent
    When you serve the King of Kings, you’re going to be very diligent in your service! Imagine how carefully you’d cook if you were the King’s chef, or how skillfully you’d play if you were His musician.Colossians 3:23 says “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters”Money is meant to be earned in exchange for our work. When we work, we must do it diligently and “with all our heart”, just as if we were doing it for the King Himself.What work must we do? It doesn’t matter! Our job is to focus on what God has before us today and do it with all our hearts. Do I believe God can give us a vision and that we can make a plan to get there? Absolutely. While that is good, keep in mind that Proverbs 16:9, which says “In their hearts humans plan their course, but the LORD establishes their steps.”

    There is nothing wrong with making plans, but the more important thing is to do what you have today with diligence. For more on this, read my post “Find your Donkeys”.

  • Faithful
    1 Corinthians 4:2 reads “Now it is required that those who have been given a trust must prove faithful.”Faithfulness is perhaps defined best by consistency. One cannot say they are faithful if they do or say one thing today and the opposite tomorrow. In order to be faithful, we must be in it for the long haul. Each day, regardless of what winds may blow, we keep a keep a steady course.In our finances, this applies to keeping each little decision. When we set a prayerful budget, we need to stick to it. When we determine to give our first 10%, we need to do it even when they raise the property taxes. When we decide to invest for retirement, we have to do it without speculation and haste.A steward is faithful to the Master that gave Him charge of His things. He doesn’t do anything that He knows the Master wouldn’t approve of. Your money is a holy thing because it has been given to you by God. It can be used for His purposes, your purposes, or evil purposes. Choose faithfulness to Him every time.
  • Dependent
    If you live in the Kingdom and the King owns everything and has it all under His control, you are completely dependent on Him. This could be a scary thought but the good news is that ours is a very good King.Proverbs 30:8-9 says “Keep falsehood and lies far from me; give me neither poverty nor riches, but give me only my daily bread. Otherwise, I may have too much and disown you and say, ‘Who is the LORD?’ Or I may become poor and steal, and so dishonor the name of my God.

Solomon wrote this as a man who knew what unfathomable riches were. He also knew His weaknesses and that He would always struggle with dependence on God because of those riches.

Should we avoid wealth because of a fear of losing our dependence on God? No! That brings us back to a poverty spirit. However, we should pray this prayer that God only gives us what we can handle. Thankfully, we see that God gives each according to our ability.

Abraham Lincoln said “Nearly all men can stand adversity, but if you want to test a man’s character, give him power.” Wealth and power as very similar in that they show what a man is when all inhibitions are removed.

Finding someone who can handle wealth and still remain 100% dependent on God and serving Him as a Steward is very, very rare. This is why Jesus said it is impossible without God (Matthew 19:26). As such, it is very, very valuable to the Kingdom. Focus on being just as dependent on God in plenty as in lack and you will have a firm foundation for your finances.

  • Restful
    We started this section talking about being diligent, but it is also important that we balance that with being restful.When we know that God is the provider and owns everything, we can give ourselves permission to live according to His commands with no fear of loss or harm.God Himself showed us His nature when He rested on the 7th day of Creation. From then till now, He has been the Lord of the Sabbath. He encourages rest.If you listen to the world, you need to work 80-100 hour weeks to succeed. “Putting everything you have in now is worth it later!” The world rewards the ones who sell themselves completely to their career and shrugs off the ones who take time to rest.

    Thankfully, your career is not your provider. We live in the Kingdom where the King is our provider and He is encouraging us to rest.

    Resting from our labor is like a tithe of our time. It demonstrates that we trust God to provide because we are doing something that doesn’t make sense without Him. 1 Corinthians 3:7 says “So neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow.” It is interesting that the busiest times for us are the planting and the harvesting. The time of growth is when we should be resting. Ask any farmer and they will likely tell you that Summer is their easy time, as the planting is done and the harvesting is yet to come. Trying to force things to grow faster doesn’t do much! Trust God by resting and allow Him to bring the growth.

    Take a careful look at your time and prayerfully evaluate if you are taking time to rest. A weekly Sabbath where you do not do things to earn money is a good start. Regular quality time with your family is also important, through daily meals, annual vacations, etc. Take a look at the life of Jesus while He was on earth. Although He only had 3 years of ministry to change the world, we see Him pulling away to rest and pray during the busiest times. Pattern yourself after this. As a resource, I highly encourage Mark Buchannan’s book “The Rest of God”.

Serving Others
Given the commandment to love our neighbor as ourselves, it is clear that God wants us to live a life of service. When considering our finances, we must keep the focus outside of “me, myself, and I” and on the needs of the world around us. What are some ways we can promote this?

Wise

In 2 Chronicles 1:10, Solomon makes his famous request for wisdom. What is interesting is his reason for wanting wisdom. He said:

“Give me wisdom and knowledge, that I may lead this people, for who is able to govern this great people of yours?”

Solomon understood the responsibility that had been entrusted to him and was woefully aware of his own inadequacies. As such, he didn’t want any more wealth or power if it wasn’t accompanied by wisdom. His desires were focused fully on his people.

In a similar way, we have been given great responsibility as God’s stewards to manage our finances well. We must seek wisdom. Proverbs 2 speaks about how we must value and seek after wisdom that is only found in God. James 1:5 says “If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you.”

Become like Solomon in feeling the burden of responsibility that is on you with your finances. Let it bring you to the place of seeking Wisdom. Ask God, and He will give it to you.

  • Thankful & Rejoicing
    God commands us to be thankful (1 Thessalonians 5:18, Ephesians 5:20) and rejoice always. The beauty of this is that there is actual power in rejoicing!Psalms 112:1-3 says:Blessed are those who fear the Lord, who find great delight in His commands.Their children will be mighty in the land; the generation of the upright will be blessed. Wealth and riches are in their houses,and their righteousness endures forever.

In whatever circumstances, we should not only be thankful…but rejoice! It is out of this that wealth and riches flow. God loves a cheerful giver, as we spoke of earlier on “joy”. However, don’t just look for things that bring you joy, but choose joy. Practice thanksgiving for every blessing!

  • Humble

When you are successful in your finances, it is very difficult to stay humble. We see this time and time again as great men of Faith fell away from the Lord (Saul, Solomon, etc.). We spoke more on this when we say to remain dependent on the King.

Part of the key to staying humble is remembering that even our ability to gain wealth comes from God! Deuteronomy 8:18 “But remember the LORD your God, for it is he who gives you the ability to produce wealth, and so confirms his covenant, which he swore to your ancestors, as it is today.”

When you live with the realization that God alone is the one who has blessed you, it makes it hard to brag. Humble people are the ones that God can use and bless the most, as they’ll always give Him the glory. Stay humble!

Conclusion

In closing, I want to ask “Why does God give us financial blessing?” Yes, it is so that we can be provided for, have joy, meet needs through giving, invest wisely, and more. But what is the ultimate purpose of wealth?

God provides wealth for His Glory and Honor. 1 Chronicles 29:11-13 says

“Yours, Lord, is the greatness and the power and the glory and the majesty and the splendor, for everything in heaven and earth is yours. Yours, Lord, is the kingdom; you are exalted as head over all. Wealth and honor come from you; you are the ruler of all things. In your hands are strength and power to exalt and give strength to all. Now, our God, we give you thanks, and praise your glorious name.”

God gives us resources and blessings so we can bring honor to Him! He created us to co-labor with Him, bringing the Kingdom to earth. Through this, Christ in you is glorified. Sometimes it is ourselves glorifying Him, or it may be others who are thankful for the provision provided by God’s wealth that we are stewarding.

Don’t be ashamed or afraid of wealth. Don’t seek riches, as that love of money is a dangerous path, but seek God. If and when He blesses you financially, be thankful and stay humble! Remain dependent on Him. Be generous, but also steward your finances to avoid debt, save diligently, and invest wisely. Whether God chooses to give you much to steward or little is not something we need worry about, but only stewarding what we have been given right now.

This is the 3rd of a 3-part series. See my first post on “The Poverty Gospel” here and second post on “The Prosperity Gospel” here!

Postscript:

I hope that this series has been enlightening and encouraging to you. It has been a burden on my heart to study this topic for several months. At the same time, but separately, I was asked by the Stewardship pastoral team to prepare content for a three week Equip class on this very topic at Gateway Church. This was confirmation that I should invest the time to this study and writing these was a way to organize my thoughts and ensure that those classes were impactful and well structured. I am extremely thankful for the platform I’ve been given and humbled by every person who takes the time to read or listen to my thoughts. My prayer is always that “He must increase, but I must decrease” (John 3:30) and that my focus remains on serving God by serving you.

Thank you.

Sincerely,

Ira

The Prosperity “Gospel”

Reading Time: 14 minutes

In our last post, we dealt with the “Poverty Gospel”. This is a term not often used and rarely taught on. By contrast, the “Prosperity Gospel” is a term that likely every Christian has heard and experienced. Even secular media outlets love to point out leaders of Faith who live in the lap of luxury while conservative churches shake their head in dismay at the twisted teachings of the “health and wealth” gospel.

Yet, despite its common discussion, just what exactly the “Prosperity Gospel” is, why people believe it, and what is wrong about it is rarely discussed. Many who are labeled as “Prosperity Teachers” may not be upon on closer examination, as it sometimes appears that any Christian with financial wealth is considered a prosperity proponent. It is a label easily applied but much harder to actually describe.

The purpose of this post is to define what the Prosperity Gospel is, why it’s often believed, and what is wrong about it. We’ll also discuss some signs that you’ve believed the lie and talk about what to do if you have.

What is the Prosperity Gospel?
The Prosperity Gospel, as we’ll define it, is:

The Prosperity Gospel teaches that we should give in order to get more from God, that money shows God’s favor, and that the poor are less Holy than the rich.

Let’s look closer at some common Prosperity Gospel teachings.

Give to get

One of the central themes of a false prosperity gospel is the motivation in giving. Rather than giving out of obedience or in response to need, prosperity teachers hijack a few verses in order to create a formula for “giving” that looks more like “investing”.

Chief among these verses is Matthew 19:29, which reads:

“And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or wife or children or fields for my sake will receive a hundred times as much and will inherit eternal life.”

The formula is simple! Give now and you’ll get back 100x return! How can you go wrong?

Jesus is saying this in response to Peter’s question in discussing the rich young ruler. In this, Jesus said that while it was almost impossible for a rich man to enter heaven, with God it is possible. Peter lamented the fact that they had given up so much to follow Jesus and He encouraged him that his sacrifice wouldn’t be without reward.

It is not wrong to think that God is one of reward. While it is true that our desire upon seeing Jesus in heaven will be to cast our crowns at His feet in worship (see this post for more), that doesn’t nullify the fact that we are working for reward! God wired us to be rewarded, but a true believer realizes that it is only by His grace that we can do any good thing, so those rewards ultimately are only marks of His blessing and favor and not of our own work and merit.

If the question is not about reward, it is about the timing and nature of these rewards. In the same story related in Mark 10:30, we see the words “in this present age”. That seems to indicate that the 100-fold return isn’t just for the hereafter! Yet, did we see Peter rewarded in this way before his martyr’s death?

Since most of us don’t need 100 houses or really even want 100 mothers or sisters, a common interpretation is that the 100-fold increase refers to the fellowship of believers found in Christ. This was evidenced in Peter’s life when we look at the fellowship of believers he had during the rest of his ministry on earth. Yet, he also faced persecution. The persecution isn’t coming from God, but Jesus is reminding them that Satan will oppose and persecute God’s work and blessing, so we should expect it.

Does the 100-fold increase ever apply to money and possessions? It may very well. The idea of fields increasing could have a literal translation of increase, but we should not expect a promise of financial blessing all the time in return for our giving.

Giving done out of a desire for 100-fold increase is not giving, but “investing”. True giving is done out of a desire to see needs met and through the resulting thanksgiving, God is glorified (2 Corinthians 9:13).

Money is a sign of God’s favor

Another common teaching is that those with money are blessed and favored by God. Kris Vallotton has a great quote about this, which says: “Wealth isn’t a sign of blessing, unless of course, it is!”.

The mistake with the “money = favor” teaching is not mixing up motivation, but assuming an “end” always indicates the same “means”. What I mean is that while God very well may bless someone financially for a number of reasons, being financially blessed is not always an indicator of God’s favor. When we make this mistake, we start to view those who are wealthy as Godlier and those who are poor as less so.

In the Kingdom, God doesn’t always reward like for like. In Luke 16:11, Jesus says “So if you have not been trustworthy in handling worldly wealth, who will trust you with true riches?”. A common teaching of the prosperity crowd is that when we steward financial wealth, we will be given greater financial wealth. Yet, this verse seems to indicate that the ultimate reward of stewarding financial wealth is some other sort of wealth…these ”true riches”.

True riches likely indicate people instead of possessions. In the parable of the minas, found in Luke 19:11-27, we see that the reward for stewarding the money they had been given was not more money, but cities! To me this indicates a trust with power over people, status, decision making, etc. Is this not more important than simply having more money?

In our flesh, we often have difficulty recognizing God’s true riches rewarded in someone’s life. It is easy for us to see wealth or power and assume a person is blessed by God, but perhaps the people that are most blessed are those who have given faithfully and are seeing people come to Christ and be increased in their faith through the small group they lead.

God does want to give those who steward little more. That is 100% true and applies today, but we must be cautious about assuming it is always about money and therefore respecting those with financial blessing as Holier than those without.

Perhaps the most dangerous and damaging extension of this belief is that if someone is sick or poor, they lack faith. I’ll be the first to admit that I don’t understand why people are sick. I firmly believe God doesn’t send illness and suffering, but I know that He uses what Satan intends for evil for His good (Genesis 50:19). We live in a world filled with sin and sinners and we still suffer the results of this. To suggest that those who are suffering are lacking faith is showing our own lack of understanding of God and His perfect plans and timing. Should pray for healing and provision? Absolutely. God affirms that many, many times throughout Scripture. Yet, we must be very careful not to assume that those who don’t show these blessings are lacking in Faith.

God promised it

When God promises something in Scripture, we often can “lay claim” to that promise and ask for it in accordance with His Word. James 4:2 reads “You do not have because you do not ask God.”. Pair this up with Psalms 37:4, which says “Delight yourself in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart.”, and it seems we have a pretty clear case for “name it and claim it” theology!

The issue with these verses is that they are usually taken out of context. If we simply read on in James 4, we’ll see verse 3 says “When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures.”. Maybe the formula for “blab it and grab it” comes with some strings attached? This also likely ties back to our “Give to Get” point, where many try to use the “100x formula” with wrong intentions and then don’t get what the expected!

I always read Psalms 37:4 as God giving us the things we desire in our hearts. However, I heard Pastor Robert Morris speak on this about a year ago and gave it a different interpretation. Rather than God granting us the desires already in our carnal hearts, the verse is saying that as we delight ourselves in God, He will place desires in our hearts. Our desires will be His desires as we become more like Him.

Now this is powerful! James 4:2 wasn’t meant for claiming our own selfish desires. This is exactly why the formula wasn’t working in James 4:3. Rather, as we delight ourselves in the Lord and take on the mind of Christ, we begin desiring what God desires. When we ask for those things, we can ask in confidence knowing that we are aligned with His will and purpose.

But what about the verses that promise that God wants to give us life abundantly (John 10:10) and that we are to become rich because of Christ (2 Corinthians 8:9)? Can’t we ask for those things knowing that we are aligned with His will? Won’t our desires for those things be His desires, since they are in His Word?

As we talk about in other sections here, believing that the Kingdom is just about Financial blessings and wealth is short-sighted. God will 100% provide for our needs as we ask Him. In addition, for some, pursuing the Kingdom will mean stewarding great wealth. However, using these verses to imply that everyone is destined to be wealthy is not correct. The riches that God gives are the riches of His grace (Ephesians 2:7). The life that He promises is eternal life.

When we pray, we should pray that God gives us all we need for us to walk out the good works He has already prepared for us (Ephesians 2:10). If we immediately assume that is financial wealth, we may be asking for the wrong thing or at the wrong time. Let God design when to bring financial blessing and focus instead on seeking His Kingdom.

God wants us to give out of excess (rather than obedience)

Another favorite verse of the prosperity teachers is Luke 6:38.

“Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.”

Similar to the 100-fold verse, this indicates that God wants to give us more than we can handle in response to our generosity. A similar teaching regarding the tithe in the Old Testament is Malachi 3:10, where He promises to “open to you the windows of heaven and pour you out a blessing, that there shall not be room enough to receive it”.

The mistake that people sometimes make with this verse is assuming that God wants us to give out of our abundance, rather than our obedience. This is a recipe for disaster!

The tithe is not just 10%, but the first 10%. The concept of first-fruits pre-dates the Mosaic law and is demonstrated throughout scripture. God wants us to give out of obedience and faith, trusting that although we gave the first 10%, He will provide the rest.

Obedience is always followed by blessing. This is the nature of God! Again, the blessing may not always be what we expect, but God is a good Father and desires good things for us (Matthew 7:11).

We should be obedient and give the first 10% of our increase as a tithe. When we do this, it is true that God will bless our obedience and faith, often with more financial resources. Yet, we must be careful to never shift our focus from giving out of obedience to giving out of excess.

I will say firsthand that it was easier to give 10% when I was making a lot less money! Sometimes I look at the tithe withdrawal when I get paid every two weeks and think “That’s a lot of money! Imagine what else I could do with that…”. There is a reason that wealthy people statistically give less as a percent of their income than less-wealthy people…and this may be it! Rather than focus on the amount and start wanting to give out of excess, focus on how much God has blessed you and continue to give in faith. “Without faith, it is impossible to please God” (Hebrews 11:6). Never get your giving and your faith mixed up!

Signs You’ve Believed the Prosperity Gospel

You may have identified with some of the teachings listed above, but let’s look at a few more specific symptoms of an improper belief about Prosperity.

Lack (of rest and giving)

Bet you didn’t think I was going to say this one! After all, aren’t those who believe in the Prosperity Gospel most likely to be generous?

In our last post about the poverty gospel, Lack of resources was our top symptom. Here, it is lack of rest and generosity. Those who believe in the Prosperity gospel often fall in to the pursuit of riches. They fail to honor the Sabbath, trusting that God will provide. They sometimes lack generosity because they are waiting to give after their success, rather than as the Lord leads and instructs.

Placing money instead of the Kingdom as the goal will always result in money never being enough. Wrong motivation does not yield blessing. Perhaps some will give generously for a time, in an effort to get more, but ultimately they will run into lack and become discouraged. They are operating on their own strength and therefore their resources are limited. If they operate on God’s strength, their resources are unlimited.

If you are stressed and stingy, you might be pursuing money!

Love of Money

1 Timothy 6:10 says “For the love of money is the root of all evil”. The prosperity crowd often falls in to seeking the gifts more than the Giver. If you find yourself constantly pre-occupied with talking about wealth, trying new “get rich quick schemes” (risky investments, multi-level marketing, house flipping courses, etc.), and daydreaming about the day you are “Financially Independent” (“if I only won the lotto…”), you may have a love of money.

Jesus taught of a spirit called Mammon. Mammon is a demonic spirit that represents a love of money. He is constantly trying to pull people away from God to serve him instead. Matthew 6:24 says “No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or else he will be loyal to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon.”

Those who have solid Kingdom principles around finances and are in charge of much wealth to steward are often those least concerned about money. Yes, they realize their role as stewards and take wise care of what has been entrusted to them, but they are more interested in what money can do than having money itself. A love of money makes money the end, where in the Kingdom it is just the means to a far greater end.

Beware the spirit of Mammon! It often looks like Materialism in your life. If you love stuff and spend your time pursuing it, you cannot fully serve God.

Sorrow

While the Prosperity Gospel promises peace and joy, it ultimately leads to sorrow. The second part of 1 Timothy 6:10 reads “Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs”. Being pierced with grief doesn’t sound very good to me!

Contrast this with blessings that come from God. Proverbs 10:22 says “The blessing of the LORD makes a person rich, and he adds no sorrow with it.”

I once heard of a couple that was doing well financially and then fell in to a house flipping scheme and used borrowed money (“other people’s money”) to try and “leverage” their way to wealth. In a matter of less than a year they went from being debt free with money in the bank to being broke with over $200k in unsecured debt. Rather than waiting on the Lord’s blessings, they pursued money and tried to get there quicker by using debt. Ultimately, this led to sorrow and years of hard labor to repay their mistake.

You may be blessed and not have a spirit of mammon, but if you have sorrow then you should double check that you aren’t pursuing a love of money!

Pride (in Possessions)

A spirit of materialism responds with pride to possessions. Think about how you might respond if someone complements you on something you own. Let’s say it is a nice pair of quality shoes. You might say “yea, I got these on clearance so they weren’t as expensive as they look”. This very well indicates a spirit of poverty.

A Prosperity mindset is likely to respond with “O yea, these are Allen Edmonds. Best dress shoes out there. They cost about $350.”. That pride is indicative of a prosperity spirit!

What is the right response?

“Thank You.”

Part of stewardship in all areas of our lives is ensuring that purchase high quality items that are within our budget. As such, it is not wrong to have nice things. However, we must hold them with an open hand and not view them with pride, but with gratitude. When we own expensive and high quality possessions, it is just a mark of God’s blessings and not our own success.

Jealousy (of wealth)

Similar to the love of money and a preoccupation with it, many with a prosperity spirit are jealous of those with wealth. This is most often found among those that are poor, which indicates that the prosperity gospel isn’t just prevalent among rich people.

Those that desire to be rich are often jealous of those that are rich. They want to be around these people and find favor with them. They look for “mentors” that aren’t Godly, but wealthy. They have an unhealthy jealousy and desire to be like people not as they are like Christ, but for their material possessions.

This obsession with wealth and success has been exacerbated by social media. It amazes me the efforts that people will go to portray a “luxury lifestyle” and follow those who seem to “live the dream”. Do a check of who you follow, watch, like, etc. on social and if it is a bunch of motivational luxury feeds, consider cleaning house!

Fear (of loss)
Those who have pride in their possessions and see them as a sign of God’s favor are usually very fearful of losing them. For them, it isn’t just a loss of stuff, but a loss of their identity.

If you find yourself worrying about lending out your car or tools, inviting those with rambunctious kids to stay in your home, or taking extreme precautions to guard your assets, you may be operating out of fear.

There is a story about the famous preacher John Wesley that goes like this:

A man came running up to Wesley one day and said “Your house has burned down! Your house has burned down!” Wesley replied, “No, it hasn’t, because I don’t own a house. The one I have been living in belongs to the Lord, and if it has burned down, that is one less responsibility for me to worry about.”

There was no fear of loss for Wesley because he knew that God owns it all! Whether we own much or little, this should be our attitude toward our possessions.

As God blesses you, you must be extra careful not to slip in to this issue. Years ago, I had a beat-up truck that I kept around for errands and chores. I had only paid $2500 for it and had no issues lending it out to friends who needed a truck for a day. As I’ve been able to afford nicer cars, I find myself more hesitant to let others borrow them. While it is not wrong to have nice cars, we must be careful that we never have possessions that we value more than people. When your possessions become so much that you are afraid to use them to bless others, you may have more than you can handle!

Joylessness (in giving)
When giving becomes an investment plan rather than a response to God’s goodness, it loses its joy. God loves a cheerful giver (2 Corinthians 9:7). Joy in giving is a sign of our connection with God and a genuine response to an understanding of the depth and breadth of His love. If you’ve lost that joy, you are likely too attached to money, not attached enough to God, and only seeing giving as a “give to get” investment.

Debt (Discontentment and lack of trust)
Those that love money are often surrounded by debt. This is because they have not learned to live as Paul did, content in whatever state he was in (Philippians 4:11).

When we aren’t content or lack trust that God has given us enough, we tend to use debt to fill the gap between our current reality and our future expectations. Sometimes this is cloaked in the “other people’s money” teaching for investing. These desires for more than we have or “leveraging” debt to obtain wealth is almost always a sign of discontentment. See the story I spoke of earlier about the couple who took on debt and ended up in sorrow.

Speculation (Greed in “investing”)
Similar to debt, those that aren’t wise in their investing are usually bound to a spirit of prosperity. In my time in stewardship ministry, I’ve heard countless stories of people who wagered, and lost, it all on some investment that was sure to give them tremendous returns.

Greed is incompatible with wisdom. Hearing the voice of the Lord and relying on His provision is never accompanied with hasty speculation. For more on this, check out my article on “Should Christians Buy Bitcoin?”.

What to do if you’ve bought the lie of the Prosperity Gospel

If you read our last post on the poverty spirit, this list may look familiar!

Repent

If you have felt convicted of wrong belief in reading this, don’t feel shame. Simply choose to begin walking differently. As a believer, you are already righteous in Christ. Repentance is as simple as choosing to walk in accordance with understanding.

Be Thankful
Thankfulness for what we have keeps us from falling prey to greed. Begin thanking God for the provision He’s already given you rather than always “claiming” more.

Be Generous
Perhaps you have been giving, but giving with wrong motive. Perhaps you haven’t been giving because you’ve been waiting to give when you had more. Generosity breaks a spirit of greed, so begin giving now. Don’t do it with wrong motives, expecting something in return, but do it out of grateful obedience for what God has already done. If you are tempted to give more in order to get more, I’d actually encourage you to give less (not less than the 10% tithe, though), until you are able to give out of joy and not greed.

Live in His Presence
It is out of God’s presence that power and abundance flows. When you choose to live in His Presence, He will bless you abundantly not because of what you’ve done or asked for, but because He is a God of abundance. This may or may not be financial wealth, but when you are content with His presence, you suddenly won’t care either way.

Conclusion

The Prosperity Gospel is so dangerous because it places our worship on the gift rather than the Giver. Yes, God is a good Father and will give you all you need. He wants to bless you abundantly. However, when your direction shifts to a focus on His blessings and a desire for them more than Him, you are in a very dangerous place. Put your focus 100% on Him and make your goal to remain 100% dependent on Him regardless of what blessings He gives you. With this attitude, you’ll receive blessings above all you could ever ask or imagine!

Blessings,

Ira

This is the 2nd of a 3-part series. See my first post on the “Poverty Gospel” here and third post on the “The Provision Gospel” here!

 

The Poverty “Gospel”

Reading Time: 16 minutes

Intro

Turn on Christian TV today and you’ll likely see well-dressed tele-evangelists begging for money and promising that if you give you’ll be given more in return. This “Prosperity Gospel” is false, but it is largely obvious. The ostentatious display of selfish love of money makes the mature believer able to easily spot the lie and avoid it (we’ll still be discussing “The Prosperity Gospel” in more detail in my next post).

 

By contrast, there is an equally false gospel that has been preached for centuries. It is more dangerous by “having the appearance of godliness, but denying its power.” (2 Timothy 3:5). It embraces asceticism and extreme giving. It relishes the doctrine of suffering as something to be pursued, not endured, and equates being poor with being holy. This is what I’m calling the “Poverty Gospel”.

 

This post is designed to confront the Spirit of Poverty and Pride behind the Poverty Gospel head on. We’ll define what it is, why people believe it (all good lies have an element of truth), and signs you may have it. We’ll also discuss what the Bible really says about Poverty and what you can do to move forward if you’ve believed the Poverty Gospel.

 

 

What is the Poverty Gospel?

Galatians 5:9 says “A little yeast works through the whole batch of dough.”. The Poverty Gospel is a powerful deception since it is surrounded by truth, but has just a little bit of a lie. This lie (leaven) has created an entire movement that has swung too far on the pendulum, rejecting wealth and embracing a doctrine of hardship, poverty, and suffering. When believers are deceived to believe that wealth is evil and that our reward is only in heaven, the needy here on earth suffer.

 

The Poverty Gospel is the belief that being poor is holy, wealth should be avoided because it is dangerous to our faith, or material belongings are inherently bad.

 

It is usually accompanied by a fear of never having enough, demonstrated through hoarding and guilt over spending.

 

Having read that summary, you’re probably not thinking that you’ve believed this lie, but let’s take a more focused look at some common Poverty Gospel teachings so you can identify if there’s a hint of any at work in your spirit.

 

Being Poor is Holy

There is no doubt that Jesus had a heart for the poor. In Luke 4:18 He enters the synagogue and quotes from Isaiah that He is here “to proclaim good news to the poor”. Many other scriptures address God’s heart for the poor and needy.

 

What people seem to forget is that just because Jesus has a heart for the poor doesn’t mean that He wants them to stay that way! The rest of that passage talks about all the other bad things that He came to free us from, but somehow many have decided that He wants us to stay poor.

 

We must also be careful to note the difference between being poor and having a spirit of poverty. The poor that Jesus referred to were poor because they were sick, widows, outcasts, etc. The fact that they were poor was not indicative of a poverty mentality, but rather the brokenness of sin in our world.

 

The Bible speaks out continually against poverty caused by laziness (Proverbs 6:10-11), greed (Proverbs 11:24), rebellion (Proverbs 13:18), daydreaming (Proverbs 14:23), and speculation (Proverbs 21:5). Choosing to be poor simply because you do not want to be hardworking, generous, submitted, actionable, and wise does not put you in the same spot as the poor that Jesus came to minister to.

Lastly, Jesus commends the “poor in spirit” (Matthew 5:3) and says that “theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven”. When we see the word poor, we automatically assume wealth. Yet, being of a poverty spirit isn’t supported elsewhere in Scripture. Just as 2 Corinthians 8:9 is not talking just about physical riches when it says “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich.”, it is unlikely that the “poor in spirit” refers to physical wealth.

 

Being “poor in spirit” is recognizing our own inability to earn salvation. It is a humbleness of heart that allows us to accept salvation by grace through faith (Ephesians 2:8-9). It is not being of a poverty spirit, which has an unhealthy view of money and wealth.

 

Being financially poor does not make one sinful or spiritual. Many are poor for circumstances outside their control and should be viewed with compassion and not judgement. However, choosing poverty as a pursuit of holiness or due to a lack of Biblical character is sin or the product of sin and should be treated as such.

 

God wants us to be poor to be dependent on Him

The Bible often talks about how difficult it is for the rich to remain close to God. Two places this appears is when David prayed that he wouldn’t have so much that he’d forget God (Proverbs 30:9) and in the story of the rich young ruler (Matthew 19) where God commands the man to sell all he has and then tells the disciples that is “easier for a camel to pass through an eye of a needle than a rich man to enter in to heaven”.

 

However, if we continue on with the story of the rich young ruler, the disciples are very confused as the “eye of a needle” statement. They wonder how anyone could make it in to heaven with that criteria, and Jesus responds in v. 26 “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.”.

 

Given the difficulty of being rich and staying close to God, it seems logical that God would prefer us to be poor. After all, this avoids the issue completely!

 

Embracing poverty as a way of life is the easy way out of spiritual development and may actually be the opposite. As we spoke of in the last section, willful poverty is the output of sin. While “living by faith” may seem to equate more to someone who doesn’t know where their next meal if coming from, a higher and rarer calling is to continue to serve God in our abundance.

 

Living in abundant wealth and remaining close to God is the ultimate test of faith. It is literally impossible without God! If you want to live by faith the answer isn’t to avoid prosperity, but to be wholly dependent on God regardless of what your physical and financial condition is.

 

We are supposed to give away everything, all the time

There are two primary places in Scripture that we see people giving away much or everything. One is the story of the rich young ruler in Matthew 19 that we’ve already referenced. The other is with the early church in Acts 2:45 where we see that “They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need.”.

 

Many have taken these examples and developed a teaching that our responsibility is to live on a minimal wage and give the rest. This is not a new teaching, as John Wesley famously lived on the equivalent of about $30k a year even when his fame brought him income of over $160k a year (both in today’s dollars). This idea is resurging today, with many feeling that they should cap their income and give everything above away.

 

These ideas certainly have an appearance of Godliness and may be exactly what God is directing some to do. However, we must be careful establishing this as a doctrine that should be followed by everyone.

 

With the rich ruler, the key isn’t that God wanted to have everyone sell everything, but just this man. God saw that he had riches above his ability to manage. He needed to remove this barrier in order to be able to trust in Christ. Jesus targeted the one stronghold this man still had in his life just as specifically as He did the woman at the well who’d had 5 husbands. The story here isn’t that everyone should sell everything, but that we need to surrender the areas of our pride and sin to God completely.

 

For the Acts story, we first need to realize that the Word doesn’t say they sold everything they had, but their goods and possessions. This may indicate what they had with them at the time. Most of the people in this story were traveling to Jerusalem and hadn’t planned to stay and start the early church. It was a unique time where for a moment there was a need. This could be more like the story of the loaves and fishes where the boy gave his lunch for that day, which was all he had at the moment, but not necessarily all he had forever.

 

Should we be willing to part with possessions where there is a need? Absolutely! However, thinking that we should never hold anything and always give everything is not a Biblical teaching. Many early believers held their possessions and were able to use them to support the growth of the church. Even the disciples who walked away from their nets and boats don’t appear to have sold or given them away, as they were back to fishing and living in their homes within days of Jesus’ death.

If you are led to give generously or “above your ability” (2 Corinthians 8:3) be sure it isn’t coming out of a spirit of guilt or wrongly developed doctrine, but out of a free relationship with Jesus. Let it not be an expression of burden, but of joy.
We should only have enough for our basic needs
One of the most popular verses in the Bible is Matthew 6:33, which reads “But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.” The “things” that Jesus refers to are the clothing, drink, and food in v. 31. The point is that God doesn’t want us to be anxious about our basic needs but to focus on the Kingdom and His righteousness.

 

Assuming that because God promises to provide for our basic needs means we are not to pursue anything else is misunderstanding what pursuing the Kingdom looks like!

 

The Kingdom of God is where God reigns and provides abundance and good things. Do you imagine that when Jesus prayed for “your Kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in Heaven” (the Lord’s Prayer), He was imagining a Kingdom of barely enough? No! Jesus was praying for God’s magnificent Kingdom that is currently in Heaven, where there is no sickness, poverty, strife, want, etc. to come to earth!

 

God has given our basic needs as a starting point so that we can set our “minds on things above”. Having our basic needs met doesn’t mean that we should stop pursuing the Kingdom, but that we should be free to go above and beyond our needs to do all that God has called us to. For many that may not be wealth, but for others it may be starting a successful business or becoming a highly paid physician.

 

The thought that we should avoid material things is rooted in a concept called Dualism. Dualism says that that which is spiritual is good but what is material is bad (also known as Asceticism). It doesn’t allow room for material things to be good as well.

 

Of course, when God created everything He called it all good, so we shouldn’t think that anything God has provided is inherently bad.

 

1 Timothy 6:9-10 says “But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation and a snare, and into many foolish and harmful lusts which drown men in destruction and perdition. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil, for which some have strayed from the faith in their greediness, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows.”

 

This verse is all too often misquoted as “money is the root of all evil”. Money isn’t inherently good or bad! It is just a medium of exchange and can be used for good or bad things. God wants us to rule and reign here on Earth (Genesis 1:28), which means we need to have Godly control of our money.

 

What Paul is warning Timothy is that people shouldn’t pursue riches because they love money. If we pursue the Kingdom and God provides wealth so that we can give generously and do Kingdom work, we must not shy away from that.

 

Martin Luther said “If silver and gold are things evil in themselves, then those who keep away from them deserve to be praised.  But if they are good creatures of God, which we can use both for the needs of our neighbor and for the glory of God, is not a person silly, yes, even unthankful to God, if he refrains from them as if they were evil?

 

Be careful not to avoid money because you think it evil!

“But the Apostles were Poor!”

A common support for the Poverty Gospel is that the Apostles were poor. After all, if the very men who walked with Jesus didn’t live in wealth and riches, isn’t that the perfect model for us to follow?

 

While it is true that they were likely not made rich for their ministry, but it doesn’t mean that they lived in poverty or that everyone is to just have enough.

 

Paul wrote to the Philippian church and thanked them for their offerings as he closed the epistle in Chapter 4. In this, he noted that he had a time of need but now had abundance, thanks to their gifts.

 

From this we can note two important things. First, the apostles may not have always been poor. Paul had his own business (tent maker) and others owned homes and businesses. More importantly, when they had need, God provided! Paul even says that he had more than enough.

 

Secondly, the people in the Church at Philippi had enough to give as Paul had need. If all had been poor, then who would have supplied the need of those working in full-time ministry?

 

We must always be cautious when we take specific examples in the Bible and assume they apply to everyone. God has many people within the Church to serve multiple functions. Many, if not most, are called to build the Kingdom through working diligently and wisely, building wealth through Godly principles and using it generously as others have need.
God sends Poverty

1 Samuel 2:7 says that “The LORD makes poor and makes rich; he brings low and he exalts.”. Since we love to focus on one half of a single verse, many have taken this to mean that we may be in poverty because God wills it.

 

Of course, when we read Verse 8 we see a focus on Him bringing us out of poverty!

He raises up the poor from the dust; he lifts the needy from the ash heap to make them sit with princes and inherit a seat of honor. For the pillars of the earth are the LORD’s, and on them he has set the world.

Is it possible that Verse 7 is just a sequence? That God brings people low in order to prepare them for being exalted? It seems obvious in 8 that His intent is to lift up the poor and give them power and honor. God owns it all and He controls the world. It doesn’t seem that this God of abundance delights in leaving the poor in poverty “just because”.

In the book of Daniel, we see a story where King Nebuchadnezzar is reduced to living as an animal for 7 years. God humbled him by giving him the mind of an animal and stripping him of all he had. However, God didn’t leave him that way. Let’s look at Nebuchadnezzar’s own testimony in Daniel 4:34-37:

At the end of that time I, Nebuchadnezzar, looked up toward heaven. My mind became clear again. Then I praised the Most High God. I gave honor and glory to the One who lives forever. His rule will last forever. His kingdom will never end. He considers all of the nations on earth to be nothing. He does as He pleases with the powers of heaven. He does what He wants with the nations of the earth. No one can hold His hand back. No one can say to Him, “What have you done?”

My honor and glory were returned to me when my mind became clear again. The glory of my kingdom was given back to me. My advisers and nobles came to me. And I was put back on my throne. I became even greater than I had been before. 

Now I, Nebuchadnezzar, give praise and honor and glory to the King of heaven. Everything he does is right. All of his ways are fair. He is able to bring down those who live proudly.

 

God didn’t just restore him, but made him greater than before! God had to humble him so that he could be used for greater works. While God may bring a person to poverty for a period, we have no reason to believe He wants to leave them there. God is always in the business of preparing people to steward more, not less.

 

God’s Promises are just for Heaven

Timing is perhaps the most difficult aspect of God’s reward and blessings to understand. Assuming you have agreed that God is not a sadistic father who wants to leave us in poverty to draw closer to Him, you may still have questions if the reward, honor, and wealth He promises are for this life or the next. It’s a very fair, albeit difficult, question.

 

The story of the rich ruler in Mark 10 ends with Jesus giving the famous 100-fold statement.

“Truly I tell you,” said Jesus, “no one who has left home or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields for My sake and for the gospel will fail to receive a hundredfold in the present age—houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and fields, along with persecutions—and to receive eternal life in the age to come. But many who are first will be last, and the last will be first.”

 

While this is often maligned by the Prosperity Gospel to encourage a give to get equation, there is no getting around the fact that God replied to Peter’s statement that “We’ve given everything to follow you!” with this statement. It is almost as if He encouraged Him that His sacrifice would not be in vain. That he would receive back whatever he had given up, albeit with persecution.

 

Looking at the rest of the life of Peter, it appears this was true! He was surrounded by new family as the church grew. He had no shortage of resources as He did the work of the ministry. Yet, he was persecuted for this blessing and ultimately martyred for his faith.

 

God’s blessings are for now, but they aren’t always what we expect. Could it sometimes be finances? Absolutely. Is it always? No! Sometimes the reward for financial giving may come in a non-monetary way. Yet, it is clear that the reward is for here and Heaven. A poverty mentality assumes that all rewards are for later, while a prosperity mentality (an unhealthy one) assumes that we can give money now and get more money later, usually for our own benefit.

 

Signs you may have a Spirit of Poverty

If you still haven’t identified yourself with any of the above characteristics of a poverty mentality, let’s do a double check by looking at some of the outcome of a poverty spirit. If you are experiencing some or all of these, the root may be a poverty spirit.

 

Lack (of resources)

Paul said “My God shall supply all your needs” (Philippians 4:19) as he encouraged the Philippian church that their giving wouldn’t be met without reward. If you are living with an inability to meet the needs of others or accomplish the work that God has called you to, you may have a poverty spirit.

 

God does not intend that you struggle on a daily basis to meet your needs and are unable to seek His Kingdom. Whether this means working two jobs to make ends meet, not starting a ministry for fear of financial provision, or not giving generously because of fear of lack. God owns it all and His desire is to give us (in accordance with our ability) all we can handle to steward well.

 

Jealousy (of wealth)
I’ve often heard those who are in poverty due to their own sin (see the list of Proverbs from earlier) detest those who are wealthy.

 

Do you tend toward a “socialism gospel”? Did you rail against the 99% with the Occupy Wall Street movement? Did you nod in agreement when Bernie Sanders talked smack about the “millionays and billionays”?

 

If you have found yourself in this situation, you may be in poverty. Note I said “in poverty”, not “poor”! You could have little money but not be jealous of others that do and not be in poverty. However, a poverty spirit assumes that everyone who has money got it through ill-gotten means and doesn’t deserve what they have. It has seen the opposite of a “love of money” as a “hate for money and those who have it”, rather than a love for Jesus and His Kingdom.

 

Fear (of loss)
God does not want us to live in fear (Check out all these verses about fear!). Yet, many are in fear of losing their money. It doesn’t have to do with how much you have, for many who are rich and poor have this fear.

 

A while ago, I purchased a full set of Wusthof kitchen knives. These are very nice, high quality knives and one of my most valued material possessions. Part of this set includes 8 steak knives. When I first got these, my first thought was to get another, cheaper set of steak knives for everyday use. After all, I didn’t want to have these ones dulled, stained, or chipped.

My girlfriend, Emma, (wife as of March 18, 2018!!) confronted this gently by asking “Why wouldn’t you want to enjoy these every day?”. It made me realize that I have this symptom of a poverty spirit that keeps me from enjoying God’s blessings because of a fear of loss. We still take care of them, honing them often and hand washing and drying after each use, but rather than focus on a fear of loss we’re rejoicing in God’s provision every day that we use these.

 

A fear of losing our money, job, house, etc. is rooted in a failure to understand the abundance of the Kingdom. God owns it all and we are His ambassadors! We must walk in the confidence of knowing the full might and resources of the Kingdom are behind us. He has promised to meet our needs and encourages us to pursue His Kingdom. Additionally, “your” money and possessions aren’t yours anyhow, but God’s! He owns it all and even gives you the ability to make money. Why would you be afraid of losing it when He is in control?

 

Guilt (over spending)

While saving is good and Biblical, we shouldn’t be having guilt over any spending on ourselves. Of course, this could be in excess, as the Rich fool who saved for himself and wasn’t generous toward God demonstrates (see my other post on balancing saving and giving for more), but if we feel guilty every time we buy something for ourselves, we are in poverty.

Did you click on the link to the Wusthof knives in the last section and do a double take at the price? When I wrote that section, my first reaction was to explain how I bought them on Craigslist for much less than the $2,000 price they normally go for. Again, this is a symptom of a poverty spirit! When we feel the need to justify our purchases and explain to others how little we actually spent, we are not living in the freedom of God’s provision. When we feel guilt ourselves or silently judge others for spending, we likely have a poverty spirit somewhere inside us.

 

When we understand that God has provided all we have need of, we won’t be concerned about using some of those resources for our own needs and pleasure. If we do, we’re in poverty (regardless of how much money we have). We cover this more in the discipline of joy in our 3rd post of this series.

 

Joylessness (in giving)
Some give, but do so with no joy. Every dollar is done begrudgingly and with a sorrow that we are losing a part of ourselves that we can never reclaim. It is this view that the money is ours and whatever we give is less for us to meet our needs that is rooted in poverty.

 

We should have joy when we give because we know that God is using us and trusting us! He has it all anyhow and we’re just managing, so being able to give is a measure of how much ability we’ve built in the Kingdom! If we’re still struggling with giving, our ability hasn’t been fully developed. Yes, we should stretch it by giving, but more importantly we should root out a spirit of Poverty so that we are able to be cheerful givers.
What to do if you’ve believed the lie of the Poverty Gospel

If you’ve identified with any of the above, you may have a bit of poverty leaven in your heart! I know I have. The Bible says that “narrow is the road that leads to life” (Matthew 7:13-14). It is difficult to stay on a narrow road, as we tend to drift to the wide roads on either side (poverty or prosperity). If you now realize that you are on either one, here’s how to get back on the right road!

 

Repent

Acknowledge that you’ve been wrong in your thinking and simply start thinking differently. Just correct your direction. Don’t wallow in shame, but rejoice that the truth has been revealed!

 

Be Thankful

Thankfulness drives out a spirit of poverty. Be thankful for the blessings you already have and you’ll find yourself rejoicing in the prosperity provided by God’s goodness!

 

Be Generous

Generosity breeds thankfulness and builds character. Don’t start waiting to give, give now! In 2 Corinthians 8, Paul recounts how the Macedonian church gave even while they were in need. He encourages the Corinthian church to give out of their abundance so that everyone’s needs would be met. Don’t use being poor as an excuse to not be generous.

 

Live in His Presence

Psalms 16:11 says “You make known to me the path of life; you will fill me with joy in your presence, with eternal pleasures at your right hand.”. God’s presence is a wonderful thing. A transforming power. Live in His presence and you’ll find fullness of joy and pleasures. It is difficult for poverty to coexist with joy and pleasure, so seek His presence!

 

Conclusion

The poverty spirit is so dangerous because it is so subtle. So much of it appears good. Humble, not of the world, suffering for Christ, etc. Yet, when we look closer we see that God is full of riches and blessing and His Kingdom is one of abundance. While our next post will dig deeper in to the danger of seeking the provision over the Provider, don’t make the equally bad mistake of forsaking the provision from the provider!

 

Blessings,

 

Ira

 

This is the 1st of a 3-part series. Read my second post on the “Prosperity Gospel” here and third post on “The Provision Gospel” here!

How to Give Like Gates

Reading Time: 5 minutes

Imagine having access to a near limitless fortune and being tasked to dispense it for the good of humanity. Billions of dollars are at your fingertips to start universities, cure diseases, and whatever else your heart desires. Whatever you can dream can be accomplished. Sounds incredible, right?

When we think of someone with this capability, perhaps none is more prominent than Bill Gates, the founder of Microsoft who’s personally worth is nearly $90 Billion dollars. He’s pledged to give away half of this fortune and is making strides toward his goal with astounding progress.

 

But this article isn’t about Bill Gates.

 

This is about another Gates. Frederick T. Gates. A man who was perhaps the greatest philanthropist of all times and yet was nowhere near as wealthy as Bill Gates.

You see, Frederick T. Gates was the steward to John D. Rockefeller’s Standard Oil fortune.

In the early 1890’s Rockefeller had become one of the wealthiest men in the world and was feeling the strain of his fortune. He was beset by hundreds of begging letters, everyone wanting him to fund their special project. Feeling this burden, he turned to a former minister whose acquaintance he had made while considering a gift to start a Baptist seminary.

“I am in trouble, Mr. Gates. The pressure of these appeals for gifts has become too great for endurance. I haven’t the time or strength, with all my heavy business responsibilities, to deal with these demands properly. I am so constituted as to be unable to give away money with any satisfaction until I have made the most careful inquiry as to the worthiness of the cause. These investigations are now taking more of my time and energy than the Standard Oil itself.

I think you are the man. I want you to come to New York and open an office here. You can aid me in my benefactions by taking interviews and inquiries, and reporting the results for action. What do you say?” (American Heritage)

In a moment, Gates was elevated to steward of a fortune that he had not earned. For the next 30+ years he would be a pivotal figure in Rockefellers legacy. He shifted the face of a nation through systematic giving and creation of large institutions and foundations, including the University of Chicago, the Rockefeller Institute for Medical Research, the General Education Board, and the Rockefeller Foundation.

In his life, Gates oversaw the dispensing of what would be tens of billions of today’s dollars. He was also a mentor to Rockefeller Jr., who would inherit his father’s fortune and become an even greater philanthropist than Sr. himself.

 

So how are we to give like Gates?

 

The first lesson we can learn from Frederick T. Gates is how a steward must be humble. I know that I myself would struggle with the feeling that I wasn’t giving away “my” money, so it wasn’t as meaningful. After all, I want to be remembered like Rockefeller or Bill Gates, not just heard of from an obscure blog post like you likely just learned about ole’ Frederick!

As Christians, whether we’re Gates or Gates, we’re stewards of God’s resources. Psalm 24:1 says “The earth is the LORD’s, and everything in it, the world, and all who live in it;” That pretty much covers everything!

The idea that money is ours to do with as we please is not a Biblical one. God owns it all. This isn’t just the tithe, which is the first 10% that we’re asked to return to Him (Malachi 3:8), but also our offerings and every other aspect of our budget. It is all God’s and He’s entrusted it to us to steward well. This doesn’t mean we need to give it all away, but it does mean that we need to make Godly decisions with every dollar, whether spending, investing, saving, or giving.

When we realize this, we suddenly become humble about our position. Whether we’ve been entrusted with much wealth or little, we cannot boast. It is God who brings the increase (1 Corinthians 3:7) and we can’t brag any more than Frederick could brag about his wealth. While he had great power and authority as given by the one who owned the wealth, he always understood his position as a steward.

The second lesson we can learn from F. T. Gates is to steward what you have right now. Gates was a Baptist minister turned fundraiser when Rockefeller met him. The reason Rockefeller entrusted him with his fortune is because he recognized his integrity and passion. He saw a man of deep faith and conviction that matched his own and knew that he would diligently steward his fortune as if it were his own.

As believers, God is looking for the same in you. God owns it all but has chosen to co-labor with believers to use it for the good of the world. Sure, He could magically make money appear when there’s a need, but most of the time He chooses to go through Christians who understand their positions as stewards and are willing to hear God’s voice and act in obedience to it.

This leads to the third lesson we can learn from Gates. We have unlimited resources.

Most people have thought at some point of what they would do if they won the lottery and suddenly had millions of dollars at their disposal. Now they would give generously and wisely! They’d do incredible things for sure. It’s a pity that they just don’t have the resources right now….well, maybe someday, right?

I’m here to tell you that as a Christian, you DO have the resources right now! You’ve been entrusted as a steward to the riches of the Kingdom of God!

Luke 16:10 says “”Whoever can be trusted with very little can also be trusted with much, and whoever is dishonest with very little will also be dishonest with much.”. The biggest thing limiting your resources is YOU!

Now please don’t mistake what I’m saying as the “Prosperity Gospel”, which preaches that you should give to get. This is a perversion of the truth and I’ll be posting an article in March digging in to the topic in more detail. A good steward is not focused on getting more for themselves as much as they are being wise with what they have. It is only in this that they are able to handle more.

When we think that we don’t have enough to meet a need, we limit God. Imagine if the boy who gave the disciples his loaves and fishes had said “No” because he didn’t imagine it was enough to feed 5,000+ people. What an opportunity he’d have missed to be part of a miracle! Instead, he was willing to give from what he had and an impossibly large need was met.

God is a God of multiplication. He isn’t limited by our resources, but by the lack of understanding most Christians have of their position as Kingdom stewards. I’m not saying that you should give on a credit card with no plan to repay (that would go against all the Bible says about debt!), but you must learn to hear the voice of God and respond to needs with what you have now before He’ll be able to break it and use it.

We must learn to function as stewards of a great fortune. Rather than living in poverty, thinking we must hoard and guard what we have while we slowly accumulate more, we must learn to think like Frederick T. Gates must have thought. Free from the fear of lack and focused on being in tune with the owner’s heart. Giving generously and wisely and seeking an eternal impact while focusing on the here and now.

What’s even more, we are not only stewards, but sons and daughters of the King. We have the full resources of the Kingdom of God at our disposal and are tasked with using them to destroy the works of Satan. Focus on this and suddenly you’ll never find a need you can’t meet!

 

And that is how you give like Gates.

 

Should Christians Buy Bitcoin?

Bitcoin and Christians
Reading Time: 8 minutes

While I titled this article “Should Christians Buy Bitcoin?”, the fundamentals we’ll discuss will apply to other cryptocurrencies (Litecoin, Ethereum, Monero, etc.) as well as high risk/high return, volatile, and speculative investments in general.

Also, I realize there is a movement afoot that suspects cryptocurrencies are somehow part of the end-times “one world currency” or “mark of the beast”. I am not covering this theory as to a reason Christians should or shouldn’t buy Bitcoin, but focusing on the question of how a good Christian financial steward deals with high-risk and/or speculative investments.

Background
For those who haven’t read up on the recent news of Bitcoin, let’s give a brief overview to begin. Bitcoin is the largest of a slew of digital cryptocurrencies that have been created in the last several years. They exist purely in the digital realm, with no tangible “coin” that you can hold.

However, they do hold characteristics similar to other currencies, such as gold and silver. By design, there are limited amounts of any given cryptocurrency. This makes them a limited resource. In the case of Bitcoin, there will never be more than 21 Million created and in circulation.

All currency is just a medium of exchange that represents value of some other asset. The concept of currency itself goes back to ancient times and is affirmed in scripture. In Deuteronomy 14:24-26 we see the Israelites instructed to sell their tithe (10% of their increase) in exchange for Silver if the place they must go to give their tithe is too far away. Normally, they would bring their actual goods (grain, cattle, wine, etc.) for the tithe, but since it is difficult to transport these a long way, they were allowed to use currency (silver) for their tithe.

Just as Silver represents the value of something else and is in limited supply, making it easy to value, cryptocurrency is the same in the digital realm. Given the way the “blockchain” works, there is continual redundancy and security to ensure each cryptocurrency is only able to used once for a given transaction, making it secure and scalable.

When Bitcoin was first created in 2009, it was worth pennies for each unit (a single Bitcoin). Over time it started to gain ground, reaching over a thousand dollars through the 2014 timeframe before dropping back for a period. 2017 proved to be the year of Bitcoin, however, with rapid growth starting in the Summer and peaking (so far) with gains of over 50% in a single week in early-December (the time of this writing). It peaked at nearly $20k per Bitcoin before dropping back to around $15-16k as of 12/10/2017. Below is a chart of the performance since inception from Bitcoin.com.

Bitcoin Chart Christian

This rapid growth has made some who invested a few thousand dollars early on into millionaires. Many have seen smaller returns and the Winklevoss Twins became the first Bitcoin Billionaires off of their initial $11M investments.

There are few examples of investments that have yielded such incredible returns in such a short period for so many. Much of the recent spike in growth is likely due to “FOMO” (Fear of Missing Out) causing everyone and their brother to buy in. Of course, this has fueled speculation that Bitcoin is just a bubble, as there is no inherent value behind it (like a company). It is only valuable as a currency.

Speculation
Given the volatility and speculative nature of cryptocurrencies, many have wise investors have advised again allocating any of your portfolio to this “scheme”. Rather, they say, stick with proven investments (index funds, real estate, etc.) that will grow slow and steady over time.

This “tortoise and hare” strategy has backing in Scripture. Proverbs 21:5 says “Steady plodding brings prosperity; hasty speculation brings poverty.”. Sounds pretty simple! Open and shut case that Christians shouldn’t invest in speculative, risky ventures, right?

Not so fast…

In the Parable of the Talents (Matthew 25:14-30) and the Parable of the Minas (Luke 19:11-27) we see common themes regarding Christian investing.

The Master (God) has given the servants (Christians) stewardship over some of His possessions and asked them to put it to work for Him. In both stories, some invested well and earned praise and reward. However, one did not and laid away the money in savings (no interest or return at all). This was the servant who was chastised and the little money he had was given to the servant who had invested best.

Here’s a few principles we can learn from these parables:

  • Investment Requires Risk
    If there wasn’t an element of risk with the investment options, the servant who buried his money wouldn’t have been so afraid to invest. He was afraid to lose the money so he chose to save it without yielding any return. The other servants were ok with taking some risk in whatever ventures they put the money to or else they wouldn’t have earned returns!
  • High Returns Require Greater Risk
    It is a proven fact that higher risk yields greater returns. We can see this in something as simple as interest rates in lending. Someone with poor credit (higher risk) has to pay higher interest (higher return for lender). This is because some of the loans the lender makes won’t get paid back at all. There is risk of losing a lot on some, so others must make a higher return in order to compensate for that risk. The lenders average return is not the interest rate that all of these poor credit borrowers is paying because they must also factor in their losses on the defaulting loans as part of the equation.
    Given the great returns the servants achieved for their master, they must have taken some risks! Perhaps they started new businesses, made high risk loans, or traded futures contracts on grain prices. Surely some of those failed, but the overall return was strong as they weren’t afraid to try.
  • Speculation for one may be Investment for Another
    The Bible says in the Parable of the Talents that “each was given in accordance with his ability” (contrast the Parable of the Minas where each was given the same amount). Part of this ability was likely their skill in investing. Perhaps one of them was a skilled vintner (wine maker). Maybe he went out and bought the best plots of land he could find for vineyards in the choicest regions and then proceeded to interview and hire the best vineyard managers out there. Because he knew what to look for, his vineyards were incredibly successful!Now what if another servant, who was perhaps a great shepherd and knew all about selective breeding to get the best flocks, tried to do the same vineyard strategy? He didn’t know much about wine so if he went out and bought vineyards his chances of success would be much less! What was a wise investment for the vintner would be speculation for the shepherd.

Bringing the above back to Bitcoin, we can learn a few things.

First, just because an investment is risky doesn’t immediately disqualify, but qualifies, it! However, it must have potential returns that are proportionate to that risk. If we take a high-risk investment that doesn’t have the potential for high returns, we’re not being good stewards.

Second, investing in Bitcoin may be speculation for one and not for another. Most of the people who bought Bitcoin in the last week have no idea what the underlying technology is, what technical indicators show, or what the valuation models predict. They haven’t read up on the tulip mania and are jumping in purely on hopes that it will keep climbing like it has. These are speculators, not investors.

Contrast this with someone who has studied all of the above points and is making a conscious and deliberate investment. True that no one knows the future for sure, but they have limited their risk since they’ve thoroughly researched the investment. This is wise stewardship and should apply to everything we allocate our money to.

If we don’t know everything ourselves, we should have experts help us. This was largely what the Master was doing in the parables. Likely he wasn’t a better investor in each respective investment than all of his servants. He gave them according to their ability so they could work in that function. I use this strategy by using a fee only Financial Advisor that helps me allocate my portfolio to various investments. He does this full-time and I don’t. Listening to him is much wiser than me trying to become an expert in everything I invest in.

Diversification
The second point to consider with speculative, high-risk investments is diversification.

Ecclesiastes 11:2 says “Invest in seven ventures, yes, in eight; you do not know what disaster may come upon the land.”. What the writer is saying here is that we shouldn’t have “all our eggs in one basket”. It is wise to split up your investments since our ROI isn’t guaranteed.

Any good investment portfolio manages risk by diversifying to different assets. Some allocations may be deliberately counter to one another, meaning that one is expected to go up if another goes down…of course, this means one will always be losing if the other is winning, but it ensures there is protection in either direction. This lowers overall return, but does so while reducing risk even more so. The key to investing isn’t just getting the best return, but getting the best return for a given risk.

So how do we apply this to Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies?

If you are looking to “get rich quick” and throw 80% of your net worth in to a high-risk investment, you aren’t investing…but gambling. This is foolish and should not be done by a Christian steward. Even if you are successful, you have likely skipped over the character development to handle wealth that God builds over time and will not be successful managing your quickly gotten wealth.

However, it is wise to have some high-risk, high-return assets in your portfolio.

I personally decided to allocate about 1% of my net-worth to a mix of cryptocurrency this past Summer and have seen good very good returns. Because of the rapid growth, this investment now accounts for about 5% of my overall net worth (the rest is a mix of cash, stocks, bonds, real estate, alternative investments, metals, etc.). If crypto continues to grow, I will likely sell some and reallocate it so I don’t get more than 5-7% of my overall net worth in this volatile investment. The rapid 500% returns on my 1% helps offset other investments that are lower return and lower risk. They provide a stable base to allow more speculative ventures. However, if I had lost (or lose!) some or all of the 1%, it won’t have a devastating effect on my portfolio or overall returns.

For someone who is more skilled in crypto, this allocation may be higher (due to their knowledge/ability lowering the risk). However, I would still be hesitant to recommend anyone go over 10-20% total portfolio value due to the inherent unproven nature of this new asset class.

Conversely, someone who has very little understanding of cryptocurrency or needs a lower overall risk profile (nearing retirement, has little savings, etc.), 5-7% may be too much. 1-3% of their portfolio is likely more responsible in this type of investment.

Taking this to the extreme, I’d even say it isn’t inherently wrong for a Christian to buy a lottery ticket! Now I know this is controversial, but I want to reinforce my point above. The lottery is a ridiculously high-risk, high-return investment. Your chances of winning a big jackpot might be one in 300+ Million. However, the potential return is also there! You might win $200M on a $2 “investment”!

So how does this play out? If a Christian were to be making $100k a year and investing 15% ($15k) in long term investments, but decided that half of that ($7k) was going to be used to buy Powerball tickets, they’d be very foolish and a poor steward! However, if they decided to allocate $2 a week ($104 a year, or 0.0066667% of their portfolio, to lotto tickets, it wouldn’t be wrong. The impact on their overall return would be negligible, but there is also an opportunity for them to see an incredible return, greatly increasing their overall portfolio’s return in ways it never could otherwise. This is the extreme, but demonstrates the point well.

Conclusion
Investing in high-risk, volatile, and even speculative investments like Bitcoin isn’t fundamentally wrong for Christians. However, it must be done with the above factors in mind. Only do so if you have a level of understanding that limits the speculative nature of the investment and only allocate a portion of your portfolio that is appropriate for your risk profile. Apply this to all of your investments decisions and you’ll be well on your way to becoming a “10 talent servant”!

Blessings,

Ira

Balancing Giving and Saving: A Biblical Rule of Thumb

Giving vs Savings
Reading Time: 7 minutes

Today we are exploring a question that I often get asked (or ask myself) from those who have a heart for Biblical Stewardship.

“How do I balance giving/generosity with saving/retirement?”

It is a difficult question, but an honorable one. In the Parable of the Talents (Matthew 25), we see that each servant was given “in accordance with his ability). I once wrote on how this ability was perhaps largely a measure of their faith, but I have little doubt that even the “5 talent servant” still had to wrestle with questions of what to do with the resources entrusted to him. The balance of giving vs. saving is one that all Christians will eventually have ponder.

This article is not for those who at the beginning of their financial stewardship journey. This is for the “5 talent servants” who have moved beyond the basics and are exploring deep, hard questions about the balance between generosity and saving. If you are following Dave Ramsey’s Baby Steps, you will find the most value here if you are already at Baby Step 4, “Invest 15% of Household Income Into Retirement” or above.

A note to those just starting out in stewardship

Having said that, if you are earlier in your journey, I’ll give a couple quick pointers to help you out. Often people ask if they should tithe while still paying down debt or trying to build up savings. In these cases, I usually encourage people to begin tithing right away, but don’t give above the tithe till they get the rest of their financial house in order. The tithe is God’s money and you are not giving, but returning it to Him. Always tithe with no exceptions.

Giving above the Tithe are free-will offerings. While these are great and I would encourage you to hear the Holy Spirit on His urging for you to give, generosity must always be coupled with stewardship. Scripture speaks about Debt and Savings so we must ensure we have those in a Biblical position before we give above the tithe. Pay off your non-mortgage debt first, then build your emergency fund (3-6 mo living expenses), then build up your retirement to 10%, and then increase giving and savings. There are sometimes exceptions (I always encourage people to contribute up to their employer 401k match right away, as that is “free money”), but these are good principles to follow. Read the rest of this article once you’ve arrived to this point!

Back to you 5 talent servants!

Now back to those who are already tithing, have paid off their debt (aside from mortgage), have a 3-6mo emergency fund, and are investing at least 10% in to their long-term retirement savings. Congratulations! You are in an excellent position. God has blessed you as you’ve followed many of His principles of stewardship.

….but now you are struggling to know what to do next. Perhaps you’ve asked these questions:

  • “Should I give more money or save more for retirement?”
  • “Should I decrease my retirement savings to give more generously?”
  • “Should I pay more down on the house (or toward a down payment), give more, or invest more?”
  • “I want to be generous, but is it better to give now or give later once I’ve invested the money and its grown?”

These are hard questions! I recently re-read Randy Alcorn’s book “Money, Possessions, and Eternity” and found that even he spoke to the struggle and “tension” found in these questions. While it was discussed at length, I feel this is one weak area of an otherwise excellent book as he never really gives a good answer.

My intent is to give one answer to these questions. It may not always the best answer for everyone and I’m not saying it is the only Biblical truth, but it has helped me to strike a balance in my own giving vs. savings.

One of the primary verses in the Bible regarding Retirement savings is the Parable of the Rich Fool, found in Luke 12:13-21. Here’s the story:

16 And he told them this parable: “The ground of a certain rich man yielded an abundant harvest. 17 He thought to himself, ‘What shall I do? I have no place to store my crops.’

18 “Then he said, ‘This is what I’ll do. I will tear down my barns and build bigger ones, and there I will store my surplus grain. 19 And I’ll say to myself, “You have plenty of grain laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry.”’

20 “But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?’

21 “This is how it will be with whoever stores up things for themselves but is not rich toward God.”

Many have found fear of saving for retirement in this story, even to the point of some discouraging any long-term savings. Often they’ll couple this with verses on the difficulty of a rich man entering heaven (Matthew 19:24) in the story of the rich young ruler. I don’t believe this is the intent of the parable at all.

What I believe is one of the key verses here is v. 21 where Jesus qualifies the story with “whoever stores up things for themselves but is not rich toward God”.

The Bible talks much about the value of saving and investing. Proverbs Chapter 6 speaks of the ant that stores up in Summer for the Winter months. Ecclesiastes 11:12 encourages us to divide our investments to 7 or 8 portions for we “know not what disaster may happen on the earth”. God is not against savings! Savings are one way that God provides for our needs. When he blesses us abundantly it is wise to use that surplus to prepare for years of less, just as Joseph did in Egypt. There is no less faith in God to live off of savings that He provided and we wisely stored up than being broke and relying on Him to provide for us!

Ok, now that we (hopefully!) agree savings is good and Biblical, how do we not become the Rich Fool with our retirement savings?

The key is to be rich toward God.

The rich man was a fool because he saved without being generous. We have no indication from the parable that he increased his giving in proportion to his increased savings. This isn’t what we want to do!

What I’ve found as a balance to this struggle is this simple rule of thumb.

Give as much money each year as you invest in long-term retirement savings.

 

At a basic level, you should be giving the tithe (10%) and investing 10% for long-term savings. As your resources allow you to go above that, I would encourage you to increase both at equal rates. If you have an extra 10% in your monthly budget beyond your other needs (spending, medium-term saving, etc.), rather than increasing your retirement savings to 20% and keeping your giving at 10%, increase both to 15%.

Now what about other questions such as paying down the house early or increasing lifestyle spending? Perhaps you are even thinking about cutting some lifestyle spending to free up more for investing/giving.

You’ll still need to ask those questions. I’d encourage you to prioritize this way:

  1. Determine your monthly spending and medium-term savings with a solid annual budget (2-5 year expenses, like cars, appliances, etc.).
  2. Set a retirement goal and target % to reach this (likely 10-20% of income, depending on your current savings and age). Use a retirement calculator to help with this.
  3. Set both your giving and retirement savings to the above percentage
  4. Revisit your monthly budget (Step 1) and allocate at any more “excess”. Pray about increasing lifestyle spending, paying down the house early, or continuing to increase giving or giving/retirement together. At this point I don’t think you can really go wrong with any of those and have freedom to move as the Spirit leads.

What if you find you don’t have enough in your budget to meet your retirement goal and also give the same amount? For example, let’s say 15% is your retirement goal but if you do that you can only do 10% in your giving. In this case I would still encourage you to do equal percentages and make both 12.5%.

While it may appear this isn’t wise as it doesn’t allow you to meet your retirement goal, I wouldn’t want to be in a place where I am being rich toward myself and not toward God. We don’t know what the future holds so we should be generous with what God has entrusted us today and not put it off for the future. There is an element of faith here, but I believe God will reward your heart and provide for your future, either by providing later or by increasing your resources now to allow you to increase both to 15%.

I have found much freedom in this approach as God has blessed me to be able to give above and beyond the tithe. This year I was able to give 20% of my income and invest another 20% toward long-term savings. In the coming years, I may decide to lower these down to 15% and 15%, as 15% would still be enough for my retirement goals and the 10% it would free up could be used toward another big goal (paying cash for my next home). Eventually I hope that I have more than enough going toward retirement to meet my retirement goal and would begin increasing giving above the percent going toward retirement.

Again, I understand that many are a long way off from asking this question. I always want to be sensitive to those who are still at the beginning stages of their journey. If you are one of those, look to this as an encouraging goal and not a discouraging challenge!

However, for those that have been given much, much is required (Luke 12:48). As you move up the ranks of your stewardship responsibility and God continues to bless you, you need to challenge yourself to learn more and steward these greater resources. Otherwise you will eventually stagnate in your growth.

God owns everything and He is looking for people who have grown in their ability so they can manage these great resources for the Kingdom. Ask these hard questions and pray about the answers. God cares about your Finances! They are powerful in directing your heart toward or away from God. Make sure you are always being rich toward Him and not just yourself and you’ll find that you won’t fall in to the trap of becoming rich and no longer relying on God, as Solomon lamented in Proverbs 30:9.

There is much more I would love to write on this, but we’re already at nearly 2,000 words so those will wait for another day! Be sure to subscribe for my email updates below and I’ll notify you when I post new content on questions such as “Is Retirement Biblical?”, “Is God Against Wealth?”, and more!

Blessings,

Ira

5 Character Traits Every Millennial Leader Must Learn

Reading Time: 10 minutes

Millennials, those born from the early 80’s to mid-90’s, are one of the largest demographics alive today. Their impact on business, culture, and economy will be profound, as shown by a few statistics provided by Brookings:

  • Millennials will comprise more than one in three of adult Americans by 2020.
  • Millennials will make up as much as 75% of the U.S. workforce by 2025.

With such a large generation taking center stage in America’s history, it begs the question of what character traits will be essential in Millennial leaders.

Every generation has had their leaders.

Our nation’s founding was birthed through the leadership of a relatively small group of extraordinary leaders. Men and women of gifted minds and deep resolve.

Our nation’s growth was piloted by another group of visionary leaders that harnessed the power of our rich heritage and resources to create a powerhouse of influence. Men and women of boundless optimism and relentless energy.

Our nation’s survival was protected by leaders who refused to let fascist and communist ideals subvert what those before them had created. Men and women of fierce determination and selfless sacrifice.

The generation that led us through the first half of the 20th century is all but gone. The second half of the century already showed the weakening of their influence, as leadership was replaced with conformity and chaos. We entered the age of the Millennial with more questions than answers and gave birth to a generation not only responsible for their own leadership, but having little inheritance in that respect.

Despite these easily spotted trends, little focus seems to be given to Millennials’ leadership development. According to a 2016 Forbes article by Karen Higginbottom:

The study found that just 20% of organizations identified the Millennial leader segment as critical for development over the next 24 months. Neither are organizations invested in coaching and mentoring of Millennial leaders. Millennial leaders crave advice particularly from senior leadership yet on average, just 7% of organizations invested in offering Millennial coaching, mentoring and dedicated time with their chief executive and other senior leaders.”

The discrepancy between the need and the action is glaring and alarming. We must learn how to develop young people in to leaders if our economy and culture are to survive.

My intent in writing this article is to not leave the earlier question of what traits are essential to Millennial leaders, but rather to help shape the answer with Godly Wisdom. My hope and prayer is that aspiring leaders in my generation will read this, adopt these principles, and rise above the weakness surrounding them to develop in to leaders the generations to come will be proud and thankful to have had before them.

So, without further prelude, let’s discuss 5 leadership traits that any Millennial aspiring to leadership must learn, embrace, and practice.

  1. Perseverance
    By definition, a millennial is someone in their 20’s or early-30’s (as of the time of this writing in 2017). This means that they are early in life and have many years ahead in order to achieve the level of success they envision. This is something common to all young people throughout the ages and can be frustrating to those with big dreams and boundless ambition.While we’ll discuss the importance of Patience as our 5th attribute, I now want to emphasize the importance of Perseverance in a young leader’s life. None of the rest of this article will be of any good if one does not apply each trait with consistent perseverance.Hebrews 11 is known as the “Hall of Faith” chapter in the Bible and talks about the legacy of generations past created by their strong faith and hope. In Hebrews 12, the author continues with:

    “Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, (2) fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. (3) Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.” – Hebrews 12:1-3

    This is a powerful image of the motivating impact of a “great cloud of witnesses”, the leaders of past generations, watching and cheering as we run the race. Even more importantly, we have the picture of Jesus before us, encouraging us to run the race that He charted for us and giving us the power to do so through His own journey and resulting Grace.

    A race by definition will be hard. It is important that in all we endeavor, we do “not grow weary in doing good” (Galatians 6:9) but persevere in the calling we have before us.

    As we run this race, we are expected to grow in maturity and wisdom. This is not a factor of age, but a result of deliberate discipleship under Godly authority.  In Ephesians 4, beginning in v. 9, Paul speaks about the “fivefold ministry” and its place in growing the church. He wraps up with a vision of the end result:

    “Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of people in their deceitful scheming.” – Ephesians 4:14

    This result of mature confidence, rooted in strong doctrine and sound in faith, is not the byproduct of age but of discipleship. Millennials, being young, should not wait for age to bring wisdom. They must place themselves under Godly authority in order to grow in wisdom. This concept may seem too “Christian-eze” for my secular readers, but it is not unlike good mentorship or simply honoring and respecting the authority (bosses, parents, etc.) that are currently in your life.

    The road to leadership is long. Leadership is not something given, but earned. Anything of value that is earned takes time to cultivate. Walking with perseverance is critical to achieving greatness.

  2. Humbleness
    As Millennials are young, they are beset by a plague common to many youth; Pride. Granted, this does not magically disappear with age, but life has a way of humbling most. Rather than waiting for life to knock down one’s pride, the wise pursue Wisdom and learn humbleness before their fall. George Washington, perhaps the most impactful and remembered of the Founding Fathers, was a young man during his first opportunities for greatness.In Ron Chernow’s biography, Washington: A Life, we find a story of a young man riddled with insecurity and anxious about his future. During his time as an American officer in the French and Indian war, Washington was constant in his griping of not getting the recognition he deserved. He constantly angled for honor and sought a commission he felt worthy of at every opportunity.This picture is surely not one we have come to know of the composed Washington in later life. His pursuit of recognition is likely attributed to the deep insecurities and unbounded ambition often found in those of their early-20’s. Thankfully, in time he shed much of this and became servant to greater causes than his own, allowing him to walk fully in his calling.

    The best leaders are those who are not pursuing leadership itself, but service. I wrote about this last year and still feel strongly that it is one of the defining characteristics of great leaders and those who only see leadership as a path to more.

    Leadership is rare and, therefore, valuable. It is easy to conflate the results of strong leadership (position, authority, money, power, etc.) with leadership itself. Many young people find themselves in the position of thinking they are noble in pursuing leadership, when they are really only pursuing its benefits.

    Being CEO of your own tech startup is not leadership in and of itself. Having 100k Twitter followers isn’t leadership either. Those that pursue these are the definition of irony as they are often doing so in pride or misplaced ambition, thinking they are leaders when they lack true leadership’s most important attribute; humble service.

    Romans 12:3 says “For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the faith God has distributed to each of you.”.

    Each of us is simply a member of the body, called to run the particular race that God has set before us. Internalizing this truth will breed great humbleness, which allows God to exalt a leader and use them in ways we could never imagine or achieve on our own.

  3. Resolution
    Humbleness is a critical characteristic of a leader, but it must not be confused with frailty. A leader must be just as confident in what they know as they are aware of what they don’t.  Asking questions is good, but it isn’t an end to itself.Rob Bell, in his book “Velvet Elvis”, opened himself up to asking many questions. It could even be said that his doctrine became founded on not having a doctrine, for who are we to ever stop questioning?When I first read Bell in college, I detected the danger of his questioning. There was no leadership here. He stopped short of throwing away fundamental doctrines, but opened himself up to asking if they were important. Years later, in his book “Love Wins”, Bell showed the dangerous progression of this lack of resolution through his rejection of the fundamental nature of God’s justice. He essentially became a heretic because he refused to have resolve of belief.A leader must ask questions with the intent to obtain answers. Once those answers are achieved, they must be held to confidently. This resolution is like a lighthouse light cutting through the dark confusion and chaos of a questioning generation and giving clear guidance and protection. Those who are able to stand confident in their belief will be elevated in leadership, regardless of whether that belief is right or wrong.

    Unfortunately, the Millennial generation is often told not to have strongly held beliefs because of their youth. Perhaps it is intimidating to see people walk in confidence. Perhaps conviction is automatically equated with pride. Perhaps it is a byproduct of the death of truth and reason. Regardless, resolution is punished in the younger generations.

    Thankfully this is not a new phenomenon and we see it addressed in two places within Scripture. In Paul’s letters to both Timothy (1 Timothy 4:11-12) and Titus (Titus 2:15), we see him instruct them to let no one “despise their youth” but to be examples and walk in authority. Teaching, exhorting, rebuking. Steadfast in deep resolution of what they know and the gifts that had been given them, by God and through His appointed authority. This function was even extended to those that were older than them in years, but younger in the faith. As each member of the body is there to serve one another, God is no respecter of age.

    This true resolution is also accompanied by quiet confidence. In Matthew 5:33, Jesus teaches on oaths, or vows, and reminds us to avoid them but answer with simple confidence of a “Yes” or “No” (v. 37). This carries with it an air of perseverance, in that we do not walk in questions and doubt, but with a quiet confidence that is spoken for with a simple Yes or No, and no more. This should be the habit of a confident and resolved leader.

    Let no one despise your youth. Be humble, but also be confident. Speak clearly and succinctly. Walk in authority, study well, live a Godly life, and don’t waver from the truth you know.

  4. Focus
    In a recent sermon by Bill Johnson of Bethel church, he expounded upon a particular verse in the Parable of the Sower, found in Luke 8. The focus was on the impact that “cares” can have on allowing the Word of God (the seeds) to grow in a Christian’s life. These cares are not sin, but other voices than God’s that drown out His voice. Cares literally means a “divided mind”.Johnson encourages us to have our eyes be “single”, as spoken of in Matthew 6:22. This idea of “single” conveys being of undivided mind. Complete focus on Christ and His Kingdom.The millennial generation is one of the most distracted to ever walk the face of the earth. The barrage of messages created by the explosion of internet and social media has made for tattered minds, hopelessly divided in their attention and pursuits. How many of this generation have been diagnosed with ADD or ADHD? One has to ask if this is merely the symptom of a divided mind.In order to achieve anything of significance, focus on that thing must be complete. In the case of the Christian, we are told to be 100% focused on Christ and His Kingdom. We are to seek it first, trusting that everything else will be provided as we have need (Matthew 6:33).

    The difficulty most of us have is knowing what His Kingdom looks like for us. If it were a standard path, even a difficult one, at least we could make a clear decision on whether or not we’d take the journey. Unfortunately, as we are members of the body each designed to fulfill a particular function, our pursuit of His Kingdom will be different for each. Some it may be teaching and others doing. Some may be full-time ministry while others full-time business.

    The key is hearing His voice. Our single-minded pursuit should be simply hearing His voice, believing what He says, and acting in obedience.

    Once we listen for His voice, our focus must be undivided to believe and obey it. We must not allow the cares of the world to overwhelm the power of His voice, but run with perseverance the race ahead of us. We must “write the vision and make it plain” (Habakkuk 2:2) and remind ourselves daily of what our purpose is.

    We must also hearken back to our Resolution and be immune to meaningless things that carry a resemblance of importance. Again, Paul warned both Timothy and Titus of this (1 Timothy 6:20 and Titus 3:9-11) in encouraging them not to be distracted by “chatter” and “foolish controversies”.

    As a younger man, I often feel prey to this and would gladly argue with anyone on fine points of doctrine. Through my 20’s I matured, but this is still something I must constantly remind myself not to fall into. I encourage you to do the same.

    Be focused and do not get distracted by idle people and their many words. Do not let the cares of life divide your mind. Cut out the clutter and focus 100% on His voice.

  5. Patience
    As we discussed earlier on our section regarding Perseverance, young people usually have the challenge of being far away from their fulfilled destiny. Due to the length of this journey, they must walk out all of the above with Patience.While delayed gratification is something that every generation has had to deal with, few have become so accustomed to instant gratification. Millennials have grown up in an on-demand economy, with everything from information to credit readily available. They expect to have success not just later, but now. This trend is likely to blame for everything from the explosion of consumer debt to the lack of company loyalty among our generation.If you’ve made it this far in this article, you are someone who aspires to leadership and has great ambition. I speak from personal experience that balancing strong ambition with patience is not an easy thing. It is easy to become anxious as we wait for God to lead us in to our destiny. It was out of this angst that I wrote on “Finding Your Donkeys” a short while ago. If you’d like further encouragement and direction on this topic, I encourage you to check it out.

    Paul again addresses this as he encourages Timothy in his final words of his first letter to not be drawn away by a pursuit of financial gain. Rather, in Chapter 6, verse 6, he says “But godliness with contentment is great gain.”

    Being patient requires contentment in our present state, whatever it may be. We must not pursue the benefits of leadership (in this case, money) if we are to become good leaders. Rather, we must be 100% content with God’s provision. This alone will allow Him to work with us, as a potter molds the clay, to create a perfect vessel for whatever use He sees fit (Jeremiah 18). This may not be “leadership” as you imagine, but it will be exactly where you are supposed to be and position you as the greatest of leaders in His Kingdom.

While I have concern about the broader trends among the Millennial demographic, I am encouraged in knowing that leadership has always been rare. While the culture of the masses has a strong force in determining the direction of a Nation, this culture is not the limiting factor in producing leaders. Leaders by definition are counter-cultural. They must stand above and out front. It does not take a great many leaders to influence change, but a few great leaders to cause great change.

Will you rise up to become a leader within your generation? If this is your aspiration, I encourage you to prayerfully evaluate where you are with each of these 5 character traits and seek to grow in each as you walk out your destiny. The stakes are too high not to.

Blessing,

Ira

Find Your Donkeys

Reading Time: 6 minutes

If you care at all about finding your “call” or “destiny”, you need to read this. Finding your donkeys may be the single most powerful thing you can do right now to achieve your specific, God ordained calling.

At some point, to some extent, you have likely worried that you are going to “miss it”. Somehow you’ll take a wrong step and not end up where you were supposed to. It is a scary thought. You only have one life, and to waste it because of a few wrong turns is an overwhelming thought. Whether you are making decisions about a professional career, education, ministry, or just life in general, all of us have to figure out what God wants us to do.

I’ve often been faced with this fear. One of my top five strengths is being “Futuristic”. I can rarely go for more than a few minutes without thinking about the future. It is difficult to live in the moment when I am so focused on what’s ahead. This is a blessing and a curse. Strong vision is an asset when it comes to strategy and planning, but a liability when it comes to focusing on what is given today. Combine this futuristic mentality with a dream and drive to achieve great things and the worry of somehow missing “it” can become near debilitating at times.

Thankfully, God showed me this truth that helped put my anxious heart at ease.

In 1 Samuel chapters 9 and 10 we see the first story of Saul. In chapter 8 we see where Israel wanted a king so they could be like other nations and after trying to convince them otherwise, Samuel took their requests to God and He told them He’d give them a king.

While all of this was happening, Saul was not on the top of anyone’s list for greatness. Yes, he was tall and handsome, but he was from the least of the tribes, a Benjamite.

Saul was also not looking to be king. All he was seeking to do was take care of what he was given day by day. One day, that task was finding the donkeys.

Saul’s father lost some donkeys and he asked Saul to take a servant and find them. They searched for a few days and were about to give up when the servant suggested they go ask Samuel for guidance. Initially Saul didn’t want to as he didn’t have any gifts for Samuel, but the servant had some money on hand. He finally agreed to go.

Saul and Samuel had never met and yet God had told Samuel to expect Saul that very day. He even had dinner prepared for him. Samuel revealed that God wanted him to be king, anointed him with oil and laid out exactly what would happen in the coming days.

Saul did as Samuel asked, but on the day he was to be crowned before the people he chickened out. He hid but God revealed where he hid (among the supplies) and the coronation went on as planned.

There is much we can learn from this story about your destiny and I want to highlight a few of those lessons here.

  1. God Calls You to Steward Today
    When we try to achieve our destiny, whether it is God ordained or our own, we usually fail to steward what we’ve been given today. Saul was not trying to become a king. If he were, he’d be out making political connections or fighting grand battles. All he was doing was what his dad had asked him to do.Jesus says in Matthew 6:34 to “not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.”. We often think of this a way to just plod along and get by, eking the best we can out of each day till we die. In reality, this is the recipe for greatness in the Kingdom! God is looking for those that are faithful in little so He can give them much (Luke 16:10). All we should “worry” about is what we’ve been given today.Also, notice that it was Saul’s father that had asked him to go look for the donkeys. At that time in his life, his father was his authority. Sometimes we can even worry about what the right thing to do each day is. An easy answer is to look for the things the authority in your life (your boss, parents, etc.) have asked you to do and start with those. If you get outside of what they’ve asked, be very cautious!Be like Saul and don’t try to find your destiny. Just find your donkeys.
  2. God Is in Control of Your Destiny
    Saul made a couple missteps that could have easily cost him the meeting with Samuel and changed the course of his entire life. First he didn’t want to keep looking for the donkeys and wanted to head home. When his servant tried to convince him to go ask Samuel, he still didn’t want to. Lastly, he tried to hide even after God had confirmed what Samuel promised.It is pretty hard to mess up a plan that God puts in place. He will put the resources and people around you to make it happen. The servant was persistent and provisioned. God gave him exactly what he needed to make the meeting with Samuel happen. Saul couldn’t mess it up although he tried!If we read on in the story of Saul we see that eventually he allowed rebellion in to his life. He spoiled the destiny that God had placed on him not because he missed it, but because he stopped doing our first point (stewarding today). You don’t wander in to rebellion. It’s a choice.If you are focused on stewarding today, God will bring you exactly to the point He wants you. You’ll know if you mess it up.
  3. Your Destiny Doesn’t Need to be Achieved, but Received
    Proverbs 20:21 reads “An inheritance claimed too soon will not be blessed at the end”. When we go try to achieve our destiny on our own, we usually make it happen too quickly with disastrous results. This is exactly what happened when Abraham had Ishmael. Rather than waiting on God, trusting His promise, and receiving the blessing in time, Ishmael became a burden forever.Notice that God often honors the promise even when we rush ahead. If He has put skills and abilities within in you for a certain task they will manifest themselves in some form. If you do it in our own time, it is usually for bad. Perhaps you get anxious in your current job and go look for another rather than waiting for a promotion. While you may be “successful”, that rushing often leads to sorrow and difficulty along the way, rather than peace.Proverbs 10:22 reads “The blessing of the Lord brings Wealth, without painful toil for it”. I don’t know about you, but I’d much rather have wealth without painful toil! Work is great, and encouraged by God, but painful toil is something I want as little of as possible!What is another way to know that our destiny is of God and not our own doing? Destiny is almost always given by authority.

    Saul did not achieve his kingdom by force. It was given to him by Samuel. Prior to Saul, Israel was a theocracy, ruled by God and administered through prophets and judges. As such, it was God’s prophet, Samuel, that anointed Saul. It was clear that he was chosen by God and (almost) all the people saw that. He came to his destiny in peace.

    Wait on the Lord and receive your destiny rather than trying to achieve it.

  4. Your Promotion Often Comes When You Least Expect It
    The Bible is replete with stories of ordinary people that were propelled to greatness in mere moments. Gideon was hiding in a wine press threshing wheat when an Angel appears to him and told him he was going to deliver his people from the Midianites (Judges 6). Abraham was 75 years old when God told him to leave everything he knew and go start a nation (Genesis 12). Joseph was in prison one day and 2nd in command of Egypt the next (Genesis 41).God has a tendency to prepare for a long period and then promote in a short time. The difficult period is the waiting prior to the promotion.Sometimes He reveals the destiny in advance. This can be encouraging as it gives something to hold on to in the waiting, but also can make us tend to become anxious and attempt to achieve the destiny in our own time. Abraham gave up on God’s promise of a nation and had Ishmael.  Joseph almost gave up on the dream of ruling and asked the cupbearer to put in a good word for him and get him out of prison early. It is even more difficult to bear the years of waiting when you have such a clear vision of your destiny.If you are in the place of waiting, be encouraged to know that the promise of your destiny may be closer than you think. Saul went from looking for donkeys to being king in just over a week. Just because you aren’t seeing the gradual build-up that you’d expect toward success doesn’t mean that you won’t end in the same place. Hold on to hope and don’t rush. Rapid promotion often comes when you least expect it!

If you have ever been like me and felt overwhelmed with trying to achieve the call you know God has placed on your life, I hope you find rest and peace in this truth. Stop asking what next 10 steps you need to do to achieve greatness and start asking what your lost donkeys are. They are likely right in front of you and someone in authority has already ask you to go find them.

 

Go find your donkeys.

Why Diversity Matters

Reading Time: 7 minutes

Last week’s media buzz surrounding James Damore’s infamous “Google Memo” has already slipped quietly in to the background. #GoogleMemo isn’t trending anymore and we’ll soon forget who Damore was, if we ever really knew. This week brings new hashtags and the 24-hour news cycle continues.

 

In these tumultuous times, it is hard to discern who and what is right or wrong. Many well-meaning people are confused and have difficulty knowing how to act and react. I’ve waited till after the dust settled from the Google Memo before I commented because I didn’t want to add to the din, but present a clear solution for Business and Community leaders. This is what I hope I have presented here.

 

We as Americans, business leaders, corporations, communities, etc. pride ourselves on both our diversity and equality. In many ways, the words have become synonymous with one another. We have special groups and names for all the diverse people. We have laws and HR surveys, all designed to promote and encourage diversity and ensure no one is left out.

Yet, in this pursuit of perfect diversity, we have achieved the exact opposite. We have mistaken diversity for equality, and in doing so lost our ability to see the beauty of true individual diversity.

 

This is Jason Witten. He’s a tight end for the Dallas Cowboys and is 6’ 5” and a solid 260+ lbs. Jason goes to my church so I’ve passed him in the hall a few times and can attest that a guy is absolutely massive in person.

This is Simone Biles. She’s an Olympic gold medalist and is 4’ 9” and barely 100lbs. I haven’t passed her in the hall, or perhaps I have and I just missed her because she’s so tiny.

 

 

The height difference between Jason and Simone is nearly 2’. The weight difference is a factor of 2.5x. There are both tremendous athletes and yet they are completely different.

 

Now suppose Mr. Jerry Jones decided that he wanted more “diversity” on his team (not talking about race, but physical makeup). It isn’t fair that people are different. He wants to ignore those differences and not talk about them. He wants to celebrate inclusion and fairness. Equality of outcome rather than equality of opportunity. So Mr. Jones calls up Simone and says “Look, Jason’s been great but we want to have some diversity so I want you to be our new tight end. I saw what you did in Rio and I know you’re going to be incredible here in Dallas.”

 

Now Simone is a real go getter and loves Texas so she says yes. Two minutes in to the regular season the entire nation is mourning the end of her athletic career after the first snap leaves her in physical rehab for two years.

 

Now we all know what went wrong and how ridiculous this example is. It is easy to see the difference in ability and how these two athletes are built for their respective sports but would do horribly if they swapped positions.

 

The issue we face in our organizations today is we do things that are just as ridiculous as swapping Simone Biles in for Jason Witten. Rather than viewing the individual and assessing their own skills, desires, abilities, and experiences, we force diversity and promote equality over individuality.

 

Don’t hear me wrong when I talk about equality. I am all for equality of opportunity. However, equality of opportunity does not equal equality of outcome. When we, as leaders, begin to focus on promoting equality of outcome for all our employees, we do them a disservice in not recognizing their individual diversity.

 

Albert Einstein is famously credited (albeit most likely wrongly) as saying:

Everyone is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.”

This is often shared on LinkedIn and quoted by those who would like to appear wise, but it is often not followed in corporate settings.

 

James Damore’s memo went viral not because it was so well reasoned and written, but because it went contrary to our belief of what diversity means. To state that people have differences of abilities or desires based on their gender is absolute blasphemy in our PC culture. We readily recognize the difference between Witten and Biles but close our eyes to the possibility of physical and genetic differences that would give unfair advantage or tendency toward people in a corporate setting. We don’t want to acknowledge that some people and people groups are inherently better at certain tasks due to their genetic makeup.

 

The brilliance of Damore is that he became a proof of his own hypothesis. [tweetthis]The brilliance of Damore is that he became a proof of his own hypothesis[/tweetthis]. He set out to write about how Google’s echo chamber has devalued individual diversity in exchange for perceived value of group diversity. He predicted that Google will become a consequence of its own policy, weakening until the point of collapse due to their lack of true diversity. In Google’s pursuit of perfect “diversity”, they lost a great mind. If I were Sundar Pichai (CEO of Google), not only would I have kept Damore, I would have made him my head of diversity for the company. In failing to recognize his talent, ability, insight, and courage, they lost a brilliant mind and weakened their organization.

 

America was founded on the concept that “all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness.”. These words, while 100% true (or, “self-evident”, as John Adam’s wisely suggested), are often misinterpreted. The truth is, all men are not created equal. [tweetthis]The truth is, all men are not created equal.[/tweetthis] If that were the case, I should be playing tight end for the Dallas Cowboys right there with Mr. Witten. Instead, I’m 6’ and 185lbs and am happy when my squat is higher than my bench press (#dontskiplegday).

 

What all men (and women) are created equal in is their inherent worth in the eyes of their Creator God. Regardless of race, color, sex, intelligence, physical attributes, birth (pre or post), or anything else that we can see or measure, their soul is absolutely priceless. Each life is worth as much as the next. No exceptions. Because of this, all have rights. Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit (equality of opportunity) of Happiness. When we lose sight of this truth of equality is when humanity goes to the dark places of racism, segregation, subjugation, slavery, and other evils.

 

So how do we balance the equality of the human soul with the inequality of human ability?[tweetthis]how do we balance the equality of the human soul with the inequality of human ability?[/tweetthis] For this, we must go back to the (alleged) Einstein quote.

 

If we take a fish and decide that because of equality we are going to put it on land so that it can enjoy all terra firma has to offer, it will not only do miserably, but will quickly die. Poor little guy.

 

If we take an employee who is not suited for a certain task and decide that because of equality we are going to put them in that task so they can enjoy all the rewards it has to offer (say, the great careers available in the STEM fields), they will do miserably. It won’t be good for them, for the organization, or anyone else. In our desire for equality and diversity, we actually created suffering and inequality of outcome. No one was able to achieve happiness here.

 

James Damore, in his memo, made an observation that women, on average, have more:

“Openness directed towards feelings and aesthetics rather than ideas. Women generally

also have a stronger interest in people rather than things, relative to men (also

interpreted as empathizing vs. systemizing).

 

These two differences in part explain why women relatively prefer jobs in social

or artistic areas. More men may like coding because it requires systemizing and even

within SWEs, comparatively more women work on front end, which deals with both

people and aesthetics.”

 

Damore cites this as a reason why there may not be as many women in coding. He does not say this is the case for all women, but that this is a tendency for women on average.

 

When dealing with social and organizational issues on a large scale it is easy to speak in generalizations and averages. “There aren’t enough women in STEM fields! We need to fix this! We need to get more women in and close the wage gap too!”. This is certainly well intentioned, but if we force equal numbers of women in to STEM with no regard for the general tendency toward more artistic fields, we will end up with a bunch of poorly performing and unhappy workers. The wage gap grows as women in that field don’t do as well as their male counterparts. Not because they are less, but because we’re trying to make fish climb trees. We fail to recognize the diversity of the individual and therefore weaken our organizations as a whole.

So what is the alternative? How do we encourage equality and harness the strength of individual diversity?

 

We must treat people as individuals. We must value true diversity. Not diversity for the sake of saying that we have an equal or even representative mix of people in our organization and in all fields. Yes, we should give equality of opportunity, but we need to focus more on a person’s inherent strengths, desires, and abilities. We need to develop our employees as individuals and encourage everyone to understand who they are. What is their own pursuit of happiness. We need to be ok that for many women that may be taking lower paying jobs in artistic fields while men continue to gravitate to STEM. It is only by encouraging and celebrating this that we’ll see the beauty and success of artistic intelligence.

 

Diversity matters. Diversity of the individual. [tweetthis]Diversity matters. Diversity of the individual. [/tweetthis]We must value differences. Not by forcing equality everywhere, but celebrating the differences between races, cultures, men and women, upbringing, aspirations, personality type (Myers-Briggs), strengths (Gallup Strength Finder), and everything else that makes us human.

 

Individuals are unique and those differences must be recognized, encouraged and celebrated. This is where strength comes from. If you want to a weaken a society and control it (Communism, Socialism, Fascism, etc.), you generalize. You promote “equality” and the benefit of the State over the liberty of the individual. Ultimately this leads only to destruction, violence, and at worst, horrible crimes against humanity. While not as egregious, making the same mistakes in our corporations will lead to a weakened, discouraged, and unhappy workforce and organization.

 

We must never stop caring about diversity, but must reclaim the true meaning of the word and use it to lead, and lead well.

 

Blessings,

Ira

The Coming Crisis: Will 2017 See Another Housing Crash?

Reading Time: 10 minutes

I haven’t posted much here lately as I’ve been working a lot on preparing Propsee for launch. However, today I felt prompted through to take a break from all the other things I’m working on to write about what I feel is an impending crisis for the housing market and US Economy that may begin in 2017. Please take the time to prayerfully read this and take time to consider your own personal situation in preparation.

Executive Summary

Housing prices are not only inflated, but supported by a weak consumer base that is borrowing more than they can afford. Demographics are a ticking time bomb with baby boomers aging out of the workforce and millennials in dismal shape. Consumer debt exceeds pre-2008 levels and the default rates are increasing on the two highest growth sectors (auto and student loans). The “recovery” is a house of cards and a correction is overdue.

Wise consumers will prepare now by reducing debt loads and diversifying incomes and investments as much as possible to weather the storm.

Introduction

Our last financial crisis in 2008 had its roots in a massively overvalued and poorly underwritten housing market. Housing values in 2006 hit a peak of $23.9 trillion, which was accompanied by mortgage debt of $10.3 trillion, yielding equity of just under $14 trillion. Surprisingly, 2017 looks very similar with total housing value exceeding 2006 levels at $24.3T, debt holding steady around $10.3T, and equity rising to just over $14T with the positive difference.  (Source: Urban.org)

 

While this data alone seems eerily similar to pre-2008 levels, it is often dismissed as signs of a healthy recovery. It is not till other factors are considered that the gravity of the situation is fully realized. Let’s discuss some of these here:

What is driving home values?

Housing has long been seen as a fundamental growth engine of the economy. In efforts to spur recovery following the 2008 crash, the Federal Reserve lowered interest rates to record levels. Below is a graph that shows rates over the past 10 years (Source: Trading Economics)

Low interest rates have encouraged people to buy homes, which is why we saw the bottom of housing values around 2011-2012 with a phenomenal recovery since then (see first graph). In addition, they have increased home prices substantially.

There are four main factors on the market side and three main factors on in the buyers side that go in to the value of a home in a given market. These are based on the assumption that people buy homes based on the monthly payment they can “afford” (read, “be approved for”). Let’s start with the market factors.

Market Factors

  • Taxes
  • Insurance
  • Interest
  • Home Value

Taxes

Depending on the state, municipality, etc., taxes will represent a varying level of burden on the homeowners monthly payment. Areas with high property tax rates, such as NY state, traditionally see less volatility in home prices as this proportion of monthly payment acts as a buffer against the other three factors’ impact. Areas with low taxes tend to see more impact on home value, but we’re jumping ahead.

Insurance

This remains fairly steady but does have an impact to a lesser degree. If an area has low insurance premiums, less of the payment is based on this “fixed” factor, leading to more impact when the other factors change.

Interest

This is a big one. When interest rates are low, the buyer can afford more home for the same monthly payment. This is perhaps the biggest single driver in starting the run in housing prices seen from 2011-2017. (Note I said starting, because eventually other factors, such as speculation, take over).

Home Value

The output of the other three factors is home value. When you consider the equation, if taxes and insurance are low, then interest rates drop, the home value will increase to accommodate the same monthly payment from a buyer.

Buyer Factors

The above factors are predicated on a buyer with a certain amount of money to spend each month on housing. Unfortunately this is based less on good personal budgeting and more on what banks will approve. The factors here are pretty simple, as it is based primarily on debt to income ratio and lending viability.

  • Income
  • Debt
  • Lending Viability

Income

How much a household makes is fundamental to everything else. So what has happened to incomes since 2008?

Much of the growth in incomes has been unevenly distributed among classes. This is not an article on the value or injustice of income inequality, but the reality remains that actual wage growth of the middle and lower class has been stagnant over time.

Debt

Banks loan based on debt to income ratios. We’ll talk about how lending practices can influence this in a moment, but for now suffice to say that income alone isn’t a great indicator of lending viability but rather income after paying other consumer debts.

We started by referencing the mortgage debt and showed that it is essentially at the same level as pre-2008. What this doesn’t take in to account is the rise of other consumer debt, specifically auto debt and student loan debt. Viewed holistically, you see that the American economy is under as much debt load as pre-2008 levels, just in different areas.  (Source: MarketWatch)

Household debt has surpass pre-2008 levels, and consumers are defaulting more and more on the two areas that have seen the biggest increase of debt growth, student and auto loans.

Student Loan Defaults

The WSJ recently reported that student loan repayment rates are far worse than recently reported, with half of students either defaulting or not paying a single dollar toward their loan balances 7 years following graduation. This is bad, really bad. Student loan debt far surpasses credit card debt at $1.4T and the default rates are about to go through the roof.

The growth in student loan debt is especially disturbing, given how it impacts that portion of a vital demographic, as we’ll discuss soon.

Auto Loans

The auto industry has been doing great since 2008. As with everything, what is driving that? Debt. Lots of it. Auto loans are much higher than 2008 and default rates are on the rise. 17% of borrowers are likely to default in the next year. This is on another ~$1T in outstanding debt. (Source: 247wallst). The worst portion of this is sub-prime auto lending, which is nearing 20% of total lending and experiencing default rates over 5%,

Lending Viability

All of the above items are great, but the other big factor is what the banks will (or are allowed to) lend. Credit scores are a big factor here as well as debt to income ratios. Government programs and how these factors are calculated also play in to the mix.

In 2015, Fannie Mae rebooted the HomePath program (Source: Fox Business), which not only allows buyers to purchase a home with little documentation and only 3% down, but allows multiple income sources to be counted on the application (aka. multiple family members). This was an effort by the Obama administration to help recent immigrants buy homes. What this has done is increase values of entry level homes to unsustainable levels for the actual population buying them, and little data is known on the actual viability of these borrowers.

Debt to income ratios are also being relaxed in several areas in the past few years. A key one to watch is around student loan treatment. Fannie Mae is now allowing people who are in adjusted repayment programs count the lowered payment toward their debt ratio without consideration to the total outstanding balance. In addition, they are encouraging people to refinance to pay off student loans, which will only shift debt from student loans to housing. Lastly, people that have parents helping them on debt or repayment do not have to count that toward their qualifications. (Source: Chicago Tribune).

So in an effort to spur growth in the entry level and middle class segments of the population, we are just taking new tactics to bring in unqualified borrowers, which is inflating prices and encouraging poor financial stewardship.

Has there been a real recovery?

“But what about unemployment?!”, you say. “Haven’t we seen job growth?”. Yes and no. The reason that the federal reserve had a slight interest rate hike this Spring and is expected to increase rates again in June 2017 is based on this metric. Here’s a chart to give basis to their thinking:

 

What this doesn’t take in to account is the labor force participation and employment rates.

 

You can see here that while unemployment has decreased, so has the overall % of people in the workforce. What is happening to all of those who are no longer seeking employment and how do they impact the unemployment values?

Another way to look at this is the overall employment rate, which has not recovered to pre-2008 levels even as unemployment has dropped.

Demographics

The population is aging. Baby boomers are aging out of the workforce in record numbers. Rather than being replaced with a strong generation of workers, we are seeing a very weak segment of millennials struggling to get a start on life as they are crippled with student loan debt.

Based on the most recent census data, over a third of people from ages 18-34 are living at home with their parents. This is up from 25% in 2005. In addition, real wages have dropped for men in this demographic since the 1970’s. (Source: The Hill). To make matters worse, about a third of those living at home aren’t even working or in school.

While more people have college educations, the value of these degrees is dropping. Here’s a chart that shows earning for recent college graduates (Source: EPI):

An entire generation that should be coming in to the workforce, buying homes, starting families, etc. are living at home, burdened with debt, struggling to find jobs, taking bad jobs when they can find them, buying homes they can’t afford, and being subsidized by their parents in countless ways.

Speculation

All of this artificial demand and price increases have led to speculators seizing the opportunity and artificially driving prices even higher. When people buy at high prices with anticipation to sell to someone else at even higher prices, prices are no longer an indicator of actual value. This is why average home price to income (PTI) ratios has increased to record levels in many markets. A “normal” national PTI is expected to be 3.5, which means the average house cost 3.5 the average income. In 2005-2006, national PTI was up around 4.7, just before the bubble burst. Where are we headed now? North of 4, which is dangerous territory. (Source: Freddie Mac).

When values get too out of line with incomes, it is usually driven by speculation (investors aren’t real buyers), dangerous lending practices (see above), or a combination of both. In the current case, it is likely the latter.

Another metric that is interesting to watch as an indicator of investor activity is the % of homes being flipped. In 2006 it had risen to 7.3%. Now it is over 6% and climbing. (Source: ZeroHedge)

“A rising tide carries all boats” is an appropriate axiom here, as everyone is making money on flips. Heck, by the time a property undergoes a 3mo flip, it has probably already appreciated 5% these days! People are paying not only over asking, but over appraisal as there’s a mad scurry to pick up houses and make a quick buck.

So what’s going to happen?

Another tide saying that bears repeating is “When the tide goes out, you can tell who’s skinny dipping” (Warren Buffett). Based on all of the evidence above, there is a very good chance that the tide is soon going to go out, and unfortunately there’s a lot of people skinny dipping. So what’s going to trigger a correction?

Rising Interest Rates

We’ve already talked about how the Fed’s low interest rates have been a primary driver in growth. So what happens when those rates go up? Since incomes are already strained with high PTI ratios and consumer debt, there is no room for monthly payments to increase to accommodate a higher interest portion. This means that home values will need to come down for a real buyer to afford a purchase. While this won’t impact current home owners who have fixed rate mortgages (thankfully ARMs are not as prevalent as they were in pre-2008), it will cool the market. This cooling will start to slow investor activity as well as demand slows down. If all goes well, then we will simply see a reduction to normal appreciation from the 10-20% annual increases we’ve been seeing. This is the plan and why the Fed has been so slow to raise rates.

Of course, it is possible that a big rate increase is enough to send housing prices in to negative territory. This alone likely won’t be enough to cause a 2008 level event, but it will be rough for people who purchased with low equity.

Other Consumer Debt Defaults

As referenced earlier, people are already starting to default on some types of consumer debt, such as student and auto loans. Even though these segments have grown to $2.4T total, they are still not big enough to singlehandedly cause a 2008 level event, when over $10T in mortgage debt was suddenly exposed by a 25% drop in housing values. If consumer debt is to be the culprit, it is because it triggers a series of events and defaults in the mortgage debt.

The demographic issue comes in to play here, as a big question remains of how the Baby Boomer and Millennial generations will interact. Since so many millennials are subsidized by baby boomers, there fates are likely inextricably linked. If a baby boomer wants to sell their home, but there is no millennial to buy it, how will that impact housing prices? If that baby boomer can’t cash our or downsize, how will they retire? What happens to the millennial at home when the baby boomer does retire, if they are able? What happens if the millennial tanks the economy with their student loan debt and now the baby boomer can’t retire?!?

A combination of many factors

Almost 10 years later, there is still much debate of what led to the crash in 2008. Housing was definitely the large part of it, but these things are complicated and it is rarely one factor. Usually it is a combination of poor practices and then someone gets spooked, causing a panicked selloff.

So what should you do?

“So if you’re right, what do I do?!”. Don’t get scared, just get prepared. Pray about some of these things.

Get Rock Solid

Cut or avoid debt as much as possible. Start with simple consumer debt like credit cards, student loans, or auto loans. Do everything you can to drop these or avoid them. Sell the BMW, go to community college, or take a part time job. Get rock solid so you can survive the storm.

Evaluate Your Housing

Are you renting? Consider staying that way. It may seem scary watching prices go up and wondering if you will ever be able to afford a home, but even if I’m wrong about a major price correction (5-20%), it is very unlikely that you’re going to see 10-20% appreciation in 2018 and 2019. Don’t make the mistake of jumping in at the top of the market with a low down payment out of FOMO.

Do you own? Consider selling. This isn’t for everyone, but if you are in a position where you can downsize for a while, either to rent or buy a lower price home, consider doing so. This may not be for everyone depending on your family situation.

If you already have substantial equity in your home, you’re probably ok to stay. It might suck if prices go down and you missed the timing, but at least you aren’t going to get foreclosed on if you already have 30-50% equity in your home at current values. Just stay where you’re at and focus on paying off any consumer debt and/or building your savings.

Diversify

This is typically used when talking about investing, and that applies here as well, but also consider diversifying your income streams.

From an investment standpoint, there is no one right answer. Someone who is in their 20’s could stay in a high stock’s ratio and even if we do have another 2008 will have plenty of time to recover. However, I’d encourage even this person to consider shifting at least some of their assets to safer investments to counter or buffer a stock market correction.

Income diversification is more here and now than your investment portfolio. If you are like most people and get all of your income from 1-2 sources, consider adding a little to that. Can you pick up freelance work or start a side business? Even if you don’t get to where this is a major contribution right now, at least it is available so that if you lose your primary income you have something else you can ramp up to replace it.

Summary

My intent with writing this was not to instill fear in anyone. I could be wrong about all of this, as there are people smarter then me that could easily dispute all of my points and data. However, from my view as a Stewardship junkie, I feel strongly that we are not able to survive as a nation addicted to debt forever. It is like someone who lost their job but just kept living it up on credit cards for a few years…eventually the party has to stop. I simply advise you to prayerfully consider what I’ve said and perhaps take some steps to prepare for the possibility that I’m right.

Blessings,

Ira