Sunday, February 28, 2010

Disposable Income

Good will come to him who is generous and lends freely, who conducts his affairs with justice.

-- Psalm 112:5

Every once in a while we come across one of those feel-good-stories about a customer who leaves a huge tip for their waiter or waitress. Such stories are even better when they take place in shabby diners or truck stops. In fact – only a few years ago – a major newspaper reported that billionaire Donald Trump added $10,000 to his modest $82 meal tab. The story didn’t say if he dined at Waffle House or Denny’s.

“How you treat your waiter or waitress reveals a lot about your character,” explained The Donald. “So don’t forget to leave a big tip.”

He called this principle his Waiter Rule.

Whether Donald Trump’s alleged dinnertime exploits were true or just another urban legend, his Waiter Rule is real food for thought. And there’s considerable biblical support behind it. As Christ-followers, our faith grows as we continue to learn God’s ways for living in the world and changing it for His Kingdom. It turns out that generosity is one of those remarkable character traits that we should acquire and put into action along the way. And this is particularly relevant since we in 21st Century America are all so very rich – at least when compared to most of the world’s population. According to recent data from the World Bank, 1.4 billion people in the developing world (about 25 percent) live on less than $1.25 a day!

That statistic should put our individual financial situations – bleak or otherwise – into perspective. Millions of Americans may be unemployed, on welfare or receiving food stamps. But even that reflects incredible wealth against the backdrop of the crushing poverty found in sub-Saharan Africa, India or even Brazil. So how are we “millionaires” to respond with our riches of excess money and time?

“Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment,” the Apostle Paul instructed his protégé, Timothy. “Command them to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share.”

We can never out-give God with our riches – no matter how great or modest. But we can positively impact our friends, neighbors and total strangers by being generous with the money and time God gives us. And there are some very good reasons behind this principle.

First, your generosity brings joy to others. That’s because you’re thinking more about the recipient than yourself. (And don’t forget that God loves a cheerful giver.) Second, your generosity brings joy to God. That’s because you’re becoming more like Him when you’re generous to others.

And why not? After all, God happens to be the ultimate GIVER:

For God so loved the world that He gave His only Son…

Sunday, February 21, 2010

A Matter of Trust

Whoever loves money never has money enough; whoever loves wealth
is never satisfied with his income. This too is meaningless.

-- Ecclesiastes 5:10

OK… Here’s one for all you history buffs and Trivial Pursuit champions: What’s the official motto of the United States?

Stumped? You probably can find the answer in your wallet, your car’s ashtray or even between your sofa cushions. Starting more than 140 years ago, American coins – and later paper money – have featured the inscription “In God We Trust.” The official website of the US Treasury indicates that in 1861, a Pennsylvania minister recommended to Secretary of the Treasury Salmon P. Chase that American coins should “recognize Almighty God in some form.” Chase agreed and instructed the director of the Philadelphia mint to prepare an appropriate motto.

“No nation can be strong except in the strength of God, or safe except in His defense,” wrote Chase. “The trust of our people in God should be declared on our national coins.”

In 1864, “In God We Trust” made its first appearance on the two-cent coin. How ironic that “Godless” money should cite such an important reminder about the real Source of our security. But if we’re really honest with ourselves, shouldn’t the motto read: In GOLD We Trust? After all – when things get tough in life – it’s only natural to rely on our money, riches and possessions rather than the One who makes it possible to earn a living. But reliance on job security and the stock market is never wise – particularly these days. As the host of one popular television fashion show likes to remind her wide-eyed contestants: “One day you’re in. And the next day, you’re out!”

It’s an unsettling fact: our bank accounts are no defense against life’s hard realities. Terminal illnesses strike, relationships fail and that which seemed solid turns to dust in our hands. What we desperately need is something – or Someone – who’s dependable. Who never changes. Who we can trust.

Jesus paints a vivid picture of this universal quest through His story about the foolish man who built a house on shifting sands. When the storm struck, the rains came and the winds blew with fury. It’s no surprise that the flimsy structure collapsed with a crash. But the wise man – in comparison – built his house on a Foundation of solid rock. So when the storm clouds of life boiled on the horizon, that house withstood even the heaviest downpours.

This leads us to the obvious question: Are you counting on your money to save you when, as that insurance commercial puts it, “life happens”? If so, why not trust in God: the One who knew everything about you before you were even born. You can take it to the bank!

“Blessed is the man who makes the Lord his trust,” we read in Psalms, “who does not look to the proud, to those who turn aside to false gods.”

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

The Millionaire Next Door

King Solomon was greater in riches and wisdom than all the other kings of the earth.

-- 2 Chronicles 9:22

If a genie could grant you three wishes, what would your wishes be? Maybe you’d ask for a long, healthy life. You might wish for popularity or fame. Or if you’re anything like Miss America, you’d ask the genie for world peace. But chances are, you’d wish for money... and plenty of it.

Getting rich is a centuries-old obsession. And some have actually done it by discovering gold or oil, or inventing something wildly popular like Google or the Post-It Note. Still others found their fortunes by starring in professional sports or Hollywood movies. But if you’re not quite so talented or lucky, just turn on your TV at 3 AM. That's when you’re bound to find an infomercial promoting a get-rich-quick-no-money-down formula to wealth. Soon, you’ll be rolling in riches - and all in your spare time. (They promise!) And if that fails, there’s always the lottery.

It’s good to know that there are more realistic alternatives. For starters, check out The Millionaire Next Door by authors Thomas J. Stanley and William D. Danko. Written in the mid-1990s, this popular book reveals that many of today’s millionaires share a practical fiscal strategy. They live below their financial means, they budget their money, they don’t drive fancy cars and they’re often self-employed. These 21st Century Rockefellers typically have high incomes, frugal mindsets and started planning for their financial futures early in life. What’s more, many of their money-wise principles just so happen to be - get ready for it - BIBLICAL!

Whether it’s by sheer luck or through hard work, the bottom line is that many people really do succeed at GETTING rich. But what does it mean to BE rich? That’s an entirely different proposition.

First, it’s important to define RICH. After all, most people in the United States don’t live in huge mansions, dine at fancy restaurants or drive $80,000 Porsche roadsters. But the fact is that even the poorest Americans are considered “rich” by the standards of most nations. For instance, many American welfare recipients own hi def color televisions, late model automobiles and mobile phones: things often not enjoyed by the poor in India, Zimbabwe or Haiti.

“Rich” is therefore a very relative term.

The Bible - God’s Word to us - is full of guidance about money and riches. And since most of us are actually “rich” by the world’s standards, it means we have some very special responsibilities.

“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,” Jesus taught His followers. “So if you have not been trustworthy in handling worldly wealth, who will trust you with true riches?”

Maybe we don’t feel like Bill Gates, Warren Buffet or even one of those millionaires next door. But being rich isn’t so much about our income but rather what we do with it. We can start by replacing greed with gratitude for the riches we enjoy: of both wealth and spirit. As the Apostle Paul reminds Christ-followers:

“You will be made rich in every way so that you can be generous on every occasion, and through us your generosity will result in thanksgiving to God.”