Home Sweet Mortgage: Isn’t Debt Bad?

At the place we’ve been hanging out on Sunday’s here in Nashville, a number of people have purchased homes in the last 1 1/2 that we’ve been there. It’s not a large community so it was a significant percent of the people that were making this major life decision/change/move. I posted on the online forum and tried to strike up some conversation about it, but was met mostly with perplexed looks. Basically, I wanted to know how as people of faith, they processed through choosing to purchase a home. I was hoping for a whole sermon series on it, but there wasn’t one.

It’s my understanding that if you believe in something as truth, then it should affect every facet of your life. This isn’t exclusive to religion or faith, our faith in gravity applies as much to standing in a bathroom as looking over a cliff’s edge. A couple verses in the Bible run through my mind specific to this idea of thinking about everything we do as it relates to our beliefs and faith:
“we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.”
“And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.”

I would venture to say most major religions, and most people of faith, understand it’s impact on everything they do. That being said, I honestly wanted to know the thought process folks had gone through in deciding to purchase a home. It wasn’t that I disagreed with their choice, I just wanted to know more, and I finally realized, there wasn’t more.
Buying a house is just something you do. Just like millions of other little things every day that are just a part of our society, part of the “American Way of Life.” And boy is it dangerous.

The Old Testament book of Proverbs is chock-full of maxim’s about the dangers of debt, “The debtor is slave to the lender.” And yet we take out student loans (even I am guilty) and home mortgages without thinking twice about it. Most folks eventually pay off their student loans, but I’m not sure I know a soul who actually owns their house. We refinance, we upgrade, we take out second mortgages to our hearts content, and I don’t think most Christians have even given a thought to how their faith should affect that part of their life.

Mindy and I are about to have our first child. She’s about to finish school and we’ll pay off all our loans in a couple years. I can see the benefits of owning rather then renting, but I also see some of the negatives. I see the trap of wealth and greed, of always wanting more and going into debt to get it. Everyone around us seems to be buying houses, you would almost think it’s a necessary part of following in the faith.

Houses make me think. Does isolating ourselves in single family home make it difficult to carry out Christ radical call to love our neighbors and live in community with other believers? Does living in perpetual debt keep us from being the generous, sharing, and financially open church Christ calls us to be? Does the “American Dream” really look like what Christ aspires for us to obtain, or are we terribly off-track?

A liar and a Thief: What To Do With Excess?

John Wesley once said,

“If I should die with more than ten pounds, may every man call me a liar and a thief.”

Wesley, though he made quite a bit of money from his publications, took little for himself, and he died poor. If there was an example of living out Christ call to the rich young ruler to sell your possessions and give it to the poor, John Wesley was probably it. Jesus clearly tell us, “do not store up in barns where moth and rust destroy.”
My wife and I currently our in debt, with a handful of school loans. Besides school tuition though, our cost of living is less then our income (if your’s isn’t you might have a problem). We have every intention of that fact remaining, more coming in then going out, for the rest of our lives. That being said, we will constantly be faced with the question of, What to do with Excess?

John Wesley’s choice was to rarely let it come within reach, he gave the vast majority of what he made to those in need, and kept only what he needed to live for himself. Wesley’s answer to what to do with the excess money he received was to immediately use it to meet the needs around him. Seems like a pretty good practice to me.

But what about investing? What would Jesus have said if Bethlehem Financial could turn your couple extra coins a month into piles of cash years later to feed the poor, care for the widow, and allow you to serve those around you without depending on others for food? Isn’t that what the parable of the Talents lifts up so much? Wise stewardship?

Every month we have X amount of dollars to decide what to do with, I don’t see it as mine to spend on myself, but rather a resource to carry out the good God calls us too (Loving our neighbors, etc). I could take a portion or all and sponsor a child, meeting an immediate need, and keeping me from the close at hand temptation of wealth. Or I could save some of it, not for financial security (though the temptation would be close at hand), but to invest and grow, so that what would have provided one loaf of bread could eventually provide thousands.

I claim to that I am trying to follow the teachings of Christ, and I do not want to be a liar by the way that I live my life. I do not want to be a Thief by taking more then my share of this place. So I wonder, What do I do with the excess?

Figuring out Finances

A little while back I started writing a series of posts about finances. I attempted to explain some of how I thought we should be living out our lives financially. It was met with some criticism and disagreement, which I think was fairly healthy.
I still have some pretty solid thoughts on how we should be living and how we should handle our finances, but I’ve also got quite a few questions. After a conversation with my friend Chris, these questions have been running through my head quite a bit, so I thought I’d do a short series dedicated to exploring these questions. I’m really hoping for some feedback, because these are intended to be questions that I have and ideas I’d like to explore… I haven’t settled on any answers yet.
I’ll put out some of the scripture that have influenced my thoughts, and share some of what I’ve thought about. Put it this way, I think we need to talk more about money. Jesus talks about money a lot, and when he says, “you can’t serve both God and Money,” I don’t think he was talking about people bowing before dollar bills. I know a lot of churches and Christians are weary of scaring people away by talking about money and giving, but when we do that we force ourselves to neglect a lot of things Christ said and talked about.

A Poem for the Morning by Mindy

So I’m sitting at Starbucks with my 2% chai
and this lady comes walking and people stare as she goes by.
She’s about 5 foot 2 and she’s wearing a big coat,
and everybody looks up from their computers and forget what they wrote.

She walks to the counter with her bundle of sacks,
as we sit here rich and white on our new shiny macs.
She’s visibly frozen from the outside right in,
and nobody wants eye contact with her, is this a great sin?

She buys a coffee for here and digs through her pockets
and everyone’s eyes jump nearly out of their sockets.
Could she be paying for her coffee with those filthy worn hands?
her hair matted down under her hood coming out it knotted strands.

She walks to the creamer and adds some to her drink,
and as she does so people are perplexed and sit to think.
So the silence goes on as people just sit and stare,
it’s visibly disturbing just to see her sit there.

She is another soul and I am so distraught,
just thinking about the chai that I just walked in and bought,
without thinking about if I’d have enough for another time,
and still I sit here comfortable and uncomfortable…

I have so much to think about, so much going on in my life.
And I just settled in for a warm drink and started to write,
but now I can’t focus on my qualitative essay due tomorrow,
because here I am seeing a woman being ignored in her sorrow.

And I have to ask myself,..
when I see a brother or sister in need,
am I going to go on in my selfishness in greed?
not thinking about her soul, not having pity on her?
because how can the love of GOD be in me if my insides don’t just stir?

-By Mindy

Blackback Theory and Anyone know CSS?

A friend, I think it was Sam, hooked me up with a neat link to a site that discusses green technology. I noticed a post about something I’d read about previously, and that was the impact that the color of websites has on the amount of energy we use while surfing the internet.
Rising Phoenix put together a pretty simple and sweet designed page to explain the problem. I’m an advocate for reducing the amount of energy we use, especially since we in the United States consume an ungodly amount already. Therefore, I feel some responsibility to change the way I’m currently consuming energy. Here’s my two step process.

  1. Downloaded Stylish for Firefox and then chose a black style theme for Google.
  2. I’d like to change my theme so it’s a darker background color with white text. I’d like to keep the current theme so it’s not too much of a change for my readers. But I need some CSS help from someone. The other option is to change to this theme.

Anyone else want to join me in the small choices matter energy saving campaign?

The Plundering of My Possessions

Abba Macacrius, while he was in Egypt, discovered a man who own a beast of burden engaged in plundering Macarius’ goods. So he came up to the thief as if he was a stranger and he helped him to load the animal. He saw him off in great peace of soul saying, “The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord.” (Job 1:21) -From Geez Magazine

Okay, so most folks would say he’s nuts. Yet, we also say God uses all things and everything, and if he can use a donkey he can use a thief. We don’t say the rich young ruler who decided not to give everything to follow Jesus was nuts, we usually just say he was in a tough spot, had to make a hard decision. My take, the monk has got a whole lot more sense then the nutty ruler.

And so I want to bring myself to this view of possessions. I don’t think it’s a bad place to be in. In fact I think if we are really going to be in a place that we are ready to leave everything and follow Christ, then we all better start working on this letting go of our possessions now.

Random Scraps: It’s not about the Money

Note: Okay, so I’m going through my old drafts of posts I started but never finished. I feel like I’m so removed from when I first wrote them that it wouldn’t make sense to complete them, but they are interesting enough that they might create some conversation, so I’m putting them up.

Financial clarification #1: It’s not about the money
I felt like it is important for me to address two points that were brought up by readers as to what they understood me to be advocating for: the pursuit of not having money and Poverty as righteousness.
I realize that I might come across as advocating for these two things because what I AM advocating for is so radically different then what are culture presents to us. In a culture that is so focused on the accumulation of wealth a statement like “give freely” comes across as odd and as an extreme. In a culture that says your lifestyle should be grand regardless of income level a statement about living on what you need rather then what you want seems rather backwards.
I know we are trying to talk about finances here, but do me a favor for a moment and forget money exist at all. No such thing as money. My points are still the same. Going to a college like Wheaton makes it difficult for you to question that type of lifestyle since you and so many other “Christians” at the college are living it. Hoarding your possessions is not what Christ calls us to, rather to give freely.

On Clothes.
I never felt too poor to afford something, but I knew somethings where just too expensive. Let’s use the example of clothes. You might find this funny, but in middle school and half of high school I was all about name brands. I wanted the nike swoosh on my shoes and my t-shirt. Here’s how my mom handled clothes. We would look in the closet at the beginning of the school year and decided if and how many jeans, shirts, and shorts I needed. Then she would allot me some money for each item (it was about $15 for jeans, $5 for a shirt, and $10 for shorts). If I wanted something that cost more then that I had to dig out my allowance, babysitting and lawn mowing money and pay for the additional cost.

Jesus does say the Poor are blessed with the Kingdom, that’s at least worth pondering.

There was some interesting thoughts and issues brought up in the comments on two previous post: Your Problem with Giving is Probably you, and A Major Flaw of Wheaton College.

I felt these two thoughts where important to address in our Finance lessons so here is…
Financial Lesson #3: Money is simply a mean’s of trade

One thing my parent’s did a good job instilling in me just by example, was that money wasn’t really a big deal. My dad has switched jobs a lot, and my mom has worked varying amounts (sometimes full-time other times half-time) throughout my life. Never did I feel like there was a correlation between their work and how much money they working making and how well off we were. I never felt poor, I never felt rich. You see, money wasn’t that important, what dictated our lifestyle was our values. My first real job was at Pizza Hut. Before that I had picked up bunches of odd jobs through my dad (he owned a temporary employment service), and I enjoyed that cause they were simple jobs and they usually paid well. But the summer after my sophomore year my dad told me I had to go out and get a job myself. Why? It wasn’t to make more money, it was to learn to go out on my own, it was about values. Money isn’t that important, what should dictate our lives is our values. If God had “blessed” my parent’s as billionaires my dad would have still made me go out and find a job on my own.

I don’t know if that helps to give a little perspective of where I think some of my mindset comes from. The two comments I want to address are: “a person’s goal becomes to not have money” and “poverty is righteousness”
I am NOT advocating for either of these. I think the reason both of these commenters have come to these interpretations of what I have been saying is because money was misinterpreted as being a high priority. Here’s what I mean.
When I talk about Wheaton College and how expensive everything is I don’t mean to focus on the money. I mean to say we are like the Rich Man with the beggar Lazarus outside our gate. It is not about the money it is about our value that God does not call us to store up wealth, he calls us to care for the needs of others.

I would be silly to advocate for “poverty is righteousness.”

Already Forgotten?

note: originally posted in January 2005 in the student newspaper at Wheaton College

Already Forgotten

It’s Friday now, five days after the anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s Birthday, and like many of us, besides rejoicing that it’s only a four day week, you have not given his legacy a second thought. If upon reflecting on King and his legacy, you only naively rejoiced that his “dream” has been accomplished, but did not weep at the complacency of, We, the Church in carrying out the work that Dr. King, in Christ, called us to; to bring Justice for the poor and oppressed, you are deceived.
The more I have learned about Dr. King the more I am shocked and disappointed at the lack of attention we give to this great hero of the Christian faith. Wheaton College, a school founded by abolitionists should know well the importance of standing up against injustice and for freedom. Dr. King stood bold as a Christian against the injustice of his day and we need to be challenged by this modern prophet of Christ to do the same.
It’s a wonderful thing to see that every year hundreds of students at Wheaton participate in ministries through CSC and their churches. Many of the ministries involve working with youth anywhere from near by Carol Stream to the city of Chicago. These sorts of ministries are tangible ways many students find to share the love of Christ with others. But this alone is inefficient and insufficient. We must not forget King’s example and stand against the systems that are persisting
You might have heard this story before. There was a community that built a school on the edge of a cliff. Upon discovering that a number of students where injured seriously from falling off the cliff, the community decided to build a emergency room at the bottom of the cliff. Though this did help care for the situation, it was reactive toward the outcome of the problem and did not deal with the root. Why did they not build a fence?!

Dr. King stood against the injustice of the Jim Crow laws and the segregated education system because he was compelled by the love of Christ. We too must stand against those structural sins in our society. I challenge every student involved in ministries to youth to become aware of the structural evils that we are a part of in our society. When a child receives an unequal education simply due to their location in an impoverished neighborhood, this is a structural evil. When your attempt to explain to that child the victories of Brown vs. Board in desegregation are in vain because every child in his classroom is of similar complexion, this is a structural evil. King once said, “Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will.” Please deepen your understanding and act.
We are called to love our neighbor as ourself. This command requires far more then the few hours or minutes we tend to give it each day, indeed, in the words of King, “The true neighbor will risk his position, his prestige, and even his life for the welfare of others.”