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Posts Tagged ‘Debt’

“I’ve got to have it now!” is the self-indulgent demand of our day, and countless individuals and families have the debt to prove it. Taking trips and buying products they really cannot afford, these folks find themselves in financial bondage.

Thanks to easy credit and a lack of self-discipline, many Christians find themselves in such straits. They have bought into the advertising mantra that they deserve to drive a nice automobile, take a relaxing vacation, enjoy a big screen television, or display a new wardrobe. Their children deserve to experience Disney World. Willingly accepting such thinking as truth, they make the purchase or take the trip, bills pile up, excuses are made, reputations are lost, and unhappiness returns. Unfortunately, the cycle is repeated as they again seek happiness through acquisition and indulgence.

What we often fail to recognize is that this lifestyle is a symptom of worldliness. We look to the things of this world to bring happiness and a sense of fulfillment. We sacrifice honesty and prudence and reputation on the altar of pleasure. John warned Christians, not unbelievers, about worldliness: “Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world—the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride in possessions—is not from the Father but is from the world. And the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever” (1 John 2:15-17).

Many Christians know the answers to solving financial problems and can tell you what they need to do. Like too many, they fail to live by what they know, willingly believing the lie that they deserve whatever they want to buy or want to do.

The lesson not lived is that of contentment. The apostle Paul instructs: “Now there is great gain in godliness with contentment, for we brought nothing into the world, and we cannot take anything out of the world. But if we have food and clothing, with these we will be content” (1 Timothy 6:6-8). We know those words and give mental assent to them, but too often we fail to live them. Discontented with merely having our needs satisfied, we buy and do what we cannot afford and find ourselves in financial bondage. “The rich rules over the poor, and the borrower is the slave of the lender” (Proverbs 22:7).

If we get so distraught over debt that we start to design ways not to repay what we owe, the Bible gives us this stark reminder: “The wicked borrows but does not pay back, but the righteous is generous and gives” (Psalm 37:21). If you have gotten into debt in an attempt to satisfy your wants, be honest and confess to God that you have sinned. You have sought satisfaction in what you could not afford. A book that I recommend and have given to others is The Total Money Makeover by Dave Ramsey. It contains lots of concrete counsel on how to get out of debt and live debt free.

There is nothing wrong with buying a product or taking a trip. The problem occurs when such things put one into debt. Rather than attempting to find our fulfillment in purchases or trips, may we find our fulfillment in God alone. The Scriptures remind us, “The fear of the Lord leads to life, and whoever has it rests satisfied; he will not be visited by harm” (Proverbs 19:23).

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At its most basic level, life is lived according to what gives one the most pleasure. Credit card companies certainly realize this. I once received within a credit card statement three perforated checks on a sheet with the heading “It’s Nice to Have Options.”

Isn’t it nice to know that your credit card company is so concerned about your happiness? On the page with the perforated checks, just waiting for my use, I am assured that “your account makes things possible!” By the way, why do they always use exclamation marks? I guess I’m supposed to be excited. I’m encouraged to “imagine the plans you’ve been dreaming about coming true,” such as “vacation getaway, home improvements, consolidate debt, pay college tuition, a new deck and grill.” Actually, I’ve been dreaming about cleaning the top of my desk, but I guess they can’t help with that.

Now, I’m not opposed to a vacation getaway (really!), making home improvements, paying college tuition (we’ve done a bit of that), or a new deck and grill. It’s just that those things are not worth borrowing money from my credit card company that has to repaid over months or years at exorbitant rates of interest.They don’t provide enough joy for the monthly pain of payments.

Does that mean that we Christians are a bunch of spoil sports who have no fun? Unfortunately, biblical Christianity is often portrayed as doom and gloom, woe is me, behind every silver lining is a dark cloud. That portrayal, of course, is a mischaracterization. True Christians are the happiest folks on earth. Why? They recognize that their sins had separated them from God. They are amazed that God the Son condescended to become robed with mortal flesh, fulfill the law’s demands, and die upon the cross in the place of believing sinners, taking upon himself their sin and granting to them his righteousness (2 Corinthians 5:21).

Laura Miller reminds us that our greatest joy is derived not from what money, whether our own or borrowed, will purchase. For the Christian, life must have eternal meaning, and that meaning is found in the eternal, triune God. She notes that “the Westminster Divines [1647] charted the whole of the Shorter Catechism on this question of life’s meaning, beginning with the first principle expounded: ‘The chief end of man is to glorify God and to enjoy Him forever.’ The remainder of the catechism serves as the apologetic [defense] for this answer: The whole of life is found only in God and His Word. These are our boundaries, the recipe for a culture bound to God. If we are in search of a purpose, a meaning for life, that will last longer than the glitter of the latest trinket to catch our eye or the most recent achievement to puff us up, then there is much we have in common with Peter at that moment when he resigned himself to following his Savior—and naught else” (Laura E. Miller, “Life is a Beach,” Tabletalk, vol. 19, no. 11).

Finding one’s greatest joy in God is the secret to contentment, the reason that Paul could write, “I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:11-13).

What is your great joy? Possessions, prestige, accomplishments? Waiting for MasterCard to buy you some happiness? Miller provides this insight: “John Piper notes that ‘God is most glorified when we are most satisfied in Him.’ When we put away the lures and lusts of this life, and cling—even tenuously—to the culture of God defined by His Word, we are able to experience ultimate enjoyment and God is ultimately glorified. . . . ‘If anyone desires to come after Me,’ Christ said, ‘let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me’ (Matt. 16:24). There is no room for self-definition in these words, only self-denial and redefinition in the image of God, where we are made to enjoy and glorify Him.”

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Proverbs 22:1 reminds us, “A good name is to be chosen rather than great riches, and favor is better than silver or gold.” Character matters. How a Christian lives, particularly among unbelievers, is an issue of no little concern.

Think about how a person handles his finances. That person is building a reputation among unbelievers. Let’s say that a Christian has gotten into some financial difficulties through foolish spending. He sees the problems he has created and works to overcome them. He sees his debt as a matter to be resolved, so he cuts back on his spending, perhaps drastically so, and pays his creditors. He will build a reputation as an honest person who sees his mistakes and accepts responsibility for them.

On the other hand, let’s say that this Christian sees his debts as a non-issue in the overall scheme of things. When told that he needs to contact his creditors and work out a plan to pay his debts, he responds with, “It’s not that important. They have already soaked me so much with interest charges that they made enough to cover what I owe. They’ll eventually write it off.” Not only is that person a thief, he is providing evidence that he may actually not be a true Christian if he does not repent of such an evil attitude (“The wicked borrows but does not pay back” [Psalm 37:21a]). Unfortunately, there are some men who serve as pastors of Baptist churches who have that very attitude.

The Bible instructs us “to be ready for every good work” (Titus 3:1). We often think that good works are spiritual duties, but good works encompasses all deeds which a Christian should do as he lives in this fallen world. Christians should benefit their fellow citizens whenever the opportunity presents itself.

Paul insists that Christians are to be consciously engaged in performing good works among their fellow citizens: “The saying is trustworthy, and I want you to insist on these things, so that those who have believed in God may be careful to devote themselves to good works. These things are excellent and profitable for people” (Titus 3:8).

Unfortunately, we too often think that such works are to be attention-getting endeavors, perhaps leading a food drive or building a house for someone in need. News of the deed is published in the local newspaper, “to the glory of God,” of course! While there is certainly nothing wrong with such deeds, we need to recognize that it is the relatively simple deeds that really glorify God. Returning to our earlier illustration, one’s personal finances ranks up there in importance.

Why is that? Why is how we handle our money so important? Money serves as a universal language and a universal concern. For instance, money is at the forefront of why elections are won or lost. We saw that with the infamous behavior of President Clinton and the infamous public response to it. Because Mr. Clinton was credited with the relative prosperity that the United States was enjoying during the 1990’s, his sexual sin proved no serious long-term threat to his popularity.

Those who are careless with their personal finances—who exhibit unconcern about outstanding bills and obligations and complain about what they cannot afford while heedlessly spending money on non-essentials—inhibit the spread of the gospel, regardless of all their talk of personal evangelism.

How we handle money may seem boringly “unspiritual,” but it is a part of the essential “good works” in our lives among unbelievers. May we adorn the gospel of Christ by being good stewards, by paying our debts on time, by living frugally, and by exhibiting generosity.

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The reaction by most politicians and activist-citizens in the United States concerning our nation’s economic woes and how to fix them reflects the sorry state of the present-day character of our people. “Somebody, bail me out! Please!”

Folks are all in a tizzy in the state of South Carolina because Gov. Mark Sanford refuses to buy into the line that we can borrow ourselves out of debt. Politicians such as U.S. Rep. Jim Clyburn denigrate Gov. Sanford, charging the governor with playing politics while people suffer.

Unfortunately, people such as Rep. Clyburn never fail at character assassination when logic fails to sustain their position. The charge of “playing politics” could certainly be leveled at Rep. Clyburn himself, as well as all the proponents of the federal stimulus packages. Not a few Americans love the idea of receiving what seems like something for nothing.

A Baptist minister of music once told me that he always took whatever steps necessary to avoid pain or suffering. I found his words unsettling yet true for most of humanity. When people are in trouble, they had rather kick the problem down the road instead of facing it now.

If we were a people of moral character, we would argue that we have already borrowed too much against the future and we need to right our economic ship now. We would say “no” to what we cannot afford and learn how to do with less.

To do so, though, would require suffering and sacrifice, and those are things we’re quite unwilling to do. Unfortunately, it seems to me, suffering will come because of the speculation and greed of certain American corporations and the pandering of most politicians, as well as a citizenry in general which has forgotten the necessity of living within one’s means. The question is whether we will suffer now or push the day of reckoning upon our children and grandchildren.

We would do well to turn to the Bible for timeless truth.

Now there is great gain in godliness with contentment, for we brought nothing into the world, and we cannot take anything out of the world. But if we have food and clothing, with these we will be content (1 Timothy 6:6-8, ESV).

Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content (Philippians 4:11, ESV).

Keep your life free from love of money, and be content with what you have, for he has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” (Hebrews 13:5, ESV)

The wicked borrows but does not pay back, but the righteous is generous and gives (Psalm 37:21, ESV).

The rich rules over the poor, and the borrower is the slave of the lender (Proverbs 22:7, ESV).

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How many times have you heard someone say, “Well, the Lord will provide”?

It is true that God provides many things. He brings the warmth of the sun and the refreshing of the rain upon the just and the unjust. He guides the steps of his followers so that they walk according to his will. He provides comfort and consolation to his children when they lose a loved one to death. God provides the material needs essential for his work to progress.

Yet many times the statement that “God will provide” is a blasphemy against God. Think about this scenario: a married man who professes to be a Christian wants to buy a second car. It’s an inconvenience to get by with one car, so having a second car would prove helpful.

Unfortunately, the man’s credit is a disgrace. He has unpaid bills that go back for years. His present income struggles to provide his family’s needs and pay a little each month on his accumulated debts. Now he wants to buy a car on credit.

How does he justify his anticipated purchase? “The Lord will provide.”

Such a person is guilty of the sin of presumption. He presumes that God will bail him out of the mess the man is making for himself. He is not exhibiting faith. He is exhibiting presumption.

In addition, he is justifying yet another irresponsible decision by invoking the name of God. He is not honoring the name of God. He is guilty of using God’s name in vain.

Such a position is really that of a fool. A fool gives little thought to the future (which brings to mind all the clamoring for “bailout money” by public officials who never tire of borrowing against an uncertain tomorrow to stave off the need for sacrifice and suffering today).

William Jenkyn (1612-85) lamented: “Fools are always futuring.” Unfortunately, too many who claim the name of Christ, ministers included, continue to be guilty of such folly.

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An Associated Press report, “Credit Card Borrowing Limits Reduced for Tens of Thousands of Consumers,” reveals a growing problem for many Americans:

Just as Americans grow more reliant on credit cards to help pay monthly bills, they’re being hit with a one-two punch: Card companies are reducing borrowing limits for tens of thousands of consumers, which then can lead to lower credit scores.

Those facing this predicament might not even know it until they apply for a loan or another credit card, and then get denied because their credit score has dropped.

Credit card companies, concerned about borrowers’ ability to pay, are evidently reducing borrowing limits for those who have substantial credit card debt in order to lower the companies’ risk of loss should the borrower increase his debt and subsequently default.

With the tightening American economy, more people are using credit cards to buy necessities while continuing to finance their desires. The AP article notes:

Such moves come as consumers are increasingly using their credit cards as a source of liquidity, especially since it’s becoming harder to tap their home equity as much to pay for everything from renovations to vacations to trips to the mall.

Frankly, I have little sympathy for the plight of credit card companies. They have made billions off of arguably predatory lending practices. Until recently, getting a credit card has been ridiculously easy. Witness, for instance, the numbers of college students who have amassed large credit card balances. Not having steady employment, many of these students should not have been offered a credit card, let alone approved when they applied. And the credit card companies are culpable in their inundating students with offers of easy credit.

People, though, are responsible for their actions and are also culpable. Tapping home equity or using credit cards to finance “everything from renovations to vacations to trips to the mall” is really not all that smart, and I’m being generous. If you don’t have the money, renovations don’t have to be made, vacations don’t have to be taken, and trips to the mall can be avoided.

Americans today aren’t much for delayed gratification. We’ve lost the concept of saving for things we want. Couple that attitude with a tightening economy where we’re getting squeezed with ever increasing fuel and food prices, and the result of using credit cards to finance it all is a catastrophe waiting to happen.

Unfortunately, Christians are not immune to the “gotta have it now and worry about paying it later” mindset. And many Christians have wrecked their marriages in particular and their lives in general by living according to that unprincipled assumption.

We need to remember that “the rich rules over the poor, and the borrower is the slave of the lender” (Proverbs 22:7, ESV). Most debt problems are avoidable. We do not have to keep up with our neighbors with the vacations we take, the cars we drive, the clothes we wear, the gifts we give our spouses and children, or whatever. When it comes to using a credit card, we need to abide by the rule that we purchase only what we can pay when the monthly statement arrives.

The apostle Paul’s admonition would cure a lot of our credit stress: “But if we have food and clothing, with these we will be content” (1 Timothy 6:8, ESV).

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