The Economy

Here’s what Fox News, CNN, and NBC are not going to tell you about the economy:

It’s going to be all right.

I am no financial expert.  I hold no degrees or formal training in micro or macroeconomics.  So how in the world can I say that it’s going to be all right?  Because I don’t trust in paychecks or Wall Street to provide for us.  God may very well use those things to provide, but ultimately he is our provider.

As you may know, we develop a team of financial partners to fund our salaries as well as ministry expenses.  This team is made up predominately (over 90% both in number of givers and in percentage of overall funds) of individuals and families (as opposed to corporations or churches).  People who have jobs and mortgages and newspapers and cell phone bills and access to Fox News.  People who are unsure of where the US economy is going.  The direct result is that when the news media starts to shout “CRISIS,” we feel it.  We get shortened paychecks.

The other day, as I began fretting (again) about how we are going to pay all of the upcoming medical bills from Benjamin’s recent surgery, I was confronted by my own lack of faith.  The fact of the matter is that in 6 years of full-time vocational Christian work, I have never missed a meal and never had to go into debt (with the exception of these recent medical bills).  God has provided every single time.

As I look to the future, I don’t know much.  I don’t know if the US government is going to continue to bail out companies with money we don’t actually have (700 billion more on top of 10 trillion in debt just doesn’t make much sense, despite the fact that politicians on both sides of the aisle are for it).  I don’t know if we are going to pull out of this economic mess or not.  I don’t know if we are going to have enough financial support to stay on campus.

But what I do know beyond a shadow of a doubt is that it’s going to be all right.  God has not left the throne to go grab a YooHoo from the heavenly 7-11.  He is still in control.

Does that mean that the economy will rebound?  I dunno.  We as Western Christians have to be careful to not confuse God’s blessing with our financial bottom line.  There are believers in other parts of the world who have literally nothing, but are blessed beyond measure.  Jesus Himself was a homeless man.  So, if God takes everything I have away, all of the cars and clothes and computers and gadgets… it just means I will then have what Jesus had.

If the economy turned around tomorrow, there would be a one-line story about it in the paper, and on the cable news.  Then, they would turn their attention to the next big crisis.  Why?  Because good news doesn’t drive up ratings!  They get more dollars from Gillette and and whoever else is advertising on their station when more people are watching.  And more people watch when there is a crisis (perceived or actual). That’s the reason people on the NBC News are not encouraged to say “It’s going to be all right.”

So please, don’t do your giving (or anything else) based on what CNN says about the stock market.  Live (and give) based on who Jesus is, and what he has said.  Do you really think he’d let you go hungry?  And if you are living worried (like I often am) about financial issues, maybe it’s time to throw a brick through your TV and read your Bible instead.

Skittles, Wedgies, and the Monthly Budget.

I used to pride myself on being a guy who didn’t worry.  I frequently said things like “stress is a waste of emotion,” which is true, but that doesn’t make it any less annoying.  Now I wish I could go back and allow my 28-year-old self to introduce my 18-year-old self to a concept known as the “wedgie.”  Telling someone (intellect) not to feel something (emotion) is addressing the wrong part.

God in his infinite sense of humor has grown me to the point that now, with a wife, a child, and a host of other responsibilities, I have become more of a worrier.  And now my annoying 18-year-old self is telling me (intellectually, of course) that “stress is a waste of emotion” or “stress is the opposite of faith,” among other harsh truths.  Thanks for that, kid.  It was easy not to worry when the biggest decision of the week was “do I eat all of this bag of skittles or save some for later?”

With the aforementioned media hype regarding the economy (based in part in the realm of fact, for sure), we have had more than a bag of skittles to worry about, (but thankfully we have also had far more than a bag of skittles to eat).  We received a few short paychecks a few months back, but have been able to pay all of our bills.  God has continued to provide.  It looks like we are even going to be able to go ahead and pay off the bill from Little Ben’s birth (in just a shade under half a year), and turn our attention to the bills for his recent medical issues.

The problem looming at the back of my mind now is the fact that we don’t have enough monthly support coming in.  We have been floating along on some larger one-time donations recently and have not gone negative in our staff account (or our bank account), but again I see the funds dwindling, and I am prone to start worrying.

Jacqueline and I have been on the Dave Ramsey plan with our finances since we got married (and I was on it before, having paid off my $16,000 debt to the College Foundation of NC in under 4 years—on a salary of $16,200 per year—before we were married) and have been making it work.  I have found myself in the past few months avoiding the process of budgeting, though, because I worry less.  That’s not at all fair to Jacqueline, making her handle the budget all by herself.  Would you pray for me to engage in this process, and to avoid running from the issues, but instead to take those worries to Jesus?

Also continue to pray for our finances.  Praise the Lord with us for his provision thus far, and ask that He would increase our monthly gifts significantly in the next three months.  We currently need around $1500 in additional monthly support to reach a healthy spot.

As always, if you are interested in being a part of the answer to those prayers, check out this page for more info on how to give.

It turns out my 18-year-old self, though he is annoying, is correct.  But the way I am now admonishing myself and others not to stress is by giving myself a reason not to worry.  And that reason is Jesus.  He came and lived a perfect life that I couldn’t and can’t, died the death that I deserved and deserve, and made a way for me to be perfect in the father’s eyes.  That actually affects my wallet.  I still sit on my wallet, but it’s not my foundation.  My 403-b is still there, but ultimately I run to God to provide.  He provides again and again for his children.  What a joy to have a job that forces me to realize that.  I’m telling students on campus to trust Jesus, and at home I have no other choice but to heed my own advice.

Idolatry is a Pitching Wedge.

Yesterday I played a round of golf.  Heading into hole 15, I needed two strokes to catch the leader.  Either I had to step it up, or he had to make a mistake.  As I swung, my heart was racing.  Adrenaline in my sytem took control, and I had what was probably the longest, best drive of my life.  Easily 250 yards, dead straight, middle cut of the fairway.  I was ecstatic.  I glanced again at the score card, made my way to my second shot, and amazingly repeated the same accuracy, reaching the green in only two shots.

Those of you who have ever played golf with me know how atypical (and borderline unbelievable) this whole scenario is.  Those of you with an internet connection and a decent memory might also know that even if I had made time in my schedule for a round of golf yesterday, the weather in western NC was terrible, and I would not have played.

I was playing a video game.  Tiger Woods Golf on my Playstation 2.  (I know, PS2 is sooo early-2002.  Give me a break.  It works just fine.)  But the odd thing is that if you had put those fancy heart monitor leads on me while playing, it would have been tough to argue that I wasn’t actually experiencing a round of golf.  I was nervous, excited, angry, and my heart really was racing as I played.

The thing about my experience yesterday that is so telling is what I put off doing so that I could play video games.  We are in the process of writing and sending our annual end-of-year financial support appeal letter.  I should have been finishing it to send to the printer so that we could effectively raise support.  Instead, I opted for the thrill of the back nine at the TPC at Sawgrass.  Why?

If you are ever looking for a way to understand your heart, asking the question “Why?” always gets you there the fastest.  For me, today’s answer to yesterday’s question is complex.  I desperately long to be powerful, in control, and respected.  These are just a few of the idols I bow down to (and repent of bowing down to) on a daily and hourly basis.  The video game told me yesterday I was worth something.  I have a “career earnings” on the game of well over $10,000,000.00.  In the interest of full disclosure, I grossed $16,200.53 in my first full year of staff with Campus Crusade.  I’m better at making virtual money.  The video game told me I was talented and competent.  I holed a 45 foot eagle putt, and beat Tiger Woods in head-to-head match play.

I got lied to by a 6-year-old piece of electronic equipment.  The lie wasn’t necessarily that I am competent, talented, worth something, or wealthy; but that the basis for those things could ever be found in a video game.  Jesus must have rolled his eyes when I got nervous over a putt on a video game that really did not (nor could not possibly) matter in the grand scheme.

My aversion to raising financial support is that it almost never feeds my idols of self-reliance and control.  I am laid bare (thankfully only metaphorically) before the people that I challenge to join us financially.  In a culture that relentlessly feeds isolation and independence, I am forced to depend on others, and engage in community.  Raising support forces me to do that, and to experience the rush of trusting God for his provision.  That’s a sensation that is far more real than any video game can deliver.

Now if only I could remember that the next time my favorite idols come calling.

And while I am at it, you can join our team of financial ministry partners here.

Confessions of a Professional Christian.

Today we got an email that indicated someone was coming off of our financial support team.  They supported us at $200 per month.  I am still trying to get to the bottom of this, because it appears they didn’t intend to stop giving, and it is very possibly a computer glitch in Orlando at our headquarters.

Either way… those emails are always a good idolatry indicator for me.  I’ll be honest and say I even went so far as to yell at my wife as a result of that email.  I trust in money way too often.  More accurately, I trust in control.  If I can control the situation, I am good to go.  And money in a bank account is a good way to have a sense of control.

Any time I feel in control of a situation, though, it’s an illusion.  All it takes is a crisis to show that.  When a gunman enters a classroom, all the folks who were in control no longer are.  When a hurricane hits, you realize that no matter how big you are, you’re still pretty small…

All of that to say that “control” is a fickle and shifty idol to chase after.  But I do it all the time.

It got me thinking, as I confessed my sin, that I sometimes think things are biblical just because they are American.  I was listening to the Dave Ramsey Show podcast in the car earlier and started to fantasize about leaving staff and getting a job where I could support my family without having to rely on others to support us.  After all, it’s in the Bible that we should take care of our families, and that we should work, and that handouts are bad.

Wait, maybe not all of that is in the Bible.  Support raising is all over the Bible.  It’s how God has funded his work since the very beginning.  It’s thoroughly biblical, and thoroughly un-American.  And so while I am right in line with the word of God when I pick up the phone and call folks for support, I am paddling upstream in the culture.  We are a culture that values independence (have been since the ’70s…  the SEVENTEEN 70’s) and the thought that my business is my business, not yours.  ESPECIALLY when it comes to my wallet.

If I were to leave staff, I’d just be feeding the idol of control.  I’d work 90 hours a week and be a millionaire by the time I retire, sure.  But I’d be running from where I am confident God has called me.  He’s called me to reach students with the gospel.  To tell them that even though they incessantly run from him and trust in things other than him, He died to set them free.

Just as surely as I am confident God has called me to breathe life into a dying college culture,  I’m confident He’s called others (like you.  Yeah, you…) to “hold the rope” financially and prayerfully for me.  There’s not an email I could receive that would change that.

Your god is Dying.

The financial news is crazy these days.  From what seems like an incessant train of bailouts and legislation to rising unemployment to insurance companies turning folks away, the news is rarely good.

People are in a state of panic.

What better time, as Christians, to show the watching world what we really trust in!?

I confess, this is a pep talk for myself that you are welcomed to listen in on, but I am discouraged as I step back from my situation and evaluate how I am handling things.  Our financial support has suffered recently, and if I am honest, I tend toward panic more than trusting Christ.  Which is exactly the opposite of how the gospel ought to affect me.

The reason so many people in the financial sector are breaking apart at the seams is because their god is dying.  They have trusted in money, or the economy, or their 401-K, or the American dream.  And now that thing in which they have placed their trust is dying.  Their god is dying.

Our God rose from death.  And he promises in his word that he takes care of his own.  Jesus is LORD.  Not just a king or a president.  The King of kings.  The Lord of lords.  He alone is in control.

So instead of freaking out when finances are tight, I am going to rejoice that my God is alive, and still in control.  I am going to trust.  But let’s take it another step.  How about instead of clamming up and “taking care of our own” with no regard for others, we model the generousity and others-focus that Jesus would have for us during this time.  Our generousity in the face of uncertainty will serve as God’s hands and feet drawing people who are otherwise totally disinterested and turned off by Christians.

Give sacrificially (no, this is not just a plug for you to support us.  Give to people who need to know that money won’t save them.)  Pray as to who God would have you minister to with your wallet.  Is there a single mom or a widow that needs a meal or a tank of gas?  Give to your church, so that they don’t have to lay off people. Give to the local food bank.  Just… GIVE.

I’ll start.  I haven’t taken it before the Lord with my wife yet, so I am not sure how we are going to give, but I assure you that this month, even in spite of a significant loss in our support, we will give more than we did last month.

Because my God is not dead, or dying.