Read an Excerpt
Free and Clear
God's Roadmap to Debt-Free Living
By Howard Dayton, Jim Vincent
Moody PublishersCopyright © 2006 Howard Dayton
All rights reserved.
Tim Connor slammed the front door behind himself in disgust. He and his wife, Cindy, had been arguing about money—again. As their burden of debt had grown, so had the frequency and intensity of their conflicts. He had to get out of the house to clear his mind.
Tim couldn't believe what he had said to Cindy in his anger: "Your middle name is spending! You waste money more than anyone I know! And I'm the one going to work every day!"
Cindy had shot back, "At least I didn't buy a new bass boat using a credit card! How stupid was that! And you think I waste money. Give me a break! I'm so tired of fighting about this stuff. I don't think I can take this too much longer, Tim. This just isn't working. Maybe we should get a divorce."
"What are you saying?" Tim yelled back. "You really want to leave me, don't you?" With that, Cindy had started to cry. She retreated in tears to their bedroom, angry, frustrated, and feeling alone.
Tim's heart filled instantly with regret. He couldn't believe it had come to this. Was she really suggesting divorce? Tim thought of their two young children and how much they loved their mother. He loved her too. He had always considered their marriage—nine years long at this point—a success. From the outside, everything looked picture perfect. Yet, somehow this latest blowup was different from the past squabbles he and Cindy had had over money. He had seen desperation in her eyes that he had not seen before. And now that the "D" word had surfaced, it was clear the debt pressure had begun to turn their financial disagreements into a potential marriage breaker.
The truth is Tim and Cindy's financial stress did not develop overnight. This was no sudden turn for the worse. What they were experiencing is all too common in this buy-now-pay-later culture in which we live. In fact, in most situations I've been involved with in helping people get out of debt, their troubles had developed and intensified almost imperceptibly—like a storm gathering on a horizon.
A GATHERING STORM
In the last fifty years meteorologists have discovered the secrets of how hurricanes develop. A monster Category 5 hurricane that unleashes its catastrophic destruction when it makes landfall in the eastern United States can begin with a gentle weather pattern of warm air rising in the plains of western Africa. Soon a growing thunderstorm moves out over the tropical Atlantic Ocean waters, and then, in stages, becomes a tropical depression, a tropical storm, and finally a full-blown hurricane. Hurricanes start small and gain in intensity—just like problems and conflicts over debt.
That's precisely what happened with Tim and Cindy. They allowed the problem to go too long before they addressed it honestly. Though they had overcome earlier challenges that grew out of their different family backgrounds, they never thought that their financial problems brought on by worry over debt would soon threaten everything.
Cindy had been raised in a middle-income family and, as the apple of her father's eye, got anything she wanted. She learned to expect a life of relative ease and comfort that caused her to take hard work and sacrifice for granted. Tim, in contrast, knew firsthand the struggles of tight finances. He had grown up on a farm, the third of five children. With never enough money to go around, his parents had seemed to be in a never-ending squabble about how they were going to make ends meet. Often he could hear his mother cry herself to sleep. Even as a youngster, Tim had gone to bed imagining that his family might be out on the street the next day.
FREE AND CLEAR: THE ROAD TO FREEDOM
For some reason, Tim and Cindy had never really discussed with each other their hopes and dreams—or their fears—regarding their future. They had never talked about how they wanted to use money to fulfill those dreams. They, like many other people, had unspoken expectations they didn't fully understand. They are not alone, and neither are you.
God loves you and cares deeply about you. He knew that money would be a challenge for us and wanted to help us manage it wisely. That's why He said so much about it. You may be surprised to know that the Bible contains 2,350 practical verses on how to handle money and possessions. Indeed, 15 percent of everything Jesus Christ said in the Scriptures dealt with money and possessions!
In this book you will learn God's way to get out of debt.
God's roadmap is the only reliable guide to lead you, no matter your situation, to experience the joy and blessing of true financial freedom—free and clear from the stress and strain of debt.
This section at the end of each chapter will help you to measure your progress as you follow God's roadmap toward becoming free and clear of debt.
1. Circle the word below that best describes your current financial situation (If you're married, see if you and your spouse chose the same word. Then discuss your responses.)
Manageable Challenging Stressful Desperate
2 What do you believe is your greatest barrier to getting out of debt?
We've all made mistakes with money in the past. Do not let a sense of guilt overwhelm you; rather, learn from the experience.CHAPTER 2
Cindy and Tim Connor called to ask for help on Crown's nationally broadcast radio program, Money Matters. At the time they called they were desperate. "We're under a mountain of debt and headed for a breakdown in our marriage," Tim admitted. "So we have to get out of it—no matter what it takes."
I was about to ask Cindy if she agreed with Tim, but before I had a chance, she added, "We really need help. We know we have to do this, but we're not sure where to start."
I sensed in their voices that they were a very determined couple. They lived close to the offices of Crown Financial Ministries, so I invited them to meet with me to examine their financial situation.
We met a week later. Tim was quite nervous. He was teaching music at a high school and tutoring students on the side to earn additional income. Cindy worked two days a week as a nurse at the local hospital. They also had two small children, both starting school. Tim and Cindy looked stressed. Tim stammered, "I'm not sure if we just don't make enough money or if we're spending too much." Cindy added, "One thing is for sure; we don't understand where it's all going."
A GROWING DILEMMA
The Connors faced an all-too-common dilemma: They had gotten way over their heads in debt. They didn't really know the extent of the problem. What they needed to do first was take an honest look at their situation.
The Connors owed a substantial amount to retail stores, doctors, credit card companies, and their bank. Tim, remember, had just bought a shiny new fishing boat—using plastic! In addition, they carried a sizeable home mortgage. Their growing family meant increasing expenses, and in a few years they would need college tuition for the children. Neither Tim nor Cindy could foresee a brighter future. They felt stuck.
Because of their debts, the Connors tried to shop carefully, sometimes comparing half a dozen outlets for the best price. Tim determined to handle most of the car maintenance, and Cindy avoided buying expensive convenience foods. But the family faced a critical problem. They never had been able to plan their spending. They seldom decided not to buy what they wanted, and they had no plan to save or invest for the future. They had fallen into the debt trap.
THE DEBT EXPLOSION
Unfortunately, the Connors join millions of Americans struggling under the weight of personal debt. Government, business, and personal debt continue to explode in our country. Each day, our mailboxes are flooded with tantalizing credit card offers promising an introductory low percentage rate for the first few months. For many cash-strapped individuals, that's an offer too good to refuse! We have so much debt that the average person has been described as someone driving on a bond-financed highway in a bank-financed car fueled by credit-card-financed gas, going to purchase furniture on the installment plan to put in his mortgaged home! Sound familiar?
Forty-three percent of all families spend more than they earn each year. In fact, most of them spend about 10 percent more than they earn: That's $1.10 spent for every dollar earned. How long can that continue? Before long they're in financial bondage.
Look at the incredibly rapid increase in debt reflected in these graphs.
With that kind of out-of-control spending and mounting debt, it's no wonder so many people suffer from debilitating stress.
THE REAL COST OF DEBT
Debt damages more than our personal finances; it also often increases stress, which contributes to mental, physical, and emotional fatigue. It can compromise health and, at times, lead to serious illness. It can harm relationships and marriages. According to surveys, tension in the home over money is one of the most common causes of divorce.
Many people raise their lifestyle by using debt, only to discover that the burden of debt then controls their lifestyle. Before they know it they're drowning in debt and desperate for a rescue plan.
BEEN THERE, DONE THAT
When the Connors shared their predicament, I understood completely. Sometimes when I give a talk to people about money, I begin by saying, "Hi, I'm Howard Dayton, and I'm a recovering addict." Early in my marriage I was addicted to material things! Gaining more and more stuff consumed my life to the point where before learning God's way of handling money, I had gotten us in tens of thousands of dollars in debt. We had only a small amount of savings, and I gave little.
However, once I learned and applied God's financial principles, everything changed. And I mean everything! It didn't happen overnight, but within nine years, my wife, Bev, and I were debt-free—free and clear of everything, including our home. We went from financial bondage, and all the stress and strain that brings, to true financial freedom. Words cannot describe how good we felt. And now, I want you to experience that same freedom.
Someone once told me that the Lord often allows a person to teach a subject because the teacher desperately needs it! That was certainly true for me in the area of money. I have never met anyone who had more wrong attitudes about money or who handled money in a way more contrary to the Bible than I did.
Some who read this book are deeply in debt. Others are on the road to trouble and don't yet realize it. But if you're like Tim and Cindy, stuck in financial bondage, there is hope. You can become debt-free! You can do it!
By the way, we've all made mistakes with money in the past. Do not let a sense of guilt overwhelm you; rather, learn from the experience. The apostle Paul said it this way: "Forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal" (Philippians 3:13–14 NASB). It's time to stop focusing on the problem and turn to the solution.
Increasingly, people wonder where they can turn for financial advice and for real solutions to their financial problems. There are two basic choices: the Bible and the answers people devise. The way most people handle money is in sharp contrast to God's financial principles. Isaiah 55:8 reads, "'For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,' declares the LORD."
The purpose of this book is to help you learn what God says about debt and then to provide you simple, proven steps to get out of it. It offers practical ways to integrate these biblical principles into your life. As you discover these principles and put them into practice, you will begin to enjoy profound spiritual freedom. And you'll be on the road to experiencing true financial freedom.
So if you're looking for the answers to your debt dilemma, you've found it. The answers are found in the timeless pages of the Bible.
Remember: The principles you will be learning are a gift from a loving heavenly Father—a gift intended to benefit you.
Are you ready? Good. Let's hit the road to true financial freedom.
1. If God's ways are not our ways, how do we discover what He thinks about money?
2. Why do you think most people have such faulty views of debt and how to handle money?
3. One of the Bible verses quoted in this chapter came from the book of Philippians. Remember it? "Forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal." List some of the attitudes and mistakes regarding your handling of money you'd like to leave behind.
4. Finally, list three of the most important goals you wish to achieve financially.
There is a division of responsibilities in the handling of our money. God has certain responsibilities, and He has given other responsibilities to us.CHAPTER 3
A God's-Eye View of Money
At the end of my initial meeting with the Connors, I told them, "Your first step in getting out of debt is to learn what God says about money." It's the first step for anyone. And you may be just like Tim, who sheepishly admitted he had no idea the Bible had so much to say about money. I certainly could relate to that.
WHERE IT ALL BEGAN
Several years ago, I was just as surprised to discover how much the Bible had to say about money. My business partner, Jim Seneff, and I found ourselves making financial decisions for our expanding business and young families without any scriptural point of reference. I desired, along with Jim, to be the best husband and the best businessman I could be. We both wanted to follow God's roadmap to a life of financial freedom. In order to do that we decided to do a thorough study of what Scriptures said about money. Together we read the entire Bible, locating each of the 2,350 verses that dealt with money and possessions, and arranged those verses by topics.
The results were dramatic. What emerged from that study were powerful principles for the use of money and possessions—principles that literally changed our lives.
In addition to putting those principles into practice in our own families and business, we put what we had discovered into a seminar and presented it at our church. We witnessed a remarkable response! People bombarded us with questions, describing areas of intense frustration.
Later I founded Crown Ministries, which merged with Larry Burkett's Christian Financial Concepts to form Crown Financial Ministries. Crown has developed practical materials to help people of all ages get on the road to true financial freedom. Tens of thousands of churches around the world now use Crown's material to teach people biblical financial principles. We're convinced the material has been so effective because God's plan is the only plan for true financial freedom.
AN OVERVIEW OF GOD'S PERSPECTIVE
Because it's so important to understand God's way of handling money, let me give you a brief overview. I'm convinced Jesus said so much about money for two reasons:
1. How we handle our money impacts our fellowship with Him.
2. He wants to help us handle money wisely.
Money Matters and Our Fellowship
How we handle our money impacts our fellowship with Christ. Jesus revealed a direct relationship between how we handle our money and the quality of our spiritual lives. In Luke 16:11, He asks a penetrating question: "So if you have not been trustworthy in handling worldly wealth, who will trust you with true riches?" You can't get any clearer than that!
I discovered that every time I applied one of God's financial principles, I found myself drawn closer to Christ. However, if I was unfaithful with even one, my fellowship with Him suffered. But there's another reason why Jesus taught so specifically on the handling of money.
Money Matters and God's Roadmap
God wants to help us handle money wisely. He realizes that money plays a big part in our lives. We spend much of our time working for it, deciding how to spend it, grappling with debt, thinking about where to save and invest, and praying about giving. The Lord knew money would be a challenge, even a source of conflict for many of us.
He wants to help us handle money wisely, so He has given us clear, practical truths in the Bible that really work. They are His roadmap to guide us on our financial journey.
WHERE THE BUCK REALLY STOPS
There is a division of responsibilities in the handling of our money. Simply put: God has certain responsibilities, and He has given other responsibilities to us. Most frustration in handling money comes because we do not realize which responsibilities are ours and which belong to the Lord. It will be helpful for you to understand this division as you evaluate your current situation.
God's Responsibility—the Owner
God created all things and owns everything. God's primary responsibility in relation to money and possessions is to act as the owner. Psalm 24:1 tells us, "The earth is the LORD's, and everything in it." Scripture gets even more specific. Leviticus 25:23 identifies God as the owner of all the land: "The land must not be sold permanently, because the land is mine and you are ... my tenants." Haggai 2:8 says He owns all the mineral riches of the earth: "'The silver is Mine and the gold is Mine,' declares the LORD Almighty."
Excerpted from Free and Clear by Howard Dayton, Jim Vincent. Copyright © 2006 Howard Dayton. Excerpted by permission of Moody Publishers.
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