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YOUR MONEY GOD'S WAYOvercoming the 7 Money Myths That Keep Christians Broke
By AMIE STREATER
Thomas NelsonCopyright © 2010 Amie Streater
All right reserved.
Chapter OneCOUNTERFEIT CONVICTIONS
Growing up in Texas, I learned a lot of colorful sayings, many of which I had to abandon when I became a pastor. However, one of those sayings probably applies to you right now: This ain't my first rodeo.
You could fill the bed of a Ford F-150 pickup with all the books and financial articles out there about investing, retirement accounts, saving, mortgages, home buying, and debt. It's probably a safe bet that whenever you flip through a magazine article on finance or look at most books on the topic, you think, Yeah, I've heard that before.
This ain't your first rodeo. Wasn't mine either.
As a teenager, I had a subscription to Money magazine. I paid cashy for my first car. The first home Scott and I purchased as newlyweds had a fifteen-year, fixed-rate mortgage with payments of only $675 a month. We put 10 percent down.
We started out smart, but somewhere along the way, we got stupid. Real stupid.
After only a year, that little house wasn't good enough anymore. So we upgraded, this time with no money down and a thirty-year loan. A traffic accident totaled my paid-for car, so I went into debt to buy another brand-new car, which I quickly tired of and traded in for yet another one.
Credit cards furnished the nicer house and handled any repairs we had not bothered to save up for. Then the baby came.
And so the cycle began.
I had read all the books. I had all the information. And I still made bad choices.
Sound familiar? Chances are, you've made bad choices too. And you knew better.
As a believer in Christ, you have probably read a good bit of the Bible. You may have even read all of it several times. Maybe you're like me and went to one of those Christian schools that made you diagram Bible verses during the sentence structure lessons in English class. Fun, right?
Lack of biblical knowledge, for many Christians, is not the problem. And usually, neither is lack of conviction.
As Christians we have convictions, things we hold to be true, principles we hold in our hearts and endeavor to live out every day. If you were sitting in my office, I could have you read the Great Commission to me out of Matthew 28, and you could probably explain to me, quite passionately, that it means we have a calling to share the good news of Christ with the world. But if we turned back just a few pages and I asked you to read the parable of the talents in Matthew 25, you would probably get a confused look on your face and perhaps give me a Robin Hood analogy, tinged with disgust: "The rich get richer, and the poor get poorer."
Let me ask you this: How are you going to spread the good news of Christ all over the world, or fund the work of missionaries who do, if you don't have any money? Would God have given us the parable of the talents simply to convey that it's hopeless? I think not.
You've certainly read financial books before, along with countless magazine articles about getting your ducks in a row. And you probably beat yourself up for not doing those things you read about. You've read the Bible, you know what you believe, and you've absorbed the common-sense financial stuff. So what's the problem? What's happening to this information between my eyes, my brain, and my heart? you? wonder. I read it, I understand it, I agree with it-but I don't do it. Why?
Ephesians 6:12 explains what we're up against: "We do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places." Still, I'm not one for giving the devil too much credit. Satan may hand us the rope, but we're the ones who tie the knot and jump off the financial chair.
What happens between the information on the page, the absorption in the brain, and the execution of those ideas in the heart is that the idea we know we should implement gets polluted by counterfeit convictions.
Counterfeit convictions are beliefs that started out as biblical truths but that we absorb into our hearts incorrectly. It doesn't matter whether we believe wrongly for selfish reasons, such as deciding that passages on giving and generosity don't apply to us anymore, or for fearful ones, for instance, that God only loves you if you're rich. It also doesn't matter to what degree our convictions are wrong. We can be way off base or have an understanding that is skewed just a little bit. And that's all it takes. You don't have to drive your car completely off the freeway to mess up your journey; you can drift just a little bit into the other lane, miss your exit, and ultimately miss your final destination. That's the power of deception. Unfortunately, when we're deceived, we don't know it, and we're often hesitant to acknowledge it when someone else points it out.
A counterfeit conviction, like counterfeit money, looks an awful lot like the real thing. It sometimes takes a trained eye to tell the difference. But if you look closely with a discerning eye, there's always a flaw that gives it away. If we ignore the flaw and try to apply counterfeit convictions to our Christian lives, the results never work out as we expect them to. We end up confused, disappointed, and frustrated with God. Then we get angry because we believe He is not answering our prayers, when in fact, the problem is not with God but with what we've come to expect from Him in our financial woes.
The only weapon against counterfeit convictions is the timeless truths found in God's Word, the Bible. A timeless truth is a simple biblical principle that we can count on to lead us down the right path.
If you go back to our counterfeit money analogy, you can put the two terms-counterfeit convictions ands timeless truths-together like this: A counterfeit-conviction is like fake money: it looks good, but it's worthless. It may fool some people for a little while, but eventually it will be proved to be what it is: a phony. And just as you can't make a real deposit at a bank with fake money, you can't make a positive impact in your life when your spiritual currency is made up of phony beliefs.
Do you know those penlights cashiers and bank tellers use to verify money's authenticity? That's like a timeless truth. For us, a timeless truth is God's Word and the light of the Holy Spirit shining on our convictions, showing us which ones are real and which ones are phony. False convictions can't make it past the clarifying light of God's Word.
Before we go any further, let me be clear about one thing: you are not a bad person if you have counterfeit convictions. Everyone has them. Everyone. All of us at some point in our lives have been duped. And unfortunately, many of us have been duped in churches, by TV preachers, by friends, by things we have read or seen, by our culture, and even by the devil himself, who the Bible says comes to steal, kill, and destroy (John 10:10). Notice his first dastardly goal is financial in nature-to steal. And not only is he the chief of thieves, he's the father of liars-and he lies to you all the time.
Have you ever read a promise of God in the Bible and then heard a little whisper that says, "That can't be true! If that were true, you would have that in your life, and you don't! It's a lie!"? That, my friends, is the devil himself, trying to snatch God's promises right out of your heart and your head.
Don't let it happen.
In this book, I'll show you how to avoid having God's promises stolen from you. They're yours to keep, and you should hang on to them for dear life.
While outright lies can be easy to spot-like Monopoly money taken to the grocery store-slight distortions are harder to discern. Those slight distortions of God's truth can come from a million different places: well-meaning friends, misinformed teachers, even pastors with wrong motives. In this book we will walk through simple steps to shine the light on these distortions so their flaws become apparent. It will be like clicking on one of those penlights: examining a conviction against the light of God's Word will reveal it to be either the real deal or phony baloney. And once you know what is real, you simply toss aside what's bad. It's that simple. No guilt, no condemnation, no drama. Just let it go.
Sound easy? It is. It's the lies of the world, the deceit of our materialistic culture, and the influence of selfish people that make things so complicated.
So let's start making them simple.
Shedding Light on the Darkness
Here's an example of a counterfeit conviction and the correlating timeless truth.
Counterfeit Conviction: "I can't really afford this, but I'll just put it on my credit card. When the bill comes, God will provide!"
Timeless Truth: Proverbs 21:17 tells us, "He who loves pleasure will be a poor man; he who loves wine and oil will not be rich."
Temporary pleasures are just that: temporary. They're gone, and then the flesh is off and running, looking for the next cheap thrill. We are only human, after all, and as humans, our fleshly desires can tend to get the better of us from time to time. We must always guard ourselves from chasing the pleasures of stuff because our desires will always outpace our bank balances. Going into debt to fill the bottomless pit of human desire for more and more stuff is a surefire recipe for poverty.
Have some fun, but do so in moderation and within the parameters of a healthy budget. Setting aside some money each month to spend on those impulsive little pleasures lets you have a good time and still meet your financial goals. Spending money is like eating: do it when you have a need, and occasionally just because you want to, but never as a medication for pain, loneliness, or disappointment.
Did you see how it works? A selfish desire fueled by a lie is squashed by the truth. It's a simple process to unpack these lies; if we don't, we have to live with the fruit of them, which makes our lives very, very complicated. This, my friends, is how Christians get messed up with money.
Once you understand the lies that have led to your bad financial behaviors, you can start addressing them as needed. Some lies are simple to address, such as the one that causes you to overspend when you're bored. Others, like those resulting in spending that is rooted in childhood pain, abandonment issues, past abuse, and other trauma, may take more time to unpack, and you may need professional help. That's okay! Find a trusted pastor or a psychiatrist or psychologist to help you heal from past hurts. You'll do yourself and your counselor a world of good, however, if you can sit down in that first meeting and say, "I'm having financial trouble, and I think it is rooted in this problem." You'll heal more quickly and, if you're paying for counseling, save yourself thousands of dollars in the process.
Understanding Counterfeit Convictions
Now, before you get too comfortable, let me caution you that counterfeit convictions are insidious. They are difficult to identify and even harder to conquer because they are usually based in some sort of truth.
If I told you the sky was purple, you would tell me I was nuts. But if I told you it was blue with just a tinge of purple, and I showed you some really cool video clips while serving a free steak dinner, you might start looking at the sky just a little bit differently.
When I was a newspaper reporter, I once worked on a series of stories about a well-known church revival that was drawing millions of visitors every year and tens of millions of dollars in donations. I attended many services as part of my reporting, and one night I happened to sit next to a prim elderly woman who shared with me her story of why she was there.
She was a widow, and her income was limited to her Social Security checks. She also had health problems that required her to take a number of expensive medications. She had heard that miracles happened at the revival, and she came for hers.
The offering call lasted for more than half an hour.
"Reach into your wallets, and pull out the biggest thing you can find," the pastor told the crowd. He implored everyone in the audience to give at least a hundred dollars-more if possible. Husbands were told to give without consulting their wives. Visiting pastors were told to give from their own churches' budgets, without regard to whether their oversight boards might agree. "God knows how much you have!" the pastor bellowed, reminding the audience that they had spent money on TVs, cars, toys, and clothes.
I watched in disbelief as the widow sitting next to me pulled out a wad of cash.
"This is the money I've set aside for my medicine," she said, leaning into my ear to be heard over the swells of background music.
"Are you sure you want to do that?" I asked.
Her response? "God will provide."
I felt sick. Probably not as sick as she felt later that month without her pills, but sick nonetheless.
That poor woman was sucked in by an emotional, manipulative moment in which she made a decision that under normal circumstances I would venture to guess she would not have made.
During the nightly offering calls, the pastors onstage would cajole the crowds with tales of orphanages funded, souls saved, and lives changed, and pull guilt trips on the crowd over the enormous cost of putting on their nightly show. Yet when another reporter and I asked for confirmation of their spending, we were denied. "It's nobody's business but ours," a staff pastor told us. "We are not accountable to the people who come to revival, because they are our guests. They are making a freewill offering and therefore should not expect an audit or an accounting.
"If you wonder where the money is going," he continued, "then don't give. Obviously, we can't spend money the way people want us to, but once it becomes a gift, it is ours to use. It is nobody's business how we use it."
That statement alone isn't what continues to shock me to this day, more than a decade later. What astounds me is that even after the revival crumbled, the leaders went on to create new ministries and churches, and they continue to collect millions of dollars from well-meaning Christians.
As Christians, we have a responsibility to be good stewards of the money God entrusts to us. If we get suckered in by emotional pleas and fail to do our due diligence into the ministries we consider supporting, we're not helping the kingdom of God; we're just wasting our money.
Search the Scriptures
When the apostle Paul and his buddy Silas went to the town of Berea in Acts 17, they found the people there to be "fair-minded." They based that assessment on the fact that the Bereans "received the word with all readiness and searched the Scriptures daily to find out whether these things were so" (v. 11).
Now, I would think that if any pastor could be taken at his word, it would be Paul. And yet he lauded the Bereans for checking things out by comparing what they received from him to God's Word. That's wisdom.
We have to exercise wisdom. Yet often Christians react to what they are told by some guy in a suit with a microphone without ever holding up those words to the light of Scripture.
Proverbs 2 tells us that "the LORD gives wisdom" (v. 6). It goes on to say, "Discretion will preserve you; understanding will keep you, to deliver you from the way of evil, from the man who speaks perverse things, from those who leave the paths of uprightness" (vv. 11-13). That's a warning that God didn't just put our brains there to keep our ears apart. If the Lord is giving something away, I want it. Don't you? He is giving away wisdom. All we have to do is ask for it and receive it.
"God Will Provide!"
Philippians 4:19 says God will "supply all your need according to His riches in glory by Christ Jesus." In other words, God will provide.
Amen to that! God does provide. And we should give. We will explore biblical giving principles later in this book, but for now, let's revisit my widow friend at the revival and see where things went south for her.
Excerpted from YOUR MONEY GOD'S WAY by AMIE STREATER Copyright © 2010 by Amie Streater. Excerpted by permission.
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