Read an Excerpt
By Ralph Moore Alan Tang
RegalCopyright © 2003 Ralph Moore and Alan Tang
All right reserved.
Chapter OneWhat Is Money Anyway?
What is money? For most of us, it's the green stuff we spend faster than we earn. But is that all it is? Actually, it's helpful to understand what money is not before we describe what it is and what it does. If actions speak louder than words, then most people don't really understand the stuff.
Personal Worth or Net Worth?
If somebody won a state lottery or inherited a million dollars, would it drastically change the person's identity? How would it affect the person's self-worth? Would the person suddenly become better or more important? Many people measure personal worth in terms of possessions or a financial statement. This is a tragedy of modern times. To the extent we measure human value in terms of possessions, we depreciate ourselves and everything God created us to be: "Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; a man's life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions" (Luke 12:15, NIV). Money does not equate to personal value. Neither can character be measured by one's wealth. If that were so, we would only appreciate the kings of England but not individuals like Abraham Lincoln. Worse yet, we would esteem evil dictators with power and wealth and look down on caregivers like Mother Teresa, who voluntarily lived most of her life in poverty. Unfortunately, we overlook the fact that poverty and wealth are a condition of existence, not a measuring stick for personal value. (Can we really change the people we are by making payments on a fine automobile?) Many people think that purchases add to their stature as human beings and that possessions can define them as the people they always wanted to be. False needs grow into necessities. The compulsion to acquire takes over and rules their lives. Spenders serve their insecurities under the guise of getting ahead, and eventually, they are miserable.
Whether it is cars, clothes, motorcycles, sporting equipment or chiseled bodies, our society ties purchasing power much too closely to human dignity. But getting rid of possessions only complicates the problem. The issue isn't possessions-it is a misunderstanding of money itself. The problem resides in our heads, not our bank accounts. When we understand that possessions do not equate to personal value, we free ourselves from worry, stress and mountains of debt. Of course, we must exchange money for transportation, clothing, shelter or recreation; but we get into trouble when we move beyond using money to meet honest needs. Spending money for climbing the mountain of social acceptability slides us into a pit of personal frustration. This money use never fulfills its promises. At the end of the day, we end up spiritually exhausted and materially broke. We need to rethink our concept of money.
A Simple Exchange for Labor
The real definition of "money" is simple: Money is a medium for exchange. Whether it is euros or yen, money is nothing more than a piece of paper or cut metal with a number stamped on it. It is acquired in exchange for labor and traded for goods or services. Defining "money" as anything more creates many of society's problems. Consider the income exchange: We put out labor and we take in money. We then trade the money for someone else's labor. In effect, whenever we buy or sell, we trade our labor for the labor of another person. We also buy and sell in relationship to time. That is, we earn so many dollars per hour, or we charge a price based on how many hours we have invested in the product. The quantity of money we acquire generally relates to how much skill and talent the task requires and how fast we complete the work. However, workers like to dodge this reality in clever but self-defeating ways. This often begins in the classroom. Some students do not connect effort invested in their studies with the eventual ability to earn a day's wage. Some try to get by with as little work as possible. School becomes a place for fun rather than acquiring skills that can be traded for dollars. They don't consider that no work could translate to no money. Scripture tells us that at a basic level, work relates to our ability to feed ourselves. "Whoever does not work should not eat" (2 Thess. 3:10). Work translates into money, and money means that we can purchase food, clothing and shelter-the basic necessities. Some people think they have a better idea. "What do you do for a living?" can be answered with "As little as possible." The theory of fair exchange seems to be evaporating in the workplace. It is acceptable to get something for nearly nothing. The underground economy doesn't pay taxes. Dishonest investment analysts pump the value of low-grade stocks to defraud millions of unsuspecting investors. Unscrupulous realtors participate in insider trading-buying a property at a low price before it goes on the market. Crooked labor union officers skim funds from local unions. Some of these leaders ignore the concept of a medium of exchange and press companies into collapse. The fast-buck artist is a national idol, and we can't figure out why inner-city kids pass up an education for easy money selling drugs.
The Growing Greed Factor
Believing that it is possible to do little in exchange for money, consumers also assume they can acquire something for nothing. Advertisers prey on this belief. They tell us we're saving money when we're actually spending it. Ever purchase something with a coupon, although the item isn't necessary? Or grab up clothing that's half price, even though you don't need it or won't wear it? One popular sales approach involves cash rebates: Buy a car-get a check. If we finance the entire amount for a car, we will receive $1,500 to spend anywhere. We overlook the fact that we will spend thousands of dollars in interest on a vehicle that begins to depreciate as soon as we drive it off the sales lot. Why do sales schemes like this suceed? They appeal to our misguided attitudes about money. Deep down, we know that the rebate is embedded in the car's price and we will repay it along with a sizable chunk of interest. Our real problem is truth avoidance. Greed blinds us. We don't view money as a simple tool for fair exchange but rather as a means for satisying our desires. Greed dominates the American culture. In 1987 the stock market received a down payment on where greediness leads. On Black Monday, stocks lost over 22 percent of their value. Traders helplessly watched more than 1 trillion dollars evaporate. It was the biggest one-day disappearance of capital in market history, and it happened because too many people tried to get rich the easy way. I (Ralph) was 3,000 miles from home that day. I still remember my paralyzing fear when I heard news of the stock crash and wondered if the airline would still be in business for my return flight. America survived the mess, but it's possible that God had issued a national warning to embrace righteous values such as compassion for the poor. The ensuing market deflation suggests we never learned the intended lesson. This seems especially poignant in recent years when the exuberant growth of the dot-com industry came to a screeching crash, causing businesses to fold and untold numbers of people to lose their jobs, not to mention what it did to investors.
There are no legitimate shortcuts to riches. The Bible says, "For the wisdom of this world is foolishness to God ... 'God catches those who think they are wise in their own cleverness'" (1 Cor. 3:19). With all the knowledge we have acquired, we still fail to understand the meaning of true wealth. The concept of creating wealth on demand builds the horrible engine that pulls the self-emptying cars of inflation. True riches are a product of hard work and careful investments over time.
The Debt Dilemma
Because of our get-it-quick mentality, consumer debt holds many families in bondage. Individuals live in a prison of their own making. The plastic magic in our wallets brought with it a new marketing concept: impulse buying. Fifty years ago, people saved money to make purchases. With the advent of revolving credit, advertisers created a desire and then stood back to avoid the stampede as millions plunged into debt. Today we can't pay cash for large purchases because payments and interest devoted to past purchases keep us from creating a savings base. We can't save because we owe. Because we can't save, we borrow even more to get the things we need or want. Many people live their entire adult lives on a debt-driven merry-go-round. Snow White's seven dwarfs sang, "Heigh-ho, heigh-ho, it's home from work we go." We sing the same tune with different words: "I owe, I owe, so off to work I go." Large percentages of people feel locked into jobs they hate, yet they can't free themselves to look for work they love or at least a job that pays more. Consistent overuse of debt makes it difficult to change a bad working environment. Finding a new vocation often involves time off from and days missed between employers. The debt trap keeps consumers strapped tightly to circumstances they would like to escape. If you're in debt to any large degree and you get laid off from work, you're sunk. You owe money you can't pay, and you can't support yourself through extended unemployment. Add to the debt ratio an unstable job market, which makes finding a new job difficult, and you have the makings of financial disaster. At the same time, greater wealth or landing a job with higher income isn't necessarily the key to happiness. About 3 percent of Americans are independently wealthy. While having a million dollars may bring security, it is no guarantee of happiness. Instead of pursuing false dreams, we need to turn money from a curse into a blessing.
Money as a Curse
Comedian Richard Pryor once told Barbara Walters that his money was a curse. Richard explained that his unlimited money provided access to unlimited drugs. He couldn't put down his crack pipe. So one of America's funniest entertainers sustained horrible burns to his face and body in a self-inflicted fire. But was money really a curse? The curse or blessing of money depends on the receiver's outlook. How many people with big bucks realize that they still need God? Those who depend on God view money as a way to bless others and build a better society. Those who consider themselves self-made often reject God. They turn their money into a curse. Proverbs 6:16-17 says that God hates "haughty eyes." If people grow proud because of position and possessions, they're in trouble; but the money or the ability to earn it isn't what causes the problem. Blame the attitude.
Jesus said that it's easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God (see Matt. 19:24). He knew that the problem isn't the money itself. Money is amoral-it can do no right or wrong. The difficulty lies in the hearts of people who love money and build a false value system around the power it wields.
When separated from God, consumers use money for little more than to pleasure themselves and to bolster pride. The apostle Paul wrote that when people separate themselves from God, they move from sensitivity in their relationships to groveling in sensuality:
They are darkened in their understanding and separated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them due to the hardening of their hearts. Having lost all sensitivity, they have given themselves over to sensuality so as to indulge in every kind of impurity, with a continual lust for more (Eph. 4:18-19, NIV).
Drugs, alcohol, purchases and sexual conquest substitute for peace of mind and heart. The lust for more of the same increases when satisfaction cannot be found. Another apostle, James, put it this way:
What is causing the quarrels and fights among you? Isn't it the whole army of evil desires at war within you? You want what you don't have, so you scheme and kill to get it. You are jealous for what others have, and you can't possess it, so you fight and quarrel to take it away from them. And yet the reason you don't have what you want is that you don't ask God for it. And even when you do ask, you don't get it because your whole motive is wrong-you want only what will give you pleasure. You adulterers! Don't you realize that friendship with this world makes you an enemy of God? I say it again, that if your aim is to enjoy this world, you can't be a friend of God (Jas. 4:1-4).
A pleasure-seeking lifestyle turns into an entrapping maze as the ability to sense pleasure fades through diminishing returns. With each new sensual experience, thrill seekers need more pleasure than the last time. This debauchery can whittle years off lives and obliterate money's potential for good. But with God, all good things are possible. He can redeem anyone from the money pit and turn a curse into a blessing.
Money as a Blessing
Money can be a wonderful blessing. People in a relationship with God can understand money's purpose-an exchange medium provided by God who gives us "this day our daily bread" (Matt. 6:11, KJV). When we acknowledge God as our creator and Jesus as our master, we need to learn two principles for managing finances:
1. All that we have results from God's provision. He is our creator and provider.
2. We should use our money within the bounds of His direction. He is the senior partner in our business transactions.
God gives each of us the gifts of time, energy and health. Everything else emerges or diminishes from the use of these gifts. Money is the tool of exchange for trading these gifts in our life for the same elements in someone else's life. In a sense, when we use money, we indirectly exchange life for life. To enjoy God's financial blessing, consider Him the author of the time, energy and health that pours into finances. Picture Him as the creator of the ability to make and spend money, and worship Him as your provider. Then trust Him as the Lord of finances. If we allow God to direct our lives, then we give Him the right to supervise our personal values about getting and spending money. His mastery includes a ban on raw greed in the getting and on illicit pleasures in the spending. He can bring a financial life into balance and offer a way of life that satisfies. This balance includes a respect for the environment as well as for less-fortunate people. An honest profit motive survives under God's leadership, while greed does not.
Excerpted from Your Money by Ralph Moore Alan Tang Copyright © 2003 by Ralph Moore and Alan Tang. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.