Freedom from Freedom: Financial Freedom

Remember our thesis: We often find freedom in the exact opposite direction of freedom (dare I say…always?)

And I can think of no more practical example of this than on the topic of finances.

In order to illustrate this point, I need to tell you about my history.

Back in the summer of 2000, I was hired by Karate for Kids. I had assisted with classes as a member of the SWAT team (Super Winning Attitude Team. We were the “demo team” and the “help out with classes” team all in one) for a few years when I was hired on as a staff member. My job: Assist with classes. Mr. Lyon would teach the main group. I would teach the kids that had missed some classes and needed catching up on their form. I was 14 years old at the time.

Along with this first job came something interesting…something I had never seen before. It was called a “paycheck.” It would actually go into my “bank account.” I never had an allowance growing up…so if I wanted anything, I had to ask for it, and my parents would say “yes” or they would say “no.” But now…for the first time ever, something was different. This money was not given to me. This money was earned. It was not a gift. It was mine. No one got to tell me how to use it or spend it. I had freedom with it.

Now, at 14, I had been enjoying the world of “video games” for about 8 years at that point. But since I didn’t have an allowance, the only way for me to acquire these video games was to ask my parents. And Mom didn’t understand…she would say these nonsense things like “Why do you need another game? You have all these other games to play.” Yes, mom, but this is Metal Gear Solid. None of these other games are Metal Gear Solid. Why do you not understand that?

Regardless, usually around every birthday or Christmas was the only time I would get a new video game. And then, it was never the newest game out or anything like that.

Now, I enjoyed them. And I’m not complaining…those games were a lot of fun for me, my sisters, and my friends. But I am telling you this story so that you can truly understand how much my world changed when I acquired my own paycheck.

But then, something interesting would always happen with this money. Strangely, I found that when I spent it, it would no longer be there. And if I spent it too quickly, my life would involve one week of joy, of getting the video game I wanted, of getting the fast food I wanted, of buying food for friends as well…but this week would be followed by three weeks of being “broke” and waiting for that next paycheck.

For the next four years, I would endure that cycle every month. Get paycheck. Be excited. Spend it. Be broke. Get paycheck. Repeat. Sometimes, I would spend it more slowly than others.

Let’s word it differently…at the beginning of the month, I could say “Yes” to whatever. At the mid to end of month, I would have to say “No.” Until something magical happened.

In 2003 or so (I don’t exactly remember), I got my first credit card.

In fact, I could get a laptop at Best Buy, and have it paid off in 18 months with no interest. My mom was cautious…but the first thing I did was make an Excel spreadsheet and show her how I would pay it off. Impressed, they let me go through with it. Eventually, I would succeed at paying it off in about 15 months. Three months early. Get some.

With this Best Buy credit card, I was sent an affiliate card. HSBC. $750 limit. I didn’t use it, but I had it.

Along with that, U.S. Bank (my bank) advertised a student credit card. I got that one. $1500 limit. I didn’t use it, but I had it.

Until I was about to leave for a trip to Washington D.C., and I knew I would be on the plane for a while. So I bought three Game Boy Advance games. On the credit card. I would pay it off later.

Let me tell you exactly what happened in that moment…my life before that moment involved me saying “No” at the end of the month. But now, I didn’t have to say no. I had the freedom (notice that word) to say “Yes,” as long as I paid it off next month.

Over the next six years…the pattern looked like this. Want stuff. Spend debit card account (actual money I have). Run out. Spend money I don’t have. Rack up $300 of debt. Pay off $300…balance now zero. Good. “I pay it off every month” I would say. Then, rack up $400. Pay it off. Balance zero. Rack up $400 again. OOPS. Because of time off, paycheck doesn’t supply me enough to cover that. Pay off $200. Credit Card balance: $200. Better take it easy.

Run out of debit card money. Rack up $300 more. Balance: $500. Pay $300. Balance: $200. Rack up $400. $600 total, right? Pay off some, rack up some more. Do you see where this is going?

Hit limit. Credit Card company raises limit. Wow, thanks, Credit Card company! You are such a helper.

Limit: $3000.

Limit: $4500.

Fast forward…

Limit: $8500. And they won’t raise it anymore. Interest every month comes out to about $240. JUST in interest. And guess what…I hit my limit. In order for me to spend more, I had to pay it down.

And for the first time since before 2003…I had to go through the experience of HAVING to say “No” to something, because I had no way of saying Yes. But the different was that this time, I would lose $240 every month, even if I didn’t buy anything at all. And when I had to say “No” to something because I couldn’t say “yes” (because of my credit limit), I suddenly realized something…I hadn’t felt that feeling since before credit cards. There was a “feeling” of freedom. Freedom to look at something and get it. Freedom to not have to walk away without it. But that “freedom” did not result in freedom, now, did it?

“Well, whatever.” I thought, back in 2007, looking at my online account balance. “This is my problem, not anybody else’s. I will work myself out of it.” However, something happened. A game changer. I started liking this one girl at Corban. And, amazingly enough, she started liking me back. And then, I realized that at this age (22, to be exact), this might not be another “dating” relationship. This could very well actually result in marriage.

And then, when I looked at my debt…well, this was no longer “my” problem. This was “our” problem. And when I mustered up the courage to tell her how much debt I had accrued, I felt pretty ashamed.

Oh, she told me that she had debts, too. Sure, Sarah, but YOUR debts are from student loans. Ask me what my debts are from.

That’s right, video games and food.

So, the result of my financial freedom was this: I brought approximately $15,000 of debt (three credit cards and a car) to my marriage. I cleared up just barely enough to put our honeymoon Bed & Breakfast on the card.

As the story goes, my taekwondo-instructor-slash-boss got my wife and me the Dave Ramsey Financial Peace University course as a wedding gift. Cool…I thought. Kinda.

We went through it by ourselves, at first. Sarah peer pressured me to cut up my credit cards. I actually didn’t want to do it…but she cut up hers right in front of me (Whatever. She had a zero balance on it. Big whoop). And what kind of addicted, pathetic loser would look at her and say “Hey, nice job cutting that one up. I think I’ll just keep mine, though”? So I did it.

We budgeted. I had $40 of “blow money” in my court every month. I went from doing whatever I wanted with about $1300 to $1700 (imagine all the Taco Bell) to doing whatever I wanted with $40. Needless to say, that was hard. Really. Freaking. Hard.

Financial freedom? I had never felt so financially un-free in my life. And I was working just as hard as I always had. Harder, actually. $40. Not even enough to buy one new video game. (Sarah and I would budget a game for me, every now and then.)

That was 2009. We started the “debt snowball” You Dave Ramsey people know what I’m talking about. Since the battle with debt is an emotional battle, not a logical battle (If we were logical, we wouldn’t rack up that debt to begin with), the debt snowball involves paying off the smallest debt first so that you can take what you would’ve paid towards the smaller payment and pay it towards the next one. It makes you feel like you’re making bigger payments, and gives you smaller victories, FASTER. And that’s important in that game.

Two and a half years later of us working hard, not spending much, and God’s blessing and providing, and we paid off all three credit cards and the car. We now have further to go…about $11,000 in combined student loans. But if we can pay those off…it means that every month we will need $183 less than we need now. Might sound small…but it might not. If you put $183 in my wallet every month, I’d freak out. And hug you. So yeah, it is a big deal.

So where to after that? Well, let’s take this a step further. Debt means freedom now, restriction later. Paying off debt means restriction now, freedom later. Investing takes that one step further.

Imagine this. Like, seriously, imagine this: Having invested enough so that your investment makes more for you than you make for you.

You could sit there and do absolutely nothing. And feed your family and pay all of your bills.

“Why, Carson, doing nothing is lazy. Laziness is bad.”

Oh, well, how about this: Go to your church and volunteer for whatever you want to volunteer for, with no time restrictions. Teach what you love to others, whether it’s Taekwondo or Snowboarding or Tennis because you want to. Or use your assets to pay your bills, and use your paycheck to feed homeless puppies. Or invest more, so that you can feed entire countries of homeless puppies. I don’t know.

As I mentioned, freedom is found in the exact opposite direction of freedom. I can think of no better example than finances.

VERY IMPORTANT P.S. – MONEY AND FAITH DO NOT CONTRADICT, BUT THEY WILL IF YOU LET THEM.

Biblically, debt is unwise and investing is wise. I believe that because…

  1. It’s all over Proverbs, and
  2. Jesus uses investing as a metaphor in some of his parables. Now, the parables were meant to illustrate other things, but I take this as an indication that Jesus is okay with investing. I could be wrong.

We should be wise with our money, but we should NEVER place our faith in money. Money can do a lot, but it cannot do everything.

I believe that God will call one person to obey Him by investing. Those investments should be placed under the Lordship of Jesus Christ. Do not EVER fall into the trap that investing will “enable” God to work through you, or that investing will “enable” you to do more for the kingdom of God. Obeying God will enable you to do more for the kingdom of God. Period. God could drop a billion dollars in your lap, or burn up a billion dollars.

God calls one person to obey Him by investing. He calls the next person to obey Him by selling everything He has. He calls one person to obey Him by leading a megachurch (Rick Warren, Mark Driscoll). He calls the next person to be a missionary in the 80/20 window (the middle east) and be martyred for their faith…their names never to be known in history by anyone but their family, their few friends, and God Himself.

Obey what God calls you to do. If you are pursuing God by prayer, Scripture, and fellowship, and you receive no indication, no “Spirit-signal,” then just keep doing what you’re doing. I do not think God often micro-manages, but if He calls you to sell everything you have, please don’t say to God “But Dave Ramsey says I have to invest!”

ONE LAST P.P.S.

Remember…how you get money is a matter of sin or not sin. (If you get it by stealing and lying, that’s sin. If you get it by honest work, that is not sin.) What you do with that money is a matter of wisdom or foolishness. God has placed that money under your care, as God’s way of providing for your needs, your wants (God actually does bless people and wants them to have what they want sometimes, just like any parent!), and His kingdom. So use it wisely.

OKAY, THE FINAL P.P.P.S.

It is very easy to think “Wow, where would I be now if I hadn’t squandered all that money? What if I had never gone into debt, and had just started investing right then?” Sure, daydreaming about that might be interesting, but what’s that saying that every middle schooler is saying? YOLO? You only live once? I’ll never have the chance to go back and fix that, so what good does it do dwelling upon it?

Thinking about that is cool, I guess, but regret is a stupid place to be. Let’s move forward…as opposed to thinking “What if I could move backwards?” Starting this at 18 would’ve been better than starting this at 27, but starting this at 27 is way better than starting this at 28.

The Art of Apologetics: Does God give proof? (Part 2 – God’s existence)

When God wants you to believe something…does He give proof?

The answer is yes, God gives as much proof as He wants to give. Which is not “as much proof as you want,” but is also NOWHERE near “zero proof, because He wants you to just have faith!”

(Side-tangent: Remember, EVERYONE has faith. They just put it in different things and different places. Faith and trust are synonyms. Some trust God to take care of them, some trust America to take care of them. Some trust their mommy or spouse. Some trust themselves. Some trust that TV is telling them the truth. Some trust that certain books are telling the truth, while other books are lying. The list goes on.)

So here are three important things that Christians hold to be true. These are things that are central to Christianity, but are a) commonly questioned and challenged, and b) every Christian has doubted these at some point in their life.

A)     God exists.

B)     Jesus is the Son of God. In fact, Jesus is God in human form. Jesus is 100% man and 100% God.

C)     The Bible is the Word of God.

(By the way, each one kinda leads to the next)

And on these three things, we ask: Does God just expect us to believe these things? Or does He give proof?

A)     God exists – “Just believe it” or is proof given?

The short answer – yes, proof is given

Rom 1:18-21 (NASB)

For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who suppress the truth in unrighteousness, 19 because that which is known about God is evident within them; for God made it evident to them. 20 For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse.

The long answer…what used to be “proof” has now had more doubt cast upon it.

Before we even get into this, I have to cover two things that all of us do, although we often don’t think about it. One is data interpretation and the other is faith.

Data interpretation

First, remember that ALL of our finite, human minds interpret data/evidence based on what we already believe. Everybody does this. Here’s a simple example to illustrate:

Data: The human immune system automatically protects us from many diseases, while gathering data to protect us from the next occurrence of that illness (antibodies).

One who believes in evolution: This is evidence of survival of the fittest. Over time, humans developed this skill…whoever didn’t develop this skill died off, so that nowadays we all have that kind of immune system. This data is evidence towards proving my point.

One who believes in creation: This is evidence of God’s intelligent design. The human immune system is clearly not an accident, but wisely designed for a purpose. This data is evidence towards proving my point.

This is why I am in a rare camp…I am actually a six-day creationist (I actually believe that the earth was created in six literal 24 hour periods). Many view this position as insane because there is “so much evidence” of the Earth requiring much more time to develop.

For example, take a look at this:

Data: The sun is big, shiny, and hot. Times a trillion.

Atheist interpretation: Wow, that’s big. That must’ve taken a long time to happen. (note the assumption: It “happened.” Passive)

Six-day creationist interpretation: Wow. That there is incredible. God must be really friggin’ powerful to create something like that in such a short amount of time. (Assumes God’s existence)

Most common belief: God could have created the sun however He wanted to. He’s plenty powerful enough to do it. He probably chose to do it over a billion years.

At this point, whether you agree, disagree, think I am way oversimplifying it or whatever, I need to cover the second element.

Faith

As covered: Faith means trust. I do not know anything about astronomy…so how could I say “You’re wrong!” if I don’t even know what they believe in the first place? However, we must ALL be careful of how much belief we put into anything, including scientific findings.

Why? Because everybody has faith, whether good or bad.

No researcher has time to study EVERYTHING. Therefore, SOME of what he does must be built on the backs of others. To PROVE every theory that came before him would mean that he would have no time to DISCOVER something new. Therefore, the researcher MUST choose to trust theories that he hasn’t himself proven. This isn’t bad…there’s just no way around it.

In other words, the researcher MUST have faith in researchers that came before him. Which ones he has faith in, well, that’s up to him.

Science gets it wrong sometimes. Science also gets it right sometimes. But this is a big long way of saying: If you tell me that research “proves” or even research “indicates” that God doesn’t exist, well, I have to ask…is it the research or is it your interpretation of that research?

Let’s talk about Darwin

Charles Darwin certainly did change the playing field, but in a different way. In history, there have been certain cultures or prominent figures who were atheists. However, they were always persecuted as heretics (sometimes by Christians, and I do NOT believe that Christians were right in doing so). How Darwin changed the playing field was that before Darwin, atheism was viewed as insane. Atheists simply tried to put forth Steady State theory: This is how things have always been. There was no beginning.

This argument was so easy to trump back then…all you would need to do to counter the argument was look around at the complexity and creativity of life, of humans, of the animals, and ask why they were so complex. The best the atheist could often say was “I don’t know.” In short, the argument for God was far more convincing than the “it happened by accident” card.

What Darwin did was bring forth a theory that Atheists could bank on for how life came to be. Darwin’s book, “The Origin of Species,” provided Atheists with an answer to “well, if there’s no God, how did WE get here?” The theory of evolution as an explanation to the origins of life answered that question.

At this point in history, Atheistic and Humanistic worldviews were already making serious headway. The Catholic Church had demonstrated a history of using political power and influence (human means) to further their agenda, and they tried to use that power to overcome the reason of their opponents, as opposed to using reason to overcome reason (not that reason is what builds the kingdom of God…however, God is more “reasonable” than any human brain). Thus, society was starting to rebel and cast off these “religious shackles.”

Modernism (a nice blend of atheism, humanism, and theological liberalism) was on the rise, and it was conquering and taking over academic institutions. Christians, who had talked a lot about faith, didn’t sound too smart when they sat there and said “you have your mounds of research, but I have my faith.” (1 Corinthians, the first two chapters, have a lot to say about the “wisdom” of this world and the “foolishness” of Christ. It’s pretty cool)

So many of them backed away from debate. Some worked to water down Christianity in order to help it survive (Creation is actually a metaphor, and Jesus’s resurrection is a metaphor, and on and on). So, atheism looked like it was taking over. Truth is, it DID take over…it just took over schools. As for the world? Not so much.

Nowadays, atheists still hold a lot of power in the academic world…you will find many atheists at the heads of science departments at universities. However…atheism is not prominent in the rest of the world (Europe is probably it’s best stronghold). The largest atheist organization has 2200 members. Somewhere between 2.4% and 3.7% of the world’s population is atheist. In the US, 0.7% describe themselves as atheist, and 0.9% describe themselves as agnostic. That’s all.

However, since atheism became quite prominent in the academic world, the idea of evolution as a means of the origins of species has been repeated by a lot of people, over a long course of years. And anything, whether a truth or a lie, that is repeated often enough, long enough, loud enough, and by enough people, eventually becomes accepted as truth (just look at how advertising works!).

So back to the question…does God give proof?

Yes. Sometimes it is hard to see, because we hear the opposite taught and repeated so much. But look…

Romans 1:18-21 (NASB)

For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who suppress the truth in unrighteousness, 19 because that which is known about God is evident within them; for God made it evident to them. 20 For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse.

An artist cannot put himself into a painting…however, you can see the artist’s style and personality through the painting. You would think that God couldn’t put himself into His painting, but He did (Jesus). We’ll get to that next post.

Back to this, however. I believe that if you tune out all the other things you’ve heard, creation makes God really obvious. On the other side of things, I believe that even if you tune out everything you’ve heard about God, evolution is not as “obvious.”

As I have mentioned before…I do not view it as my job to “convince” anybody or to change anybody’s mind. Whether I think something is “right” or “wrong” has very little effect on the universe. However, I do view it as my job to explain WHY I believe what I believe to the fullest.

I cannot tell you with 100% certainty that evolution is wrong. I cannot tell you with 100% certainty that God exists. I think that I have experienced Him…but maybe I am under some weird mind illusion?

Regardless, what I CAN tell you is this. When I have analyzed creationism, and when I  have analyzed evolution as an explanation for the origins of life, I personally find the evolution of a non-living thing into a living thing to be unconvincing.

After examining both cases, I think an intelligent designer has the more convincing case.

Coming next:
God’s touch found in creation

Is Jesus really the Son of God? Did God give proof of that?

The Art of Apologetics: Does God give proof? (Part 1)

Here are two opposite extremes that I disagree with.

 

The first is not often verbalized, but I think we all have thought something along these lines at some point…
“God, are you real? If you are real, then do this! (insert random miracle here).” It could be anything from “Make this cup levitate!” to “Remove my mom’s cancer!” to “At least let me hear an audible voice! Talk to me!” The fact that God does not do these things on command leads many to believe that He simply isn’t real, or to believe that He is real, but He’s a jerk.

Let us sum up the first extreme like this: God needs to give proof.

 

But then the other end cries out “No! God wants us to have faith in Him! And if there is proof, how can there be faith?”There are even those who believe that God deliberately did not leave evidence, perhaps He even removed evidence in order to ensure that His followers would believe in Him by faith alone.

Let us sum up the second extreme like this: God expects faith DESPITE the evidence or God expects faith without any evidence.

 

I disagree with both.

In regards to the first extreme: If God exists, then He is Sovereign – No one is greater than Him, therefore, no one can require anything of Him. There is no higher “standard” that God is required to play by in order to be good. Saying God “needs” to give proof implies that some higher standard requires it of Him. Therefore, any proof that God does give is grace, meaning that He gave us something that He did not have to give us.

In regards to the second extreme: (And this leads into the main meat of this blog post…) In the Bible, God doesn’t ask for faith without doing something first. God is ALWAYS the first one to give. It is not as if it is required of God, nor is it something that God said He would do. God could totally ask for faith without doing something first, but for some reason, He doesn’t tend to do that.

 

God seems to always give first, then command second. Here are a couple examples.

Adam & Eve

Requirement: “Don’t eat out of the frickin’ tree of knowledge of good and evil.”

What they were given: Every single other tree in the garden. Including life and breath and animals and all that other cool stuff.

Additional notes: In fact, if you look at Genesis 2 and 3, you will see a difference in God’s wording rather than Eve’s wording. God’s wording is “From any tree of the garden you may freely eat, but you mustn’t eat the fruit from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil…” whereas Eve’s wording is “From any tree of the garden we may eat, but we mustn’t eat the fruit from the tree of knowledge of good and evil or even touch it.” Notice the mindset…God is presenting the ENORMOUS blessing He has given. Eve omits the word “freely,” and spends more of her words whining about the prohibition against that one tree.

The Israelites

Requirement: The Mosaic Covenant.

Given: Redemption from Egyptian Slavery, along with the promise of their very own land.

Notes: If you read through Exodus, you might notice that often, before or after a command, God says something along the lines of “I am the God who delivered you from the hands of the Egyptians.” I figure that God knew how the human mind worked…looking at the Mosaic Covenant by itself, it looks like a tall order. It might make God look very demanding, and it’s possible that the Israelites themselves felt that way. For that reason, God had to remind them, over and over, what He had done for them so that they would remember that this was a very reasonable requirement.

 

So back to apologetics…does God give proof of His existence? The answer is yes, God gives as much proof as He wants to give. And that is not a sparing amount of proof…He is pretty extravagant and dramatic with the proof that He gives.

Which we will cover next post.