Tag Archives: Stewardship

How can a successful writer who “is true to himself” end up poor?

My friend Lindsay sent me this article about a very successful writer who has trouble making ends meet.

The story appeared in left-leaning The Atlantic. I don’t want to rehash the whole thing, because I want to make a point.

So, first thing to quote, this guy looks like a success to others, even though he is actually really struggling:

The Fed asked respondents how they would pay for a $400 emergency. The answer: 47 percent of respondents said that either they would cover the expense by borrowing or selling something, or they would not be able to come up with the $400 at all. Four hundred dollars! Who knew?

Well, I knew. I knew because I am in that 47 percent.

[…]You wouldn’t know any of that to look at me. I like to think I appear reasonably prosperous. Nor would you know it to look at my résumé. I have had a passably good career as a writer—five books, hundreds of articles published, a number of awards and fellowships, and a small (very small) but respectable reputation. You wouldn’t even know it to look at my tax return. I am nowhere near rich, but I have typically made a solid middle- or even, at times, upper-middle-class income, which is about all a writer can expect, even a writer who also teaches and lectures and writes television scripts, as I do.

The thing I like about this guy is that he doesn’t blame anyone else but himself – he thinks that his own decisions led him to poverty. Rod Dreher has a nice list of the mistakes at American Conservative:

1) He chose to live in New York, which is one of the most expensive places to live in the country;
2) He chose to be a writer, not the most lucrative and stable career;
3) He and his wife chose to put their kids in private school, something they felt was necessary in their Brooklyn neighborhood, but an expense they could have avoided or dramatically lessened had they lived in another part of the country (they eventually moved to the Hamptons to get out of paying that tuition);
4) He and his wife believed their two children had “earned” the right to go to very expensive universities, and they spent everything they had, and the inheritance his parents planned to leave for him, on educating the girls;
5) They got caught in the housing crash and had to sell a Manhattan apartment they owned at fire sale prices;
6) Given the way his income as a writer is structured, taxes were a bitch (as a writer, trust me, this is true).

Pay close attention to 1 and 2. I would NEVER live in a garbage blue state like New York. I would rather be dead in a ditch than live in a state that is run by Democrats. I hate the high taxes and high spending of blue states. Blue states are great places to go if you want to work and have someone else steal all of your money to buy votes from lazy losers.

And as far as 2 goes, I don’t think that I need to repeat my warnings to everyone about non-STEM fields.

Well, OK, I will:

Starting and Mid-Career salaries by profession (click for larger image)
Starting and Mid-Career salaries by profession (click for larger image)

Regarding the housing crash that he mentioned, Democrats caused that, by forcing banks to loan money to people who couldn’t afford to pay it back. If he voted for the Democrats, then he screwed himself again.

Now, you might think that people end up poor because they want to do work that is fun and enjoyable. And that’s true, I’ve seen that. But this guy’s problem was that he just spent beyond his means. Why? Well, the writer explains that he is compelled to spend the money, because spending money defines who he is. He can’t say no, because he thinks that he has one life, and one chance to define himself. He can’t think about the future, because he has to spend every last dime today in order to be who he really wants to be.

Dreher comments:

He felt that to choose otherwise would have made him inauthentic, untrue to himself. He felt that he deserved the life he had, and could not choose otherwise without betraying himself. I think this must be an extraordinary thing, in terms of history: people who spend recklessly to give themselves the lives they think they deserve. If you think about it, though, our culture, which valorizes Authenticity, encourages this.

I have to tell you, I just don’t understand this. I define myself by Christian virtues – self-control, self-sacrifice, concern for others who I know personally and in my community. I’m not a spender. I am a saver by nature, and the older I get, the more grateful that I am closer to retirement than I was before. Working gets harder as you get older, even for jobs that don’t require physical labor.

If you plan ahead, you can get all your working and saving done before you’re 50. That was my approach. But I see other people who haven’t started working full-time by 30 and even by 35. Every day when you are in school instead of working full-time in your field is a wasted day. With few exceptions, you will learn more on the job than in the classroom. You want get out of school and get working as soon as possible, with an eye to getting married as soon as possible – since marriage is a wealth building engine. The faster you start investing, the more time your money has to grow through interest and dividends.

The bottom line is that my obligation as a Christian is not to be true to myself, or anything weird like that. My obligation is to make sure I don’t starve, and then to turn to the people around me and make sure that they don’t starve. Sometimes, that means giving them good advice. Sometimes, it means recognizing their achievements with little gifts. But the main thing is that the world isn’t safe enough for you to put off earning so that you can do what you feel is the “real you”. Being independent and then serving others is more important than being the “real you”.

Wayne Grudem explains what the Bible says about spending, saving and charity

Bible study that hits the spot
Bible study that hits the spot

A practical lecture on money – spending, saving, charitable giving – from famous pastor Wayne Grudem.

I like the way that Wayne Grudem navigates the Bible finding the passages that tell you who God is, so that you can make better decisions by analyzing alternatives and choosing the one that gives your Boss a maximum return on investment. He’s very practical.

The MP3 file is here.

The PDF outline is here.

Spending:

  • Christianity does not teach asceticism (= don’t enjoy anything in this world), Paul condemns it in 1 Timothy 4:1-5
  • When you buy nice things, even if it is a little more expensive, it’s an opportunity to be thankful for nice things that God has provided
  • Even being rich is OK, but don’t let it make you haughty and arrogant, and don’t set your hopes on your money (see 1 Tim 6:17)
  • It is important for you to earn money, and you are supposed to use it to support yourself and be independent
  • It is possible to overspend and live recklessly (Luke 15:13) and it’s also possible to overspend and live too luxuriously
  • Increasing your income through career progression is wise, because it allows you to give away more and save more
  • God gives us freedom to decide how much we spend, how much we give away, and how much we save
  • every choice a Christian makes with money will give him or her more or less reward in his or her afterlife
  • Do not spend more than you have – you should make every effort to get out of debt as quickly as possible

Saving:

  • Saving money is wise so you can help yourself and others, and have money in your old age when you will not be working
  • If you do not save your own money, you end up being dependent on others (e.g. – family or taxpayers)
  • Not saving money for the future is a way of “putting God to the test” (Matt 4:7)
  • You are to “be dependent on no one”, to the extent that you can (1 Thes 4:12)
  • We don’t know the future, that’s why we should prepare for an emergency, and buy insurance to guard (James 4:13-17)
  • It’s right for us to learn how to save to be able to buy bigger assets, like a car or a college education
  • Saving and investing in stocks and bonds lets people in business start and grow companies, creating jobs and new products
  • Don’t over-save, trusting too much in money more than you trust in God (Ps 62.10; Matt 6:19,24; Luke 12:15-21)

Giving:

  • it is required for the people of God to give something out of what they earn, but no percentage is specified (Deut 26:12-13)
  • you do not give money to become right with God, you can’t earn your salvation
  • a Christian gives to show God that you trust him to take care of you, and to experience trusting him through your giving
  • the quality of your resurrection life with God is affected by giving you do for the Kingdom (Phil 4, Matt 6:19-21; 1 Tim 6:18-19)
  • when you get involved in the lives of others and give to them, you have the joy of experiencing caring for others (Acts 20:35)
  • it’s possible to give too little, but it’s also possible to give too much – be careful about pride creeping in as well

The first part of this lecture made me think of my treat for the week, which is to get a double chicken burrito bowl after my weight lifting. It is very easy to say grace when you are hovering over a double chicken burrito bowl. It is good to have nice things especially when it makes you thankful for what you have.

I was so happy listening to this talk because he was condemning bad stewardship, which I see in a lot of young people these days. I was happy until he got to the part about trusting in your savings for your security, and then I thought – that’s what I do wrong! I save a lot but it’s not just for emergencies and to share with others, like he was saying – I want a sense of security. This was more of a temptation in my 20s than it is now in my 30s, though.

Charity should hurt

I can remember being in my first full-time job as a newly hired junior programmer when the 2001 recession struck. I would cry while signing checks to support William Lane Craig’s Reasonable Faith ministry, because I was so scared. I had no family or friends where I lived to help me if anything went wrong, and that’s been the story of my working life. If anything goes wrong, there is no backup. But it’s that experience of crying when I gave that allows me to say today “that’s when I became the man I am, that’s what a man does when he is a follower of Jesus”. If you are not doing the actions of charity, then you will not having the experience of trusting God and letting him lead you. There is more to the Christian life than just saying the right things – you have to do the right things.

Don’t follow your heart

If you’re scared about giving when you are young, then do what I did in my 20s: work 70-hour weeks, get promoted often, and save everything you earn. I volunteered every Saturday for 9 months in order to get my first white-collar part-time job when I was still in high-school. The faster you increase your savings, the easier it’s going to be to take a genuine interest in caring for the people around you. Read Phil 1 (fellowship), Phil 2 (concern for others), and Phil 4 (charity). Turn off your emotions and desires when it comes to choosing what to study and what work to do, and put Philippians into practice. Your freedom to give is very much tied to the quality of your decisions of what to study, where to work, how much you spend on entertainment, and so on. That’s why you need to turn off your feelings and desires and do what works, even it it’s not fun, and even if it involves responsibilities, expectations and obligations.

Making a difference as a Christian doesn’t mean doing dramatic, reckless things

Ratio Christi event at Ohio State University featuring Frank Turek
Ratio Christi event at Ohio State University featuring Frank Turek (10/12/2015)

What’s the ideal balance between work and missions? In this post, I will argue against going abroad to do full-time missions.

Do apologetics ministry in your spare time, and work full-time

A full-time job and part-time ministry makes the most sense from a cost-benefit point of view. I have friends who are software engineers who studied enough science, history, and philosophy part-time, who are able to do public debates with atheists, which influence many more people than one-on-one interactions. One of my friends has several Masters degrees, and is in a PhD program, but his full-time career is in software and network management. He is 100% self-funded. He has worked in a successful apologetics career with a full-time career in technology, and he is debt-free. This is the best option . Your debts get paid off. Your resume stays gap-free. You bring a nest egg to your future spouse. You can afford to have children. You can afford a stay-at-home mom. You can afford either homeschooling or private schools, should you decide to go that route.

You have to start saving and investing early if you want to be independent in your old age. With full-time work and part-time ministry, you still make a difference for Christ and His Kingdom over time, while avoiding a financial crisis that could cost you your family, your friends, and even your faith. This is an especially wise way to proceed, given the economic struggles we are likely to face from housing bubbles, student loan bubbles, rising interest rates, entitlement crises, state pension underfunding, environmental regulations, the ever increasing national debt, demographic crisis, etc. Read the culture and be cautious about the future.

Use the Internet to make a difference in other countries for free

One cost-effective way to make a difference is by using the Internet to reach other countries. You can work full-time, and then use your spare time to blog. This blog gets an average of 24,000 page views per week. About 45% of that traffic comes from NON-USA countries. If you keep working full-time and just start a blog for free, then you can maintain your gap-free resume and have a much easier time marrying and raising children.

The university next door is a great place to have an influence

I do think full-time ministry is OK in two cases: if you don’t go abroad, or if you go abroad with a full-time job or full-ride scholarship. My friend Eric Chabot was able to host Frank Turek at Ohio State University last night (see photo above), for example. He got a great crowd. He is donation-driven, but he runs a lean operation since he lives near the campus where he serves. When it comes to having an impact, the American university is the place to make a difference. We have enough trouble in our own country, especially in the universities, where so many young people lose the faith of their childhood – there’s no need to travel and incur heavy expenses.  I think it also makes sense financially to go abroad for missions, if you get a scholarship that pays your way or if you have a job offer where you can work full-time and do missions part-time. What does not make sense is sending an unskilled missionary to a foreign country at the cost of tens of thousands of dollars that could be used much more efficiently in smaller, effective Eric-Chabot-style operations.

Your feelings and desires are not God speaking to you

Now some people who want to go into overseas missions will tell me that they feel led to go. This method of decision making is not Biblical, as I explained in one of my previous posts. If you believe the Bible, then feelings are a pretty poor way of determining what God wants from you. In fact, left to themselves, humans typically choose what feels best for them, not what does best for God. If God really calls you to do something, like he called Jonah, then you probably won’t feel like doing it. Missionary work is especially suspect when God is supposedly calling you to go to a country that you always dreamed of traveling to while you were a non-Christian. Normally, conversion causes you to have different desires – not the same desires you had as a non-Christian. Unless you hear an audible voice, like an Old Testament prophet would, then it’s best not to think that God is speaking through your feelings and desires. A good book to read on this is “Decision Making and the Will of God“, by Garry Friesen.

Don’t go into missions in order to have fun or go on an adventure

I am suspicious of people who try to turn Christianity into a mechanism for achieving the same goals that non-Christians want to achieve. These days, it seems as if everyone wants to travel to exotic places. If there is evidence of hedonistic, fun-pursuing, thrill-seeking behavior in your past, then consider that you may just want an “adventure”. I have a friend who went to Russia for a year just after graduating college, and she admitted to me that she just went “to have an adventure”. To me, that’s not a good reason to spend thousands of dollars, and put gaps in your resume. It’s not a cost-effective way to make a difference, given the other alternatives. Your goal should be to make yourself defensible so that you can put out a sustained effort that lasts, not burn out and then be ineffective for the rest of your life. Think about what J. Warner Wallace says about living wisely and prudently so you position yourself to make a steady contribution in the second half of your life. Don’t wreck your long-term impact for short-term fun. God will not honor that.

Don’t go into missions to make up for an immoral past

Anyway, if you look in your past and see lots of wild behavior – drinking, drugs, premarital sex, cohabitation, abortions, gambling, divorces, etc., then consider that you may be interested in missions for the wrong reasons. You don’t need to go on a missions trip to dramatically declare to everyone that you are now completely reformed from your wild party days. I actually managed to talk a friend out of a short-term missions trip who felt that it was a good way to do something meaningful to “make up” for her past. By being responsible with her job and saving money, she’s managed to avoid burning out, and to instead put out a steady stream of effective activities. And she was financially stable enough to get married and have children, as well – another excellent way to make a difference.

Do not go into missions if your resume and balance sheet do not demonstrate maturity

We already talked about the need for sound planning in the Bible study we did with Wayne Grudem.  The Bible praises hard work, stewardship, prudence and wisdom. And this is especially true for people who are getting older and need to be thinking about marriage, children and retirement. It’s not a good witness for Christians to be financially unstable. When you are able to stand on your own two feet financially, and help others from your earnings, you gain credibility with non-Christians. We don’t want people to think that we are doing this for the money. The best option is to be self-funded, like Paul and his tent-making-funded ministry.

By the way, if you’d like to read a related post by Eric Chabot, this one is a good one.

If you want to have children, then you need to make wise choices

Why are millenials acting like children into adulthood?
Why are millenials acting like children into adulthood?

My good friend Lindsay has written a post about women, and the choices they make.

Most women will tell you that they want to be married and have children “some day”. But many of them don’t really mean it, they’re just trying to fit in and appear a certain way to others. How can you tell the ones who mean it from the ones who don’t? Simple: you need to see which ones are making choices right now that will really move them to marriage and children in the near future.

Here’s Lindsay’s introduction:

The common feminist advice given to women to live in the moment, travel the world, go drinking, hook up, and have fun in your 20’s and even 30’s and then settle down and be a mom when you’ve had your fill is absolutely terrible advice for many reasons.

Here are the ones I want to talk about:

1) A woman’s fertility is not guaranteed. Waiting until the 30’s or 40’s to have children all too often means not being able to have them at all. Not naturally, anyway, and often reproductive technologies can’t even help. Fertility, unlike travel or luxuries, won’t wait. Use it while you have it.

4) Being a party animal doesn’t prepare a woman for being a wife and mother. Quite the opposite. It teaches her to live for her instant gratification and not consider others or the future. It teaches her to resent children as little burdens that stop her from doing what she wants to do. It teaches her to care only about herself. In short, it turns her inward rather than outward and fuels her natural selfishness, which is exactly the opposite of what is needed in a good mother.

5) Partying, drinking, and hooking up make a woman a bad wife, and bad wives are also, by definition, bad mothers. The kinds of habits that cause a woman to be a good wife, to knit her heart with her husband’s, and to put others before herself also help to ensure that her children will grow up in the stable, married home they need. Premarital sex undermines marital stability. A habit of selfish indulgence doesn’t magically end when the wedding is over. The habits we make follow us for a lifetime.

7) Smart, loyal men who want to settle down and have a family don’t pick partying women for that role, and for good reason. The 30-something living weekend to weekend just to party or hooking up with a string of different men is not good wife material. So when she finally decides, in her mid-30’s, after being all used up, that she wants a husband and children, she is very likely to find she has zero prospects. Men aren’t going to marry her now. They’re not stupid.

Here’s what I’ve found out about young women by meeting a few who said they wanted marriage and children, but did everything except the things that would lead to marriage and children.

First of all, it’s important to note that marriage and children cost money. If the woman is still in debt at age 30, and still in school at age 30, and still avoiding getting a real job and paying off her debt and saving money, then she isn’t interested in marriage and children. Men today are paying 40% of their income to taxes. It’s expected that women will make good choices to study hard things (STEM degrees!) and then get to work in a full-time job, as soon as possible. And then keep earning and saving, until the first child arrives. Money is needed for things like a downpayment on a home, etc.

Second, I have talked to women who delayed marriage for perpetual travel, perpetual school, and serial cohabitations with younger, penniless, unemployed students. Some of these women were raised in church-going intact-marriage homes. When I talk to them about why they are indulging in skydiving, ziplining, traveling, and serial relationships with little boys, they tell me that they are being adventurous. They don’t want to settle down and focus on marriage and child-bearing early because that’s boring. They also tell me that my plan of doing hard degrees, hard jobs, and saving money is boring. If a woman’s first priority is to have fun, then you know right away that her life us not going to be focused on things that require effort and self-sacrifice. There is no “fun” way to be educated in fields that pay well. Every degree that that results in a good paying job will be challenging, i.e. – “boring”. If the woman has a fear of not having fun, then her fear means that she isn’t going to be disciplined enough to be able to marry and handle the needs of children.

Women who prefer to stay in school rather than growing up and getting a job are not good for marriage or children. People learn more at work than they do at school, and work actually pays you, unlike school. And the money you earn and save by working is what gives you the ability to marry, and the ability to have kids. People who can barely take care of themselves certainly can’t take care of children.

Houses are not free, and houses are needed to put a roof over the head of the children. Not only that, but child care, education, health care, etc. all go much better when money has been earned and saved. Money gives you freedom to raise kids how you want, and to counter the culture. You can’t bumble away your peak earning years, and then wonder why your children lost their faith. Why do couples divorce? It’s often caused by lack of money, or poor stewardship of money.

Not everything that takes effort produces practical results
Not everything that takes effort produces practical results

My older advisers tell me that working does not get any more easier or more fun after age 50. It gets harder to do the later you start. Hard things are easier for people who have a pattern of doing what needs to be done, and doing the things today that lead to where they want to be tomorrow. Do what works. Feminist Dance Therapy and Electric Engineering cost the same money, and take the same time and effort to complete. Students in both programs think they are working hard and studying interesting things. But only one degree is a step towards getting married and having children.

Wayne Grudem explains what the Bible says about spending, saving and charity

Bible study that hits the spot
Bible study that hits the spot

A practical lecture on money – spending, saving, charitable giving – from famous pastor Wayne Grudem.

I like the way that Wayne Grudem navigates the Bible finding the passages that tell you who God is, so that you can make better decisions by analyzing alternatives and choosing the one that gives your Boss a maximum return on investment. He’s very practical.

The MP3 file is here.

The PDF outline is here.

Spending:

  • Christianity does not teach asceticism (= don’t enjoy anything in this world), Paul condemns it in 1 Timothy 4:1-5
  • When you buy nice things, even if it is a little more expensive, it’s an opportunity to be thankful for nice things that God has provided
  • Even being rich is OK, but don’t let it make you haughty and arrogant, and don’t set your hopes on your money (see 1 Tim 6:17)
  • It is important for you to earn money, and you are supposed to use it to support yourself and be independent
  • It is possible to overspend and live recklessly (Luke 15:13) and it’s also possible to overspend and live too luxuriously
  • Increasing your income through career progression is wise, because it allows you to give away more and save more
  • God gives us freedom to decide how much we spend, how much we give away, and how much we save
  • every choice a Christian makes with money will give him or her more or less reward in his or her afterlife
  • Do not spend more than you have – you should make every effort to get out of debt as quickly as possible

Saving:

  • Saving money is wise so you can help yourself and others, and have money in your old age when you will not be working
  • If you do not save your own money, you end up being dependent on others (e.g. – family or taxpayers)
  • Not saving money for the future is a way of “putting God to the test” (Matt 4:7)
  • You are to “be dependent on no one”, to the extent that you can (1 Thes 4:12)
  • We don’t know the future, that’s why we should prepare for an emergency, and buy insurance to guard (James 4:13-17)
  • It’s right for us to learn how to save to be able to buy bigger assets, like a car or a college education
  • Saving and investing in stocks and bonds lets people in business start and grow companies, creating jobs and new products
  • Don’t over-save, trusting too much in money more than you trust in God (Ps 62.10; Matt 6:19,24; Luke 12:15-21)

Giving:

  • it is required for the people of God to give something out of what they earn, but no percentage is specified (Deut 26:12-13)
  • you do not give money to become right with God, you can’t earn your salvation
  • a Christian gives to show God that you trust him to take care of you, and to experience trusting him through your giving
  • the quality of your resurrection life with God is affected by giving you do for the Kingdom (Phil 4, Matt 6:19-21; 1 Tim 6:18-19)
  • when you get involved in the lives of others and give to them, you have the joy of experiencing caring for others (Acts 20:35)
  • it’s possible to give too little, but it’s also possible to give too much – be careful about pride creeping in as well

The first part of this lecture made me think of my treat for the week, which is to get a double chicken burrito bowl after my weight lifting. It is very easy to say grace when you are hovering over a double chicken burrito bowl. It is good to have nice things especially when it makes you thankful for what you have.

I was so happy listening to this talk because he was condemning bad stewardship, which I see in a lot of young people these days. I was happy until he got to the part about trusting in your savings for your security, and then I thought – that’s what I do wrong! I save a lot but it’s not just for emergencies and to share with others, like he was saying – I want a sense of security. This was more of a temptation in my 20s than it is now in my 30s, though.

Charity should hurt

I can remember being in my first full-time job as a newly hired junior programmer when the 2001 recession struck. I would cry while signing checks to support William Lane Craig’s Reasonable Faith ministry, because I was so scared. I had no family or friends where I lived to help me if anything went wrong, and that’s been the story of my working life. If anything goes wrong, there is no backup. But it’s that experience of crying when I gave that allows me to say today “that’s when I became the man I am, that’s what a man does when he is a follower of Jesus”. If you are not doing the actions of charity, then you will not having the experience of trusting God and letting him lead you. There is more to the Christian life than just saying the right things – you have to do the right things.

Don’t follow your heart

If you’re scared about giving when you are young, then do what I did in my 20s: work 70-hour weeks, get promoted often, and save everything you earn. I volunteered every Saturday for 9 months in order to get my first white-collar part-time job when I was still in high-school. The faster you increase your savings, the easier it’s going to be to take a genuine interest in caring for the people around you. Read Phil 1 (fellowship), Phil 2 (concern for others), and Phil 4 (charity). Turn off your emotions and desires when it comes to choosing what to study and what work to do, and put Philippians into practice. Your freedom to give is very much tied to the quality of your decisions of what to study, where to work, how much you spend on entertainment, and so on. That’s why you need to turn off your feelings and desires and do what works, even it it’s not fun, and even if it involves responsibilities, expectations and obligations.