Category Archives: Money

Six Lessons Learned From Our Recent ID Theft

If you didn’t hear the story, Barie had her purse stolen out of her minivan last week while she was working out at the YMCA.  Someone smashed in the passenger-side window while the van was sitting in the crowded parking lot around 10:00am in the morning and stole her purse (which was hidden under the front seat).  Despite my calls to Bank of America within 30 minutes of the incident to report the stolen purse, the thieves were still able to use the debit card and ID to empty all of the money out of our checking and savings accounts.  Here’s what we’ve learned through the process:

  1. If your purse or wallet is stolen (and both your bank card and your driver’s license are taken), it is NOT enough to cancel the debit card with your bank. A thief can still use your cancelled card and your picture ID to access the money in your accounts.  You need to ask for an immediate HOLD to be placed on ALL of your bank accounts with your financial institution, and then as quickly as possible remove all of your funds, cancel your accounts, and open new accounts.
  2. Do NOT trust people that you talk to through the customer service department of any large bank (through their 1-800 phone service). You will end up talking to someone in a call-center who does not understand the details of how fraud and theft actually work.  My advice to you is to immediate go into a local BRANCH and ask to meet with the branch MANAGER.  Ask him or her for a list of steps you need to take to protect your money and your identity.  Don’t leave until the manager gets on the phone and puts a HOLD on your account and flags your ID in their system.
  3. The primary way that people steal money from you after they have your debit card and your Driver’s License is to go through the drive-thru lanes at a large bank (where they have 6 or 8 lanes). They choose one of the far-away lanes and have someone who is close to your appearance go through the drive-thru.  With your debit card (even a cancelled or expired one) and your ID, they can withdraw money from any account linked to your card by forging your signature.
  4. Don’t ever leave your purse or wallet in your locked car (even if it is hidden well). Most ID fraud happens based on stolen identification.  Barie hid her purse well in our van, and another victim even hid her purse in the back seat of her car.  However, the police said that most likely they were being watched as they got out of their vehicles and the criminals saw them leave their purses behind on the way into the YMCA.  This crime happens most frequently at work-out facilities where people tend to leave their purse or wallet in the car.  Don’t do it!
  5. If someone uses your identity as though they were you (which is the definition of identity theft), make sure and let the Department of Public Safety and the Policy Department know that you have been a victim of this crime. Often after this happens, people don’t follow-up with law-enforcement to report the details of the identity theft because their bank reimburses the loss to the customer.  This is one reason that this crime is so infrequently prosecuted.
  6. Trust God. This whole experience has been a reminder to Barie and I that everything we have in this life can be taken from us except for our faith in Jesus Christ.  No treasure on this earth is as precious to us as the gift of grace that God made possible through Jesus.  In addition, we have learned (again) that we must trust God to meet our daily needs.  He has been so faithful to us every step of the way, and we give Him all the glory for helping us through this ordeal.

The Whole Counsel (& Money)

One of the most important skills to learn in Bible-study (as a student of the Word and a teacher of the Word) is to teach everything the Bible says about a subject rather than just emphasize one thing the Bible says.  We are constantly in danger if we reduce the teaching of the Word to one sentence or principle for two reasons.

ONE, pulling biblical principles out of the narrative of the Bible can change the meaning of the passages we are teaching.  For example, if the main narrative of the Bible is that God created everything that is out of nothing for His own glory and sent His only Son to redeem and restore His creation which was broken by our rebellion, then the individual stories and principles must be put into that broader context.  If not, we will actually contradict the primary story of the Bible (you need a Savior to redeem you and the Spirit to help you) with moralistic parables about how to live moral lives without the presence and power of God.

TWO, emphasizing one teaching from the Scriptures on a topic can distort the whole counsel of God’s Word because the Bible says complimentary things on numerous topics.  This is called reductionism, where the teacher over-emphasizes one part of the biblical narrative at the expense of the whole.  For example, if a teacher just says the Bible teaches that sex outside of marriage is wrong but doesn’t say the Bible teaches that sex inside of marriage is beautiful, then people can get the idea that God is against sex in general rather than the true teaching that God created sex and puts boundaries on our sexuality.

This paradigm for Bible study (don’t reduce the biblical teaching to one point) has been elevated in importance in my mind as we have tried to teach the biblical worldview on money and possessions.  The Bible (and Jesus Himself) says so much about money and possessions that you can’t reduce it to one sentence or principle.  In fact, we must teach the whole counsel of God on money or we are likely to distort and misapply the Scripture in some way.  When it comes to money, the Bible teaches AT LEAST the following eleven truths in different passages:

1- Wealth-building can be wise.
2- God gives excess to some so that they can share with those who have less.
3- Jesus’ radical generosity toward us serves as a model and a motivation for our radical generosity.
4- The Holy Spirit must guide us as to which sacrifices we, personally, are to make.
5- God delights in our enjoyment of His material gifts.
6- God, not money, should be our primary source of beauty and security.
7- We can’t take anything we collect here with us but we can invest in eternity.
8- The love of money is the root of all kinds of evil.
9- No one can be a slave to money and a slave to God at the same time.
10-  Everything belongs to God.  We are just managers of His stuff.
11- God wants His people to be regular, sacrificial givers.

Do you see my major point?  If you and I take only ONE of these truths and ignore the rest, you will distort the teaching of the Bible on money (as many have).  Those who teach a prosperity theology (God wants you to be rich) and a poverty theology (God wants you to be poor) are doing this kind of reductionism – finding ONE verse that supports their worldview and teaching it without the context of the whole counsel of the Bible.

Where do we go from here?  First, we read the whole Bible (a point I’ve made many times on my blog), not just parts of it that we like.  Those that read only the New Testament or the Gospels or the Psalms are destined to make these kind of mistakes.  Don’t ignore any parts of the Word – read it all.  Second, make sure that you don’t overstate what the Bible says when applying to your life or the lives of others.  This is where we get into trouble and become legalistic.  Allow God to speak to you personally and clearly, and trust Him to lead others as they read the Scriptures.  Third, put together everything the Bible teaches on a topic before you build a case on just one passage.  In other words, teach the Bible holistically.

May God be glorified in us as we listen to everything He has said to us.

$5,300,508.29

Our church is currently running 25 Financial Peace University groups across the city of Round Rock which include more than 360 adults.  As of spring-break (next week), we are approaching the half-way mark in the program (6 weeks out of 13).  We just recently compiled the consumer debt load of those in FPU, and without mortgages, our families are carrying $5,300,508.29 in debt.  I don’t know how that number hits you, but it is staggering to me.  A reminder that the church of Jesus Christ in America is struggling with consumerism, materialism, and debt just as much as the culture at large.

But there is hope!  Families have already started making major changes in their patterns of behavior, paying off debt, and saving for the future.  In addition, many are beginning to give to God for the first time.  What could the families in our church do to invest in the kingdom of God if they were not buried in 5.3 million in debt?  Imagine the freedom these families will experience when they live within their means and the joy they will experience as they make eternal investments.  But we have a long way to go.  We are just at the beginning of the process of changing a lifetime of habits and we won’t get out of debt overnight.  But by God’s grace, we can get there together.

This Sunday, March 11th, I am preaching from James 5:1-6 as we continue our series Life Between Sundays.  In this passage, James warns us of the dangers of worshiping wealth instead of Jesus Christ.  Money is a powerful idol that many serve and worship – hoping to find security, significance, purpose, and meaning in their net worth.  But money is a terrible idol because it is not the Living God.  It cannot deliver us from ourselves or redeem this broken world.  Only Jesus is God and only Jesus can set our hearts free from the love of money.

Apparently, the church in America has not learned this truth yet.  FPU has revealed 5.3 million reasons we need to be at church this Sunday, to ask the Holy Spirit to set us free from this idol that has only led us into bondage.

Questions About Giving

For those of you who attended our services last Sunday, you know that we re-introduced the feature where people in the audience could text-message in their questions after the sermon for a short Q&A.  We haven’t tried the text-message questions in a while, but when we know that we will be preaching on a topic that stirs a lot of interest and passionate debate, we want to make this feature available.  As I mentioned last week on my blog, I preached on money last Sunday and took questions after each service.  We received 5 questions after first service and 11 after second service.  Because I couldn’t answer them all during the short Q&A session on Sunday, I wanted to answer a few of the questions here on my blog.  Here were three questions that I thought were very thought provoking…

Question #1: We are considering purchasing a new home.  It is not a necessity, but we do feel like we could use the extra space.  Obviously, this purchase will require us to spend extra money that we could give away.  How do you know when spending money on non-necessities is okay and when it is sinful/greedy? This is a great question because it is a question that we all face every day – how do we know if it is okay to spend money on stuff that we don’t really need but that we just want to buy?  I think two principles are in play in this discussion.  First, we need to make sure that giving is first in our budget before we make these kind of decisions.  If we can’t give as we sense God is leading us to give because of our spending too much (like on a new house), then we should reconsider.  However, if we pray about how much our family should give away, we give that money away first in our budget, and we still have the margin left in our budget to get the new house, then we can probably move forward.  This leads to the second principle – don’t make large purchases in isolation.  Buying a new house is a much bigger decision than buying a new pair of jeans.  When we are making large financial decisions, we need to make sure that we are getting good counsel from others around us who are wise financial stewards.  We tend to do this with every other decision that we make, but for some reason, we don’t seek good counsel on financial purchases.  God’s Word shows us that we need to find the counsel of the wise if we want to be wise – especially when it comes to how we handle money.

Question #2: I disagree with one of the points in your sermon about God not needing our money.  Without our money, there could be no church, and without the church, how could you reach people? This is another great question, and one that I am glad to have the chance to respond to in detail.  In my sermon, I made the point from Psalm 50:9-12 that God doesn’t ask us to give because he needs our money, but rather because he wants our hearts.  The Scripture says that God owns everything anyway, so we are, theologically speaking, simply giving God back His own stuff.  That being said, the question does raise the tension of how would the church operate without our giving.  Two answers to this important question – first, though God doesn’t need the money we give (He can work without our resources), He does choose to use our giving in other people’s lives.  In my mind, this is another evidence of God’s amazing grace – the fact that my giving not only changes my heart, but can be used by God to impact another life as well.  Second of all, the question assumes that God needs the American form of church (large worship gatherings in public places with professional ministers) in order to reach people.  In fact, in many places in the world, God is using small house churches without professional clergy to rapidly take the gospel to millions of people.  In other words, God shows us globally that His Spirit can move even when great financial resources are not available.  In fact, I would argue historically that God’s Spirit moves in the most profound ways among the poor.

Question #3: In the Old Testament, the Bible teaches that we should bring the whole tithe to the church, but in the NT, aren’t we free to give the tithe to other places besides the church if it is helping to fulfill our mission?  If we are still giving to God, does it really matter where it goes? Another great and common question that I encounter.  As I said on Sunday morning, I believe that we are under grace in the New Testament, and we have freedom to follow the Holy Spirit in our giving.  I don’t believe that we are limit our giving to 10%, and that our giving should only be given to the local church.  I don’t read the Bible to teach that the local church is the same as the “storehouse” referenced in Malachi 3, for example.  The people of the Old Testament were told very specifically what to do with their tithe, but I believe that we have freedom to follow the Spirit in our giving as NT believers.  This means that we can give to our local church, our local pregnancy center, our local college ministry, and missionaries around the world.  However, I would caution in one area.  The NT speaks of the fact that we should support those who teach us the Bible and feed us spiritually (see 1 Timothy 5:16-18), so I believe that we should be giving regularly and generously to the local congregation that is supporting us and equipping us in our walk with Christ.  In fact, one the blessings of being part of a community of faith and giving regularly to that local congregation is that you can be confident that your giving is supporting that local church and other ministries in the city and around the world that your local church is supporting.  In this way, giving to a local church is a very powerful way to impact the world for the cause of Christ.

Letters Topic #1: Money

So, we’re starting a new series this week at church called Letters.  The idea is simple: the NT writers wrote letters (hence the name) to churches throughout the ancient world to encourage them in their faith and to speak to specific issues that they were facing.  Over the next five weeks at church, we are going to speak to five issues that our church-leaders repeatedly confront as we are discipling others to become more like Jesus Christ.  The first topic we will address? Money!

Interestingly enough, Jesus talks about money more than he does any other topic.  One of the reasons I think he warns us repeatedly about greed and building our treasure here on earth is because greed is so hard for us to see it in ourselves.  In other words, even though we are wealthier than 95% of the world, we can always find someone who makes more money than we do and spends more than we do and therefore convince ourselves that we are not greedy or consumed with materialism.  But can we be honest for one minute?  We all struggle with being generous people.  With so many options to spend our money on, we can always think of a good reason to buy that new gadget, get the new car, buy the newer, bigger house.  I’m not throwing stones – I’m right there with you! 

You would think that because we are the most prosperous people in the world, we would be the most generous.  But all the research shows that people give less money as they become more prosperous.  This report from 2007 shows that the poor gave about twice as much as the rich in percentage terms.  How can this be?  I think the reality is that the more we make, the more we think we deserve to enjoy in life.  And when we buy into that line of thinking, it is harder for us to part with our money.  We begin to consider what other things we could do with the money if we didn’t give any.  Think about it this way: if I give 10% of $100, that’s only $10.  What can you really do with $10?  But if I give away 10% of $100,000, that’s $10,000.  I could do a lot with $10,000 (for myself) – maybe a great vacation or a upgrade on my house or a great new car.  But what we fail to realize is that the first person only has $90 to live on, while the second has $90,000.

My dad used to always say (and still does): it doesn’t matter how much you make, you can always find a way to spend it.  In other words, we are never at a loss of things we think we need to buy.  I would add my corollary to his nugget of wisdom: if you don’t give first, you won’t give at all.  Because we find ways to spend what we have, we have to give first.  Generosity must become a first-place discipline in our lives.  We can learn to live on whatever we have, so let’s learn to give to God first and to live on the rest.

Any thoughts?