Thursday, February 3, 2011

Debt & Giving - Part 2

So I would like to outline to you our plan for paying off this debt, God willing, by the end of the year. Let me preface our plan by saying that it might not make sense, but that is exactly the point. We feel like we will be able to be debt-free by the end of this year by trusting God to meet our needs, and we can outwardly express this trust by giving more of our money away to others. It does not make sense to expect to get out of debt by giving away your money, but it does if you have a promise from God that He will provide for you. It does make sense if you believe it is more blessed to give than to receive! We feel that we need to give more and that God will be faithful in blessing our giving. We intend to increase our tithe offering to 20%. We are currently at 10% and feel led to give the first 20% of everything we make back to God. We also intent to give a larger percentage of our income than we did in 2010. I believe we gave around 14% of our income away through tithes and offerings last year. This year we intend to increase the percentage we give, and we hope to continue to increase that percentage every year until we get to the place where we are giving away 90% and living on the 10%. Is God not capable of doing this?

I do hope that by giving you the details on our giving you will not see this as bragging or boasting about how much money we give. I feel that as Christians we are very hush-hush about how much we give and we try not to let anyone know how much we give because that would be selfish giving or drawing attention to ourselves. I feel that what we ought to do as Christians IS boast about how much we are able to give! It’s not like the money is ours to begin with. So are we not boasting about what God has allowed us to give, is it not bragging about what God is doing in our lives and in the lives of others through the money He gave us to give away? We ought to challenge one another to give more! We ought to be an encouragement to others through our giving. We ought to see others giving as bragging on what God is doing through His followers. I see it as an act of worship. If God has given you money, or time, or abilities; should we not use those to further His kingdom and should we not boast about what He is able to do with our resources and through us? Yes, I think we should. So I am not boasting about how great we are because we give blank amount, but I am bragging on God for meeting our needs, providing for us always, and keeping His promise to bless our giving.

So back to our plan – In 2011 we are going to increase our tithe offering to 20% of our income, increase the percentage of our total income that we give, cut our budget as much as we possibly can, and put every extra dollar God’s sees fit to bless us with towards my student loan debt. We will give back to God FIRST and THEN adjust our budget accordingly. So by giving away more of our money, we feel that God will bless our giving and will meet our needs and more, to the point where we will be able to pay off this debt by the end of 2011. We want to make this journey about what God is capable of accomplishing and not about what we could accomplish under our own means. To give you an idea of what we are up against in this debt removal process I will let you in on our financial situation – I make about $18,500 annually at my job. The business we own grosses about $36,000 annually, but ended up netting only about $1000 in 2010. Ronnie, through substitute teaching and horse training brings in an additional $2000 a year. So I think we are safe in saying we do not make a ton of money, but we have never gone without, and God has always provided! I give you our income to show you that us paying off my student loan debt in one year was hard enough before (maybe impossible), but with our increased giving we will be trusting God more than ever to meet our needs. Just going by the numbers it would seem impossible to pay off a loan in one year that is nearly two times our annual income, but when we come to that place where we cannot do it on own our and have to rely completely on Him, we allow God to work miracles.

Our hope is that we will give away our money, God will bless us, the loan will get paid off, and people will see how good God is to do the impossible. I do not know for a fact that we will pay off the student loan debt this year, but I do know that we will be faithful in our giving, and God will always be faithful in loving us. So whether God sees fit to allow us to pay this loan off or not, we will be thankful for the multitude of blessings we are constantly receiving and will continue to praise Him for choosing us. I hope that as you watch us pay off this debt and give more you will be encouraged to give more yourself. I would hope that as you watch God be faithful to those that are obedient to His commands, that your faith would be strengthened and you would come to trust God more and give more of yourself to Him. Lastly, my prayer is that your giving would be an act of affection and devotion to a God that is worthy and deserving of more than we can ever give.

Debt & Giving - Part 1

At the start of this year my student loan debt was at $36,105. It was around $41,000 in 2007 when I graduated from graduate school. I have been paying steadily since then and have over a little less than 3 years whittled it down by $5,664 by paying extra every month and making additional payments when we had the extra money available. This is my only debt as we paid off all of our other debts within the first year of marriage. This debt, which is pretty large, doesn’t seem like it is ever going to be paid off if we continue to make small monthly payments where the vast majority of the payment goes towards interest. Since I began making payments in 2007, $9,199 has gone towards interest alone. Not cool! When you have unpaid debt you are not financially free because some portion of your income has to go towards that debt. If your finances are not free then you are not free. We want to be free! We want our finances to be free, because right now our debt is telling us where our money has to go and we want to be able to tell our money where we want it to go.

Awhile back, Ronnie and I read a book together call The Treasure Principle written by Randy Alcorn. The book was revealing to us in that it highlighted our need to turn our finances over to God. It makes sense that you would trust God with your finances seeing as how your money comes from God in the first place. Really does one “good” thing not come from God? Does God not provide us with absolutely every good thing that is in our lives? My job – God. Our money – God. Our abilities – God-given. Our home and automobile and clothes and food and air and water and happiness – All God. There isn’t one good thing that comes from some place other than God, the creator of everything. You could say that you work at your job and because of your hard work your employer pays you a salary. That would be true, but God blessed you with the abilities you possess to be qualified for that job, and He blessed you with the clothes you where to work, and the transportation you use to get there, and the mental capacity to excel at your job, and the organs inside your body that continue to work properly so you can keep on living so you can go to your job everyday, and did He not create you? And your boss? And your coworkers? And the very materials that were used to build your place of employment? What then can we say does not come from God since He was the one who created us and this world and the universe we live in? We are only stewards of this earth and everything on it. God owns it and as owner of us and the earth He should be the boss and us the servants (or managers/stewards) of His property.

So really when you think about it, turning our finances over to God seems like a pretty safe bet since we know that He created everything good in this world and is infinitely more wise. We can also be sure that we can trust Him because has there ever been a time in which God did not follow through? What about a time where God went back on His word or broke a promise? Has there ever been a time where God did not have our best interests at heart? I didn’t say “has there ever been a time where God didn’t serve your interests.” God not doing what you want Him to do and God not looking out for your best interests, are not synonymous. Many times God does the opposite of what you’d like Him to do, but that is only because He really does love us and by giving us everything we ever wanted He would actually be harming us and that would not be very loving on His part. He said “For I know the plans I have for you. Plans to prosper you and not harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” (Jeremiah 29:11) Sounds like a pretty good promise to me! So you see, God created everything good including money and He always keeps His promises; and as the creator, should we not obey His commands? What about when He asks us to give back a portion of our income as an offering to Him? I think we should. This portion (a tenth) of our first paycheck that we set aside and give to the Lord is called a tithe, and any amount you give over the ten percent is considered an offering. God wants us to give a portion of our money back to Him so He can bless us and others through our giving. God wants more than anything to bless us! He doesn’t need our money – it all belongs to Him already. He is not “served by men’s hands, as though he needed anything.” However, through our giving we are merely acting in obedience, and through our obedience and our generosity we please God. We give from our “first” and not from our “last” because God deserves our very best and not our leftovers. Who are we to be stingy with the money God freely gives to us. Have we ever done anything to deserve the many blessings (money included) that we frequently receive? I feel very grateful that I don’t get what I deserve, because what I actually deserve is far worse than what I think I deserve. A verse in Romans (11:35-36) says “who has ever given to God that God should repay him? For everything comes from him, everything happens through him, and everything ends up in him.” If everything we have was freely given, should we not continue to freely give back a portion of that what was given to us? God wants us to give because through giving we break the hold that money has on our lives. Giving overcomes greed, and produces joy and allows God to bless us. Giving allows you to bless someone else. You can know what kind of hold money has on your life by watching where you spend your money. Where your money goes there your heart is also.