The Crown Biblical Financial studies with Mark Aranal session 3 (Debt) was a bit quiet compared to the session 4. I admit I was one of the more vocal ones during the class, and Mark had to, regretfully it seemed, cut the class session so we could go to the group discussion, or we’d never get home.
It started, as all classes should, with a review of the past lessons. In session 1 Mark shared Crown’s vision for its students: that after the studies, we would become more faithful stewards of the possessions God has given us to manage, knowing that He will also give us the wisdom to make the right decisions, and the grace to follow through. Session 2 was where we learned that much of financial stress comes from not knowing God’s part – Owner, Master, Provider – and ours: manager. Session 3 was twofold: avoid unnecessary debt. How?
And spend wisely. There was an additional lecture about spending, which I promise I will include in a later blog. But simply put, the key to wise spending and avoiding unnecessary debt is contentment.
Crown studies developers have found that contentment is mentioned in the bible seven times, and six of them were clearly in the context of possessions. Although Mark singled out Paul’s words in his letter to the Philippians chapter 4 verses 11 – 13, I am quite struck with what Paul wrote to Timothy: “Yet true godliness with contentment is itself great wealth. After all, we brought nothing with us when we came into the world, and we can’t take anything with us when we leave it. So if we have enough food and clothing, let us be content.” (1Timothy 6:6-8 NLT)
Contentment is NOT laziness. Neither does it mean you cannot have a dream to pursue. The bible says that we have been created to do good works (Ephesians 2:10), and there are several Proverbs about the advantages of being hardworking. Contentment is having an inner peace that accepts the present situation while working towards improvement. Discontent, then, would be that lack of inner peace and acceptance. The English idiom that describes this attitude best is keeping up with the Joneses. The bible word is covet (to want something passionately, especially something that someone else has), and it is actually the last of the Ten Commandments. And it is the root of discontent.
We were still furiously taking down notes on what Mark was saying. I managed to whisper to Irl that maybe I should review shorthand writing (a skill I covet when I found out it was taught at the high school I wanted to but didn’t attend). The class was still quiet when we went into the main topic for the night, Seeking Counsel.
The bible strongly advises us to seek counsel. As the Crown BFS shows, the bible itself is rich with principles for financial management, with over 2,350 verses on the topic. Because this is God’s word, the bible is the first source of counsel/advice. There are some financial decisions that are clearly spelled out, such us pay tithes, pay taxes, pay debts, and DO NOT COSIGN. In Proverbs, it is actually the first financial counsel given, one whole paragraph, the first five verses of chapter 6.
Although there are verses in the previous chapters about wealth, they are tied in to recognizing God’s part in it, and warnings on how immorality can drain you of it. But the first direct mention of financial management in Proverbs was cosigning.
I’m glad I heeded this long before I even knew about Crown Ministries. I help manage a rental, and one of the former tenants was asking me to cosign a loan. I told him, in truth, that I was only managing the place, it wasn’t mine, and I didn’t even have a bank account anymore. Credit investigators would find that he actually had more money than me. About two years after he and his wife moved away, his credit card company began calling me, because I had given him permission to give my phone number in his contact info. It seems he owes them. And I am extremely glad I did not cosign for the loan he wanted to get.
We learned during that session that there are people God has placed in our lives to help us in decision-making. Experts abound (the girls once asked me what “financial adviser” means because they hear it on A Shark’s Tale), and there are godly people who are aware of God’s principles in the bible even if they’re not experts in the field you ask them about. The foremost people for counsel given to us, though, are our parents (as adults, asking their advice on a financial matter is one expression of honor and respect) and our spouses.
Spouses should keep each other informed about financial decisions, so that if one is incapacitated or dies, the one left behind will not have to start from scratch. I will go a step further and tell wives what a godly wife drilled into my brain: the husband is God’s assigned authority in the home. Say your piece, give your opinion, but leave the final decision to him. If he decides differently from you, pray. One of two things will happen: God will either show him before it’s too late that you had the better view, or He will change the circumstances so that your hubby’s decision will work. Oh, there’s a third thing: He’ll show you that you were wrong about it. But if you do turn out to have made the right call, DO NOT SAY “I TOLD YOU SO!”!! Nothing will create tension in a marriage worse than those four words.
I was inwardly bristling with Parents. Truthfully, relations between my father and me have come to a point where only by staying away can I show respect. Even if I catch him humiliating me and calling my decisions stupid when he thinks I don’t hear (he does speak loud, and sometimes, he sounds like he’s fighting with someone, so I sneak downstairs to listen if I should intervene). This will be a struggle. The financial genius was my mother, and her training has stayed with me. I was pleasantly surprised when something she had trained me in was mentioned as a good financial habit in the BFS.
We also learned whose counsel to avoid. If we recognize that God is Master, we should not seek counsel from any other supernatural source: fortune tellers, spiritualists, mediums, horoscopes, superstitions, feng shui, etc. I remember having a conversation with a friend who had bought a feng shui book. Some of the design lay-outs recommended actually make good use of space, so you probably end up with “good feng shui” without meaning to. But some had us going “huh?” Actually, most of it. I mean no disrespect, but let me reiterate the main reason for this: I am redeemed by Jesus, and worship God as Owner, Master and Provider of all I possess. I will not purposefully arrange my life, my house or my finances based on feng shui. Although I have seen how God has led us to make decisions that satisfied my relatives who believe in superstitions and feng shui, so we didn’t get hassled. That can happen too.
Another counsel to avoid is from biased counselors. These are well-meaning people who actually make good financial sense, but whose agenda is for you to invest in their company. Multi-level marketing is one such thing, and I speak from experience. I am grateful that the MLM we eventually joined came out with a package that allows you to simply be a direct seller (although of course they will say that there is more money in the recruitment). We actually buy just for personal consumption.
The final topic was about Training Children. If Parents are to be a source of counsel, their primary job is to train their children about finances. As parents we are to teach them verbally, by example, and by involvement. This is where the discussion became lively.
A lot of us had stories to tell about experiences with parents and parenting. One that I loved was Bernadette’s, where she said that because she grew up with a military father who didn’t include the family in decision-making, she and her husband made a conscious effort to include their kids in theirs, regardless of age. Some of the kids are in college now, and they are beginning to see the fruit of that training.
The girls have always gone shopping with me, but now whenever they want something, they check out the price and ask me if we could squeeze it in. Most of the time the items are things I had planned to buy anyway, so I say yes. But I have decided I would be honest with them. If it isn’t in the budget, I tell them we have to save up for it, and they had to pray to Jesus to see if it was something we really need, because then He would be sure to supply the means to get it.
Another story was Rey’s, who told of how he felt his dad had been unfair to him by making him help in the work while his older brother played. He decided he wouldn’t do that to his son. But the results were unexpected, and he has since then revised his stand. He now sees and appreciates the training his father had given him, and tells of how now, his brother asks for his advice. He sees now the value of training his son.
I shared how my parents had an attitude like Rey’s, about not wanting their kids to have a hard time. Although my mother was firm about accounting for expenses – I had to present a written breakdown every time I was sent on an errand – she refused me one thing that I really wanted. You see, when I was a young girl, they would us how put themselves through college by working on the side (my mom was a typing instructor, my dad was a janitor). I wanted that too. So when I got to college, I arranged my schedule so I could put in a part-time job.
My mother refused. I was crushed. I realized that they saw it as an example to avoid rather than follow.
“I had always seen that they became the success they were because of what they had gone through, and I wanted to go through it too. When they refused me, I felt deprived of the lessons I could have learned, the way they did.”
Mark decided to stop the sharing at this point, because it was getting late and we still had group discussion. A lot of us stayed and chatted after the class, sharing growing up experiences, getting to know each other a bit more, encouraging each other. Crown BFS is a place where the bible truth that says “the temptations in your life are no different from what others are experiencing. And God is faithful. He will not allow the temptation to be more than you can stand. When you are tempted, he will show you a way out so that you can endure.” (1 Corinthians 10:13 NLT)
The 4th session is entitled Seeking Counsel, but it has struck me more as showing how important it is that the whole family is involved in financial decision-making. It is one way that spouses learn about each other’s values, and how valuable they are to each other; it is a way for parents to train their children in responsibility and honesty; it is a way that children can show respect for their parents.
It was a lesson I didn’t quite expect, but I hope it is a lesson I learn well.