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Sunday, March 28, 2010

What? Sell all my stuff?

"When Jesus heard this, he said to him, 'You still lack one thing. Sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me." -- Luke 18:22

What did Jesus really mean when He spoke these words to the rich, young ruler? And I wonder what this guy was thinking... "seriously dude, go sell all this fine stuff?" How do we apply this story to our own lives? Does Jesus intend this to be a command for all his followers? Are we all called to go and sell everything we have and give to the poor?

There are a number of places in the new testament where we see followers of Jesus who own personal property... Mary, Martha and Lazarus owned a home, some of the disciples had fishing boats and when Zacchaeus jumped out of the tree, just before he wrote the song about the wee little man, he announced "Lord, here and now I give HALF (not all) of my possessions to the poor." So no... the command given to the rich, young ruler doesn't appear to be a universal command for all of Christ's followers. The question is, what does that command mean for you?

One of the first things Shelly and I did when we began this journey was to spend some serious prayer time with the Lord on this topic. We put everything on the table -- our home, our cars (you see how that one turned out), our investments, the money for our children's school and all our possessions. The Lord responded by opening our eyes to a few initial changes we could make. As we continue to pray and seek His will on this, He shows us more and more. We realize that the more we let go of, the more money we're able to free up, the more possessions we're able to sell, the more we can give away -- and that is really the whole point of this blog.

Here's one example... we've realized that we need to have a serious yard sale. The proceeds will go to one of the ministries we've been supporting. This is a very literal way to sell possessions and give to the poor. We have tons of unnecessary stuff just sitting around our house and in our garage -- some of it quite valuable that would likely do well at a yard sale. One item we are completely overrun with is children's clothing. "Wait!" you say! Can't you just donate the clothing to Goodwill or a family in need? Well yes, and we do that sometimes and certainly if we're aware of a specific need through a charity we support. But listen to what Richard Stearns, President of World Vision, says about this type of donation...
"While providing things like these in urgent situations is sometimes necessary, it neither addresses the underlying stubbornness of poverty, nor is it sustainable, it just creates a dependency. Frankly, giving things to the poor does much more to make the giver feel good than it does to fundamentally address and improve the condition of those in need."
Shelly and I are inclined to agree. Yes it's much easier to get rid of a stack of clothing by just dropping it off at Goodwill -- but we could probably do a lot more good by taking the time to sort, clean, price and sell the clothing and then give the money away.

So that's one example but admittedly, even if it does take a lot of time and effort, it's not much of a sacrifice to hold a yard sale and get rid of a bunch of junk you don't want anyways. What about the other side of that coin -- selling the possessions that you really DO want and then giving that money to the poor?

For the most part, as we have looked around our house we have determined that it would be more trouble than it's worth for the majority of our stuff. Should we sell the green couch that appears to have been slept on by a pack of dogs we let in from the rain? Probably not going to bring in the kind of coin that will make a difference. And then what do you do with the spot where the couch used to be? That's right Americans, fill that void with something better.

Here's a better example... jewelry, especially Tiffany Jewelry. My wife loves her jewelry. Not that she has all that much, but what she does have she loves. Although, in reality, she has a couple of items she wears regularly and the remainder is laid to rest in a box on the dresser. But it's nice to know it's there. The real question is, back to our first post, is it a Necessity or a Luxury? Is it something we as a family need or that by selling it, could bring in enough money to provide for a family that is truly in need.

For you ladies out there reading this and thinking, "I can't believe this man is making his wife sell her jewelry." That one was her idea.
Thursday, March 25, 2010

What Are You Investing In?

Here's a thought for today, it's from Francis Chan's book Crazy Love...
"Lukewarm people do not live by faith; their lives are structured so they never have to. They don’t have to trust God if something unexpected happens-they have their savings account. They don’t need God to help them – they have their retirement plan in place. They don’t genuinely seek out what life God would have them live – they have life figured and mapped out. They don’t depend on God on a daily basis – their refrigerators are full and, for the most part, they are in good health. The truth is, their lives wouldn’t look much different if they suddenly stopped believing in God" (Luke 12:16-21; Hebrews 11).
Here's another quote from Chan, this one while he and his wife were in an African orphanage caring for a sick, premature infant...
"Someone asked me recently why I don't save money for emergencies or retirement. My answer was how can I justify saving for myself 'just in case' something happens to me when something IS happening to so many already. 29,000 kids will die today of preventable causes. If I'm to love my neighbor AS myself, why spend so much time worrying about me?"
The problem is, for most of us, me included, that we don't look at the reality of almost 30 Thousand children dying every day as an either/or decision. As in, Either I buy this new car, Or I save One Thousand children from dying today. Either I purchase this sweater (one more added to my collection of twenty just like it), Or I provide food and nourishment to infants in a dingy hospital on the other side of the world. We look at it as an inevitable reality. We read Matthew 26:11 where Jesus says "The poor you will always have with you." as an inevitability that we can't or for some reason shouldn't try to change. As if he were saying "You shouldn't worry, those poor people will always be here, so don't feel guilty or anything". Instead, he is telling us that we have a never ending opportunity to do something. A never ending opportunity to invest where it matters most.

This issue of saving money is a tough one and honestly, we're really struggling to understand God's will for our family in this. We've never even questioned whether or not the Lord would want us to have 401Ks, mutual funds, IRA's, stocks, bonds, college funds and of course a minimum of 6 months mortgage payments in a cash savings account. That's just good old fashioned stewardship, right? But by socking away all of this money, aren't we literally storing up treasure on Earth -- the exact thing Jesus tells His followers NOT to do? And if we don't save every spare penny, how am I supposed to retire? What would we do in case of emergency? Perhaps we'd really have to trust in Jesus' provision. And what is the balance between prudence and testing God?

As I said, this is an area where we're struggling and we want to hear your thoughts on this. Shelly and I are definitely in agreement that we are hoarding too much money -- money that we could be putting to use to save lives. 

One really fun thing we've done recently, instead of saving for nothing, is to invest in a great program through the World Vision MicroFinance initiative. There are many similar programs but the basic idea is that a small loan - as little as $25 - could be enough to give someone in a 3rd world country an essential tool to start a business, for example. In most cases, the money you give to the program is reinvested once the original borrower repays their loan. And the vast majority of them are repaid. Here is some info that we found on the World Vision site that gives some real life examples of how the system works. There's also a nice little video (litteraly, it's very tiny) that highlights a couple of people's lives that were changed by this.

We learned about this program by reading Richard Stearns' book The Hole in Our Gospel where it talks about how it is great to help people by meeting their most immediate needs, but it is also good - maybe even better - to help them find a way out of the situation they are in. Another similar investment is child sponsorship. We sponsor children through Compassion and World Vision and have loved getting letters and colorings, sending cards and gifts on birthdays, and generally keeping up with the life of a specific child as well as knowing that the money we send each month is helping the entire family with food, schooling and other essentials. Our own children pray daily for the children we sponsor and they enjoy learning about the parts of the world they live in. We are even contimplating a trip to El Salvador this year to visit our Compassion Child, Rodrigo.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

How Was Your Day?

I have had the privilege of visiting Romania a couple of times in the past few years with our church. We have taken a group of high school students for 9-10 days at a time and partnered with a wonderful group called Pathway to Joy in order to help build churches in Gypsy villages and care for abandoned babies in the children's hospital. My role for the past couple of years has been to coordinate taking groups of students to the hospital to care for the babies. These babies range in age from 6 months to 5 years. After 5 years, they are forced to leave the hospital for the comfortable abode of the state-run orphanage which houses them until they are 22. Yes, you read that correctly. There in the orphanage are children as young as 4 or 5 all the way up to 22. After 22, they are expected to head out on their own...

Back to the hospital. So we take a group of teens to the hospital in the mornings and they break up in to groups that disperse to the various wards in order to hold, feed and rock infants that otherwise only get very brief outings from the confines of their cribs. These children are the very definition of Failure To Thrive. There is very little crying as you walk down the halls because the babies have learned that there is little use is trying. No one is coming.

It is always amazing to watch the teens bond with the children and sit, literally for hours on end, in an incredibly hot (it's a cultural thing) hospital room holding these children because they know it may be a very long time before anyone else comes along to pay the babies any attention.

The most difficult part for me was the second year I returned to the hospital. I was excited as we entered the hospital to see some improvements and upgrades that had been done. They were installing new windows in place of, well, mostly just panes of glass assuming they weren't missing altogether. And they had a new floor cleaning machine, like what you see being pushed around at Home Depot. All that changed when I arrived on the 9th floor where the children with special needs were housed. I was anxious to see new faces and my heart literally sank when I walked into the room and there, in those dirty, rusty cribs, lay many of the very same babies we had held the year before.

An entire year had gone by. I had gone out to dinner with my family, we had played in the driveway, gone to the pool in the summer, been to the beach, walked around the block a hundred times. But these babies were still lying in their cribs, just as they were when I had left the year before. Many had been there long before that.

I think about these babies when I'm having a "bad day". When my favorite t.v. show is a rerun, I try to remember these babies lying in their cribs looking at the ceiling, wondering if anyone is coming for them. Wondering if they will be picked up out of their crib even for a few minutes. I think about that and then my bad day is not quite so bad anymore.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Used Car Saves Babies

How much can you get for a "like new", 2001 Audi A6 Quattro? How about a dairy cow, some shares of a deep freshwater well, and a variety of necessities for a bunch of orphans? Oh, and one shiny scooter. It's true, the car had fairly low miles but went a very long way.

Some have asked for specifics regarding where we have directed some of the proceeds from the sale of the old Audi. Here's the list so far:
OK, that last one is not really a ministry at all, but it is where I got the scooter that will save us a good bit on monthly expenses, and we plan to hit the owner up for a sizable donation to the Heritage Preparatory School silent auction next Fall. 

The first week commuting on the Crazy Bike has been an adventure in itself. Seems folks don't take too kindly to you if you can't go more that 0 to 10 in 10 seconds. But it has been very fun too, being 'outdoors' as I commute to work. And I think I have finally broken my 20 year addiction to NPR.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

The Esau Syndrome

Last night, we bought a cow. Really. More on that later but now that I have your attention...

You probably know the story from Genesis 25:28-34. Basically, Esau comes in hungry from hunting, smells some pea soup and makes the impulsive decision to trade his entire inheritance for a worthless bowl of stew. Sound crazy (and not in a good way)? Shelly and I realized that we make similar impulsive and foolish decisions all the time when it comes to our money. Before we purchase "stuff", do we really take the time to ask ourselves if it's something we really need? Or better yet, do we take the time to ask the Lord if it's something He would have us spend our (actually His) money on? Usually no. But I wonder why not... The Word tells us in Matthew 6:25 that we should not worry about "things". The Lord knows what we need and He will provide it.

I have referenced this article previously, but there are some guidelines that John Wesley proposed when preparing to spend money that I think bears repeating as it is very convicting for me (i.e. I don't ever do this). Here is the relevant excerpt:
  1. In spending this money, am I acting like I owned it, or am I acting like the Lord’s trustee?
  2. What Scripture requires me to spend this money in this way?
  3. Can I offer up this purchase as a sacrifice to the Lord?
  4. Will God reward me for this expenditure at the resurrection of the just?
Finally, for the believer who is still perplexed, John Wesley suggested this prayer before a purchase:

“Lord, thou seest I am going to expend this sumer on that food, apparel, furniture. And thou knowest I act therein with a single eye, as a steward of thy goods, expending this portion of them thus, in pursuance of the design thou hadst in entrusting me with them. Thou knowest I do this in obedience to thy word, as thou commandest, and because thou commandest it. let this, I beseech thee, be a holy sacrifice, acceptable through Jesus Christ! And give me a witness in myself, that for this labor of love I shall have a recompence when thou rewardest every man according to his words.”
Here are two recent examples when we actually took God at His word, rejected an impulsive desire to buy stuff and trusted the Lord to provide:
  1. Baby/kid clothes -- Shelly recently felt convicted that our children did not wear enough matching outfits. I personally have not ever felt this conviction, at least not this strongly, so I can't speak to it from experience, but evidently it is accompanied by strong urges to get in the car and head to the mall. In the end, she managed to contain herself and did not go to the store and also put down the Hanna Andersson catalog. Literally within a day or two, a package arrived in the mail with a new outfit for baby, with gift receipt, and a gift card to Gymboree, from our dentist of all people. Our matching outfit dream came true.
  2. Stationary -- You may have seen folks who put cute little stick figures on the back window of their minivan to represent the various members of their family - A tall male figure with a cowboy hat is the daddy, there's a baby stick figure, a pet, etc. Well, you may not know that if you do the same thing on a blank notepad, you can inflate the price of said notepad by about 2000%. We had one of these notepads at one time, but found it misrepresented our family after baby #3. How could we live with our inadequately stick-figured notepad? So we hurriedly wasted the remainder of the previous pad in anticipation of the new one. Until we realized it was rather frivolous. The next day, what should arrive in the mail, but a brand spanking new note pad from a local realtor/neighbor. Sure, it doesn't have a cutesy stick figure of me in a superman cape with my sitck-figured brood, but a free notepad with a realtor in a Steamboat Captain's uniform (I too am lost on the meaning) is about $34 dollars cheaper.
Yes, these are little things -- but the Lord knows that He who is faithful with a little will be faithful with a lot, so it may be a small amount of money (to us) but this is a big deal to God. And lest you think the little things don't add up, last night we bought a cow (Yes, a cow. We named her Honey) and some other necessities for a family in Africa with money we've saved up over the last few weeks from not buying little things. I know a cow sounds like a weird purchase but World Vision calls a regular ol' dairy cow a "goldmine of health" for parents and children alike. They can produce 200,000 glasses of protein and calcium rich milk in their lifetime. And extra milk can be sold at the local market for extra income. If you ask me, that's a pretty good trade for a bunch of stuff.

Another way to save money is to just stay home. Also, tell the various retailers that you no longer wish to receive their lovely catalogs. It will not only reduce the urge to spend, it is a huge waste of paper. Window shopping is rarely just shopping and can lead to the often unintended consequence of buying something that you arguably don't need.

I don't know about you, but speaking for myself, I have never read the story of Jacob and Esau and seen myself in Esau's shoes. I have always seen myself as the more clever Jacob for some reason. Perhaps because I am able to cook a mean crock of chili, or maybe it was just the lesser of the two and not seeing myself as one easily duped. It wasn't until we read it in the context of making hasty, impulsive decisions for short-lived comfort in exchange for eternal reward that I saw myself in Esau.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Living in Atlanta

A friend pointed out to me me that, so far, it appears as though we are concerned only for those outside of our borders and are ignoring the Lazaruses at our doorstep. Good point. There are a lot of ways to get involved locally and you don't necessarily need an organization supporting it to get involved.

Here's one idea.. Since we don't do Santa Claus (*gasp*) we have a variety of options available to us on Christmas in addition to opening gifts from each other. This year, inspired by a friend that takes his grill downtown each Sunday after church to cook out for the homeless, we decided to spend our Christmas morning a little different from years past. We stopped by Starbucks and picked up a traveler of coffee and had the back of the car loaded up with fruit, donuts and blankets. We had this idea that we would show up downtown and hand all this out to the homeless population that had otherwise been forgotten, but reality set us straight.

Turns out, this is not a unique idea to us. In fact, it took us nearly an hour of driving around to find anywhere that was not already overrun with church groups, community groups and individuals with far better fare than what we had carted out. So we decided to take our show on the road and just drive around until we found someone that looked like a cup of coffee and some other goodies would make their day. At first, the children were pointing at every individual that happened to be taking their dog for a Christmas morning walk. Eventually we encountered a few men that, to this day, our kids still pray for by name. Vincent, Tony and Hubert are common prayer requests in the evening.

I was a little surprised at how grateful each of them were. It wasn't a Christmas feast - it was coffee, donut and some fruit.

Recently on a Saturday morning we went back for more. We picked up more coffee (please call ahead before walking into Starbucks demanding all their coffee on a busy morning) and fruit and the rest of our blankets and headed back to the park. It was a beautiful day and after word got out that we had 'good coffee', everything was gone in 15 minutes. We spent some good time talking with a few gentlemen that didn't appear to be in dire need of food so much as a conversation with someone. Giving, to us, new meaning to the words of Christ - Man does not live by bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God (Matthew 4:4).  Oh, and not a single person asked for money, which I had assumed would be a common request. Shows how much I know. 

Isaiah 58:10
and if you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry
and satisfy the needs of the oppressed,
then your light will rise in the darkness,
and your night will become like the noonday.

Another local group we are working with, thanks to some good friends, is S.A.Y Yes and New Life Covenant Church in Atlanta. One thing we love about S.A.Y Yes is that we can bring our kids and have them serve along side us. As a family, we regularly serve meals to this group of inner-city children and their parents.

There is something very precious and powerful about your entire family serving together and serving the specific community the Lord has placed you in. On the nights we serve at S.A.Y. Yes, we're amazed at how the Lord is even able to use our 3 month old baby for His work -- a smiley, cooing baby can bring a little joy to even the hardest of hearts or to someone who has just had a really, really rotten day. Thanks be to God for leading us to S.A.Y Yes -- if you live in the Atlanta area we highly recommend you look them up and get involved, they're doing awesome work.

Finally, we have several elderly neighbors that we check in on from time to time. Some have grandchildren and family in town or nearby and some do not. We have especially enjoyed getting to know one couple in particular - actually a brother and sister who have lived in the neighborhood for just under 50 years. They love it when the children come over to visit and we usually exchange small gifts for holidays or will find a card in the mailbox for Valentine's Day.

It has been fascinating and remarkable to watch my children in each of these situations. They have zero amount of prejudice, preconceived ideas or judgement for any of the people we have tried to serve. They walk behind me in the park as I pour cups of coffee - one with a bag of fruit, the other with cream and sugar - offering what they have to those around us. We are still learning and finding new places and people to serve and are interested to hear your ideas or experiences. Feel free to post them in the comments section below.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Just Go Around Me

As you can see from the photo, we went through with it. Last night in the pouring rain I took my car back to the Carmax Buying Center and they gladly cut me a check. Shelly and the kids picked me up and we looked at each other when I got in the front seat of her car and said "What have we just done?".

For those of you reading this that only have one car, or no car, I'm sure you just said a little "hmmmpf" under your breath. But bear with us, we're learning. I have had two cars ever since I was born, and to now only have one is a very strange feeling.

Another strange feeling is being dropped of at the scooter store with no real options other than a) buying a scooter and driving it home or b) walking. As you may have surmised, I chose the former. I pulled out of the parking lot onto a rather busy street and had this poor little Taiwanese beast of a machine at full throttle and still had a line of cars behind me contemplating just running me over in order to get on with their day sooner.

The kids are beside themselves. We had several 'Motorcycle Riding' sessions this afternoon (that is what they are calling it, a motorcycle) and I'm sure the neighbors are regretting our choice now as much as anyone, even if we are not. The biggest surprise was when Shelly came out and said, "OK, I want to drive it." She put on my helmet and jacket and took off down the street. Will wonders never cease? No, they won't evidently, because we all survived the day. Even with cars passing me in my own lane, we made it through day one of our Crazy Adventure.

The best part is that we now have more than half of the money made from selling my car and are eager to give it away. We have our eye on a couple of places right now and will be sure to update you here when we decide.
Thursday, March 11, 2010

Dude, where's my car?

Sorry for the lame movie reference. For the record, I have never seen it. But for this post, it seemed appropriate... possibly.

About 18 months ago, we moved from Marietta, GA to somewhere much closer to my office and our daughter's school. Much closer, by a factor of about a million or so it seemed. My daily commute to work went from an average of 50 minutes to 8. Likewise for taking my daughter to school. When we first moved, I seriously considered getting rid of my car and buying a scooter. Shelly and I debated the issue for a month or so, but in the end we decided that while I do only use the car to get to work and back +-90% of the time, that other 10% would be mighty inconvenient. For instance, I have a group of men I meet with once a week for breakfast, and it's nice to be able to drive there in a car since it's about 15-20 minutes away. Also, what about when it rains, or is bitter cold (yes, it gets bitter cold in Atlanta, not to mention bitter hot).

So we put that decision on the shelf, meaning we never planned to visit it again. But now here we are, visiting that idea again. In fact, a few days ago we stopped by the local scooter store just to look around and hopefully find a good reason why this is an insane idea. On the contrary, we found several other good reasons why this makes sense. For instance, not only would we save on gas, as we expected, and be able to give away a good portion of the proceeds from selling my car, but we also would not have to pay for insurance (or at least not nearly as much) or ad valorem taxes. Small enough scooters don't require tags, title, insurance or anything other than a valid GA drivers license.

Does this make it the right thing to do? Who knows. We're still praying about it. This is deemed a Large Decision, which means we will wait at least a week before taking any action. In the mean time, I'll get my car appraised and envision myself walking into work with a mouth full of bugs. Besides, it's been raining for 3 days now and I'm not inclined to do anything about this until the sun comes back out.

Pros and Cons

Pro - Scooter would cost less than half of what I could make selling my car, so we could give away the difference.

Con - Not having a second car would seriously stink on days that it is raining.

Pro - Scooters use Much less fuel, so our monthly fuel cost would decrease

Pro - Scooters don't cost as much in insurance or anything on tags, title or license riders

Con - People in cars have been known to text (eat, apply makeup, read the paper, etc.) while driving, and this could be hazardous to someone vulnerable - like on a scooter.

I'm drawing a blank. Help me think of other pros and cons. Is having a second car a Luxury or a Necessity?

I went to Carmax yesterday to get my car appraised and they offered me close to what I expected, if not a little more. I have spent the week praying about this decision and am trying to imagine myself riding this scooter in the dead of winter while teenage boys drive by throwing empty cans at me. On the other hand, it is difficult not to imagine myself on a sunny Spring day with the gentle breeze blow--HARRRGG! *cough, cough* - I just swallowed a wasp.

How did you get started and why do you refer to yourselves as Crazy?

I will take your questions is reverse order. Crazy is a reference to Francis Chan's book Crazy Love. A good friend gave me this book last year for Christmas and I have read it twice now. Basically, Chan is calling Christians to look at their lives and how they live them in comparison to the immense sacrifice by God in giving the life of his Son. Christians should look and act differently than those who do not claim to know God. If we look, act and talk the same as everyone else, there is a problem.

The website dictionary.com has many definitions for Crazy, but an unpredictable, nonconforming person; oddball seems to fit what we are going for here. In general, if humanistic logic would suggest you head in one direction, we want to be deliberate in heading the other way. If the rest of the world is knocking themselves out to save money for a yacht, we want to knock ourselves out to give that same money away.

The great preacher and theologian John Wesley was famous for giving away vast amounts of his annual income and preached often about how Christians should view and use money. I would encourage your to read this article that describes very succinctly what he believed about money.

He believed that with increasing income,
what should rise is not the Christian’s standard of living but the standard of giving
And he lived this out in his own life. It is said that at the end of his life he was living on what would today equate to about $28,000 per year, but was earning the equivalent of $160,000 per year. He gave the rest away - something like 82% of his income. That is what I call crazy.

As a family, we have been pretty frugal in the past few years. We have paid off credit cards, shaved off here and there in the name of efficiency and thought we had our budget pretty well buttoned up. So when we started this venture, we assumed that we would be starting at the proverbial bottom of the barrel. However, after only one day of reviewing our expenditures, we discovered an additional 7% gross income amount that we could recover every month.

By 'recover' I mean money we were spending on ourselves that we can now give to someone else. Here's a couple of examples:

We were paying about $100 per month on Internet, cable TV and telephone service. We don't generally watch that much television, but having 800 channels can be nice and if you go looking, there is usually some documentary or show about outer space on somewhere in there (these are my favorite types of shows). We decided to get rid of cable altogether as well as our home phone. We truthfully do not use our home phone all that much. We both have cell phones (more on that later) and were getting so many marketing calls it wasn't worth answering most of the time. We have a nice high def TV, and with a small indoor antenna we are able to receive 30 or so digital channels. More than we ever watched before and now it's free.

For our home phone, I have a Google Voice account which gives us a local number that can be configured to forward to one or more other lines and we have it pointed to our cell phones. And speaking of cell phones, Shelly had always been a little dubious of the iphone I got her last year. Dubious of the more than $100 per month cost, not of actually using it which she did, a lot. But in the spirit of the effort, yesterday she went back to her old flip phone for 60% less per month. The nice thing is, she can still use the iphone as if it were an ipod.

These are small examples but steps in the direction we are trying to head. I also want to be very clear that the we are not interested in creating another How-To blog on money saving tips for the sake of saving money to buy more stuff. That's what we have done in the past. We now want to look at 'things' differently. We want to be able to ask a very simple question whenever we buy anything - "Do I really need this thing (cat toy, diamond necklace, box of cupcakes, toaster oven, whatever) when there are people outside my door that are starving to death?"

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

What is this all about?

Our guiding principle is fairly simple. Matthew 6:19-21 says "Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also." Especially that last part. We want the heart of our family to be focused on things that will last forever.

The primary reason we are writing this thing is to talk about what we, as a family, are doing with our personal finances in order to give more away to those the Bible says over and over again are near and dear to the heart of God. Namely, the poor and needy, widows and orphans. We aren't millionaires, so by American standards some would say we are not 'wealthy'. However, by the world's standard, we are Very Rich. Considering some 80% of the world lives on $1 per day, we're doing pretty well. Still think you're not rich beyond your wildest dreams? I have heard that if you have reliable transportation, clothes and some food and water each day, you're doing better than 85% of the rest of the world.

What our family has been recently convicted of is that while we are giving at least 10% of our gross income as a tithe to our church, and a little more than that to other charitable causes, we still are spending a lot of money on luxuries for ourselves. What do I mean by 'luxuries'? Well, that is the point of this blog, but we have been going through our finances and started trying to look at things differently. Necessity versus Luxury is our new mantra. Do we really need that new lawnmower with the 40HP motor and fully enclosed, air-conditioned cab, or can we do with the 12-year old push model that has served us well for the past, well, 12 years? That's not really something we were considering, but you get the gist.

Recently we have been listening to a series of sermons by David Platt, pastor of The Church at Brookhills in Birmingham, AL. The series was first preached in late 2008, and available online Here if you have some time - it is well worth it. During the course of the sermons, David highlights over and over again the fact that thirty thousand children will die each and every day due to hunger and preventable disease. Not every year or month or week - every single day. That's a child every three seconds. Can we, the crazy Owens family, stop the death of thirty thousand children today by rearranging our finances? Doubtful. Seriously doubtful if we don't try. Impossible if we do nothing. Perhaps we could help just one.

So here we go. We are currently looking over our finances and budget to identify things that are potential candidates for the scrap heap. We'll share those things here - both large and small - in hopes that it will be of some use to you as well as us.

What we want

This blog will hopefully serve many purposes. First, we hope that by keeping track of how we, The Owens Family, modify our lives and how we spend money, it will be an encouragement to others. Also, since we are selfish people and prone to compromise even our own plans for personal comfort, we hope this will serve as a means of keeping us accountable. We also want feedback. So if you have some thoughts about what we are doing or how we are doing it, speak up. If you have any personal experiences that you would like to share with us, bring it on.

What we don't want

We don't want this blog to be a place where it looks like we are saying "Hey look at us. We're sacrificing stuff and therefore we are cool and we want you to look at us and wish you were us." If that's how it is coming across, please let us know and we'll try to keep our egos in check.