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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.


Bethany Graham said...

This is definitely something I have struggled with....especially leading Financial Peace University. The course is so focused on Saving, Spending and Giving. I see the one side of saving enough to meet emergencies so as not to go into debt but I also see the other side of not trusting the Lord to provide in a moment of crisis. I guess I just see so many of God's people so deep in debt from spending who don't give because they feel they can't - their expenses outstrip their income exhorbitantly - these are people who love the Lord and seek to follow Him..but this area is such a blindspot..I am debt-free but it is still a blind spot in my life...even Paul says you work to provide for the needs of others..but that's so 'liberal', right? If I work, I should save and invest and create capital for others..but just give it - with no return? That's craziness and welfare...and not that I'm advocating welfare because it doesnt' create a solution..but where is the balance? Aggh..this is something that I would love to sit and mine with a group of people sometime...let me know if you guys every do a coffee talk around this (I work - but maybe on the weekends)...would love to really think through it in detail with someone else...