My wife and I have always tithed off our gross income. A few years ago we made the difficult decision to take our Social Security benefits to try and make our mortgage payments every month. Now that we are on a fixed income, I’m wondering if we should continue to tithe off our gross income (which is usually a stretch each month) or tithe off our net income?
Gross or Net
Dear Gross or Net,
Thank you for an excellent question. I wish for two things: 1) that I had more detailed information about your financial picture and 2) that more people had your same concern! Regardless, I will give you a principle-based response and trust that it will guide your decision.
I am sorry to hear that you are having difficulty making your mortgage payments. It is not clear to me if you have other income in addition to your Social Security benefits. God knows your circumstances and your heart. What’s important is that we see giving as a privilege, not a burden or something we must check off before we die. It’s an opportunity to participate in advancing His kingdom.
The word tithe literally means “a tenth”. The Bible describes the giving of a tithe as a testimony to God’s ownership. It was through the tithe that Abraham acknowledged God’s ownership. Abraham had no law – that didn’t come until later with Moses. Abraham gave because he loved God and was convicted that the tithe belonged to Him.
Abraham was a faithful steward, willing to surrender everything, even his precious son, Isaac. When convicted by God, Abraham obediently surrendered a tithe because he understood its significance.
The amount of the tithe is important to us when we acknowledge that God already owns all that we are given, we are just returning a portion to honor Him. Given as a testimony, the tithe reaps a great harvest because it’s the seed we plant for God to multiply.
At Crown, giving is an essential part of our map to finding financial freedom. We encourage everyone to include giving as a financial habit early on in their journey, and it’s included in every Destination on the Money Map.
Please understand that the exact amount you give is not important to God. Paul pointed out in 2 Corinthians 9:7, “Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.” There is freedom here. God wants a surrendered heart that willingly shares out of love and obedience to Him without expecting something back. After all, He’s blessed us beyond measure already, so our giving should be one of gratitude in His honor.
It is my personal conviction that the giving of a tenth (10% of our gross income) is the beginning point of learning to be a cheerful giver, it is not the endpoint. As my friend Randy Alcorn says, “I view the tithe of 10% as I view a child’s first steps. His first steps are not his last, neither are they his best, but they are a fine beginning. So is the tithe. Tithing is for many the first toddler’s step of stewardship. It is the training wheels on the bicycle of true giving. It may not be a home-run, but it gets you on base—which is a lot further than the majority of church members ever get.”
Giving with the proper attitude and an eternal perspective opens our hearts to the needs of others. We see the world through God’s eyes. Pay close attention to how personal Jesus makes the issue of generosity in this final parable.
When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne. Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. And he will place the sheep on his right, but the goats on the left. Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ 40 And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’ (Matthew 25:31-40 ESV)
Do we trust that God can make better use of our funds than we would? If so, then we can readily sacrifice “our” tithe, recognizing that it is insignificant compared to the promises, blessings, and glory awaiting our obedience. Giving is ultimately between you and God. Pray and ask for confirmation as to the amount, then give regularly and cheerfully.
Some argue that they gave God a portion of the paychecks from which their Social Security deductions were taken during their working years. And, that their responsibility to tithe has been satisfied. Let’s examine each of those scenarios to determine what would need to happen if you decide you want to continue to give a full 10% of your gross income.
Regardless of where you fall in these three categories, I would still encourage you to pray about what God is asking you to give. Like I mentioned before, tithing shouldn’t be a box we check, but an outward reflection of the inward condition of our heart.
Be certain that you don’t use your giving of money to avoid the responsibility of involvement in other expressions of generosity. We can shield ourselves from the needs around us by driving into our gated communities, playing golf, and shopping online, while missing the pain others live in on a daily basis. Retirement years afford the time to give of our experience, our wisdom, and our abundance.
As for the rich in this present age, charge them not to be haughty, nor to set their hopes on the uncertainty of riches, but on God, who richly provides us with everything to enjoy. They are to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share, thus storing up treasure for themselves as a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of that which is truly life. (1 Timothy 6:17-19 ESV)
Hope this helps. Whatever you decide to give, you will never regret striving to be as radically generous as possible.
Planning is biblical.
In Proverbs God says that someone who plans well will foresee dangers and avoid them, but the foolish person (a non-planner) will rush ahead, do whatever’s convenient, and end up paying the penalty.
Just as we can’t build a home without blueprints, we can’t have solid financial structure without plans. Being a good and faithful steward means being able to live on a budget – a short-term plan. And then we are to look forward to see eventual needs and try to meet them – a long-term plan.
One of the most noble characteristics of an ant is the way they plan for the future by storing food in good times for use when times are bad. It’s an example we can all follow as well.
The Proverbs 31 woman is an example of someone whose planning is key to good stewardship. We’re told she worked hard, she spent wisely, and she planned ahead.
But God’s word advises us to be planners for reasons beyond building a savings account or avoiding indulgence. When we plan, we experience more margin and freedom in our lives – which means we are freed to further God’s work here on earth.
When you plan ahead, there is money left to give generously.
Today we often feel we can’t give because we have not been faithful stewards in planning, working or spending.Yet, we know that Jesus’ words – that “It is more blessed to give than to receive.”
Good stewards work as unto the Lord.
Good stewards analyze the budget to make sure the needs of the family are covered. They look ahead to anticipate future expenses. Things like new tires, car repairs, appliance replacements, insurance costs for teen drivers, and diapers should be accounted for.
Good stewards decide what to buy every month based on yearly sale trends. They plan ahead for those purchases to get the best deals in order to spend wisely.
Good stewards save and invest by researching and seeking wise counsel.
And, after all that planning, good stewards are able to give generously.
Planning takes time, but it’s a necessary ingredient to successful living. We plan our grocery lists, our vacations, and our kids’ sports schedules….so why not our finances too?
And, I have good news!! There is a guide that can help you accomplish this. Crown’s Money Map is a simple and easy-to-use guide that can help you set and reach financial goals that line up with Scripture. And it doesn’t matter where you’re starting. The Money Map can help you build an emergency savings plan or retirement account.
My spouse thinks we need another credit card. We’ve been getting by just fine with one. Who do you agree with?
Divided Over Credit Cards
Dear Divided Over Credit Cards,
It is not wise to step into the middle of a dispute without hearing both sides. So my first reaction is to recommend that you find agreement with your spouse apart from a third party arbitrator like me. Since I have recently been through a similar discussion with my wife, Ann, it will be easy to share our journey that may help the two of you get united.
One Card or Many Cards?
It has been my position and practice for years to have only one credit card. There are lots of benefits to this practice: racking up bonus miles, less vulnerability to run up debt, easier to track one account, to name just a few.
Someone recently stole our credit card number. We received an alert and initially thought it was a scam. Upon returning home, we checked our online account. Sure enough, someone was having fun shopping at Nordstrom’s in a completely different part of the country.
My position on having just one card has officially changed! If you are a responsible spender, pay your bill in full each month, or maintain a very low balance, you should consider a second credit card—not many credit cards, just two! The average American has four cards; some have many more. Manish Dhameja of India holds a Guinness World Record for 1638 cards in 2021.
A backup card is important in the event you lose a card or, like me, have your account number stolen. Until my replacement card is received, I am forced to use cash or a debit card. I do not like this option, especially when traveling. So before you read on, be sure and see my qualifiers above. If—only if—you meet those conditions, having two cards has multiple benefits.
Access Different Networks
Visa, Mastercard, Discover, and American Express are the four payment networks. Visa and Mastercard are widely accepted, Discover finds acceptance in the United States but not internationally, and American Express has the lowest acceptance globally. It is suggested that you carry cards from different networks.
Combine cards to earn higher rewards on your spending. Analyze the rewards offered by cards to maximize your returns. Cards vary. Some offer rewards for travel, cash back, or zero interest.
Your spending habits will influence your decision. We like to earn travel miles on our cards.
Reduce Credit Utilization Ratio
How much credit you are using impacts your credit score. Lenders like to see you are not maxing out your available credit. Another card can reduce your ratio (balance-to-credit limit) by spreading your purchases over multiple cards. This increases your credit score unless undisciplined spending is an issue.
You can save money by moving the balance of a high-interest card to one with a low rate. Just make sure you read the fine print to avoid penalties and fees.
Two cards can prevent a large expense from hurting your credit score. It can also help if you reach a limit on one card in a time of distress. Just make sure you have the means to pay them off, or the penalties will far outweigh any rewards/benefits.
The Negatives of Two or More Cards
Easy to overspend
More to organize
Credit checks when opening a new card
This article was originally posted on The Christian Post on July 29, 2022.
Of the many perspectives normally used to create an apologetic for the existence and reality of the God of the Bible, one that is frequently overlooked is the field of economics. But just as the heavens declare His glory, so does the marketplace. There is, in fact, vast economic evidence that points the seeker, the skeptic, the Jew, the Gentile, the poor, and the rich alike to the reality of God Almighty—the One who boldly and unilaterally claims not only to have created all things but also to sustain all things.
In my new book, Economic Evidence for God: Uncovering the Invisible Hand That Guides the Economy, I examine various Biblical economic principles and promises. I discuss how they are practiced or ignored and look at the known outcomes, asking if you can see the One who gave us those truths. As you press into the evidence, it will become more and more exciting as you begin to see the world and even your own economic activity through an entirely new perspective.
“The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it.” —Genesis 2:15 ESV
The God who humbly, yet astonishingly, claimed that He alone created the world and everything in it, including its inhabitants, picked—as the starting point of human existence—a garden. The simplicity of this location may at first seem unremarkable, but don’t miss it.
A garden, regardless of its size, is a manufacturing marvel to behold. If you have ever worked the soil and grown your own food, you quickly learn many things that are remarkable about the multiplication factors of plants. The production of a garden is more than capable of feeding not only the gardener but also the gardener’s family and neighbors alike!
My wife and I have a small garden. One season, she planted a corner of our plot with sweet potatoes (like yams). While we fought the weeds all season to keep them from robbing the seeds of the water and nutrition they needed to grow, we harvested over 110 lbs. of sweet potatoes that lasted us all year and that we were able to share with friends and family! We saw the reality of God in the process.
In Danger of Extinction?
“The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it.” —Genesis 2:15 ESV
One of the lies we are told is that our world is overpopulated with greedy consumers who will devour or destroy the resources of the Earth. According to the doomsayers, we are in danger of extinction—and soon! The blindness of these prognosticators of gloom comes from the fact that they do not acknowledge that God created man to work, produce, and multiply the world’s resources.
The truth is, you were created in God’s image, and He is a worker. Humans were created to be producers. We work and multiply what God entrusts to us. This activity is fruitful. We are filling the world with more people, food, products, services, and resources to sustain our existence.
We live in a world dominated by scientism, a view that places faith in the scientific method, considers science the highest form of truth, and discounts anything contrary to what can be “proven.” However, there is a long list of revolutionary breakthroughs that have changed the world—from scientists who did not believe in scientism. For example, some of the greatest scientists of all time are Michael Faraday, Matthew Maury, Nikola Tesla, and George Washington Carver. Remarkably, they each believed in a God capable of supernatural miracles; their faith in God led the way to their discoveries.
The term supernatural simply means that the occurrence does not exist in nature or is not subject to explanation according to natural laws. While this may seem unfair, it should come as good news to you. If God is who He claims to be, He can make the rules or supersede them as He wishes. And for those who have trusted Him, He has illuminated their minds with practical ideas leading to advancements that have brought blessing to all mankind.
The First Commandment
In the context of the First Commandment, cultures can be generally classified into one of four constructs. Governments and economic systems spring from each of these cultural practices, and the results are revealing.
God is the Invisible Hand that makes human flourishing possible. It is Him who established both the standards of freedom and the virtuous behavior necessary for markets to grow in a healthy, sustainable manner that blesses the world.
The most successful economies in the world have an underlying culture that worships the God who promises to set them free. The promises of God bring His goodness to the world through the contributions of millions of individual stewards who operate according to the Bible’s clear teaching.
The Marriage Premium
“Then the Lord God said, ‘It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him.’” —Genesis 2:18 ESV
Monogamous marriage is evidence for the God of the Bible. Nations where monogamous marriage vows are a part of the predominant religious, cultural expectation have much higher economic growth than nations that do not embrace the Biblical view of marriage.
Since the first marriage in Genesis 2:18, this process of union between man and woman has continued throughout time. And when closely examined, the evidence proves that the “marriage premium” is real. What we believe about God impacts our sexual behavior, our decision to enter marriage, and our commitment to remain married— which impacts our economic flourishing. This is true on a macro and micro level in study after study.
God designed the institution that ends our loneliness, makes us more prosperous, and provides stability for families to be created and nourished. It is an apologetic for the reality of God. There is no other explanation as to why this union of man and woman is a universal behavior of mankind except that God made it that way.
“For you are a people holy to the Lord your God. The Lord your God has chosen you to be a people for his treasured possession, out of all the peoples who are on the face of the earth.” —Deuteronomy 7:6 ESV
The Jews are a relatively tiny part of the temporary residents of planet Earth. Yet they have a disproportionate contribution to economics and other world-changing impacts. Your life and my life have been radically impacted by Jewish innovators in all fields of endeavor.
The list of titans in almost every sector of the economy is stunning. Here are a few examples: Albert Einstein (Physics), Stephen Spielberg (Film), Mark Zuckerberg (Facebook/Instagram), Barbara Streisand (Music), Milton Friedman (Economics), Ruth Bader Ginsburg (Law), Henry Bloch (Taxes), Howard Schultz (Coffee/Starbucks), Michael Dell (Computers), and Estee Lauder (Cosmetics).
Many will ask, how can it be that God has blessed Israel—the nation—and the Jewish people when history records blatant violations of the conditions God required of them. My reply is the same as why I believe I have experienced His blessings despite my sins, failures, and foolish defiance of God at times in my life: He is a God of mercy and grace. Without question, I have suffered the consequences of many of my mistakes, but God has been kind as I have confessed, turned from my sins, and sought to walk in His ways—not my own.
Others have tried to wrongly justify the reason for Jewish prosperity apart from God, but I see no other rational explanation than His faithfulness to stand behind His promises.
Cancer of the Economy
Transparency International publishes an annual list of the most corrupt nations in the world based upon their definition and research. Corruption includes lying, bribery, extortion, embezzlement, fraud, favoritism, deceptive trade practices, and dishonest dealings. The nations with the highest levels of corruption have radically lower GDP than nations with low corruption levels. The truth is, corruption is economic cancer. It destroys people, families, churches, businesses, and nations.
Integrity, honesty, and good moral behavior are all essential factors that change economic dynamics positively. Even those who do not know God agree that some moral standards are essential. But if everyone has moral standards, the real question is, whose morals are the standard? We would be missing the most important point if we failed to look deeper and see God as the Source, Author, and Originator of the standards of behavior we desire in the world. The Bible established the moral framework that would lead to healthy, high-growth economies—the Ten Commandments.
“For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.” —Galatians 5:1 ESV
The Bible speaks extensively about Jesus Christ being the One who is the Author and Sustainer of freedom. Yet millions across the world today—Christians, Non-Christians, Americans, Non-Americans, Blacks, Whites, people from every tribe and tongue alike—continue to experience slavery in the form of financial bondage. I believe it is because they have not encountered the God who gave us the principles that lead to true freedom—the freedom that enables our ability to flourish and generously serve others.
Man’s Economy makes our needs or desires the main focus, but in God’s Economy, He is the main focus. Here are the five basic principles in God’s Economy:
Having spent the first 40 years of my life attempting to find meaning and purpose through success in Man’s Economy, I experienced a life-changing transformation when I discovered the reality that God is not only in control of the macroeconomy, but He is also in control of my economy—His principles are for me too.
Can You See Him?
People can be confronted with overwhelming evidence, be eyewitnesses to miracles, have all the necessary facts, and yet remain solidly convinced that God is not real, involved, or relevant. Faith always has been and remains the essential ingredient to knowing God. Evidence is best used not to attempt to prove the reality of God but rather to point to the reasonableness of placing our faith in Him. We don’t reason our way to knowing God; rather, we use reason to develop and strengthen our faith in God.
To more deeply explore the topics in this post and examine the evidence for yourself, I encourage you to read my new book, Economic Evidence for God: Uncovering the Invisible Hand That Guides the Economy. You will experience the reality of the God who created economic laws and principles to show Himself to us.
Once you’ve read it, I’d love to hear your feedback. You are invited to send your comments to me at firstname.lastname@example.org. My prayer is that your eyes will be opened to see Him—Jesus Christ, the One True King, the Great Liberator, the Great Reformer, the Great I Am.
About the Author
Chuck Bentley is CEO of Crown Financial Ministries, a global Christian ministry, founded by the late Larry Burkett. He is the host of a daily radio broadcast, My MoneyLife, featured on more than 1,000 Christian Music and Talk stations in the U.S., and author of his most recent book, Economic Evidence for God?. Be sure to follow Crown on Facebook.
For the majority of Christians in America, serving God will never lead to worldwide fame, writing best sellers, or ministering to hundreds in foreign lands.
Regardless of the work to which we are called, there is hardly a Christian who cannot give; and when that giving is done in love, it exemplifies the greatest sacrifice ever made for mankind: the death of Jesus on the cross.
Called to Fill the Gap
Dr. Charles Ryrie made a powerful statement about love and money that lays bare the truth of our devotion. “How we use our money demonstrates the reality of our love for God. In some ways it proves our love more conclusively than depth of knowledge, length of prayers, or prominence of service. These things can be feigned, but the use of our possessions shows us up for what we actually are.”
God calls each of us to fill the gap in order to spread His Gospel to all parts of the world.
Like Esther, every believer must decide either to be used of God or to be bypassed and allow another to be chosen instead.
Giving so that God’s servants can take His message throughout the world, like tithing, is an outward material expression of a deeper spiritual commitment and is an indication of a willing and obedient heart. “Each one must do just as he has purposed in his heart, not grudgingly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver” (2 Corinthians 9:7).
Funding the Great Commission
We have enough money in North America to fund all the Christian work in the world if the people of God would just give.
Although the desire to give may be there, most Christians in America are so caught up in making more money and buying bigger and better things, or paying for the things that they already have, that they have lost focus of the unsaved world.
In essence, the Gospel has literally become shackled because money needed for worldwide ministry is tied up in personal debt and large monthly payments. “The one on whom seed was sown among the thorns, this is the man who hears the word, and the worry of the world and the deceitfulness of wealth choke the word, and it becomes unfruitful” (Matthew 13:22).
According to the Global Evangelization Movement in 2001 there were 212 million Americans who identify with Christianity. This represents approximately 660,000 households.
The combined household income of these Christians in 2001 was approximately $27 billion. Of the 660,000 households, roughly 120,000 gave to missions in 2001.
Since 2000, approximately $39 million is given annually to help support 285,000 American missionaries, service agencies, native pastors and Christian workers, tent-making missionaries and mission organizations, humanitarian missions efforts, and sending organizations.
This is an average of about $300 per household annually.
A Primary Purpose
One of the primary reasons why Crown Financial Ministries has been brought into existence by God is to teach people God’s principles of finance so that they can be free of debt in order to help fund the Gospel of Christ worldwide. “Now this I say, he who sows sparingly shall also reap sparingly, and he who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully” (2 Corinthians 9:6).
Once Christians become financially free of personal debt, we believe that they will have a greater abundance with which to fund the Lord’s work to the “remotest part of the earth” (Acts 1:8).
In 1832 William Carey, the “father of modern missions” said, “I was once young and now I am old, but not once have I been witness to God’s failure to supply my need when first I had given for the furtherance of His work. He has never failed in His promise, so I cannot fail in my service to Him.”
Carey gave so that the Gospel of Christ could be preached throughout the world, and God rewarded him all of his life. “Give, and it will be given to you. They will pour into your lap a good measure–pressed down, shaken together and running over. For by your standard of measure it will be measured to you in return” (Luke 6:38).
The very best investment a person can make is an investment in the kingdom of God. “Seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you” (Matthew 6:33).
Though the main reason we should give to missions is to fund the work of the Lord around the world, there are also benefits to us. (1) We remember that He is the owner of all we have, and we are only managers; (2) The spread of His Gospel can be advanced throughout the world; (3) We are blessed spiritually because we know that we have realized God’s calling for each of us as Christians to “stand in the gap”; and (4) We might be blessed materially.
This last benefit was so elegantly described by the great 19th century preacher Charles Spurgeon while addressing a home missions inaugural conference at the Metropolitan Tabernacle in south London in 1889, “In all of my years of service to my Lord, I have discovered a truth that has never failed and has never been compromised. That truth is that it is beyond the realm of possibilities that one has the ability to out give God. Even if I give the whole of my worth to Him, He will find a way to give back to me much more than I gave.”
I grew up with a generalized investing philosophy espoused by my grandfather: invest during a Democratic administration (market down), sell during a Republican administration (market up). Since I am going to write about what I think is the worst-case scenario for investors post-November 3, 2020 when the nation selects its next President, I decided to do a little analysis to see if he was right.
According to research compiled in July 2020 by Halah Touryalai and Sergei Klebnikov, staff journalists for Forbes (see full article here), if you followed my grandfather’s advice, you probably did not achieve good returns. Since 1945, the best S&P return during an administration came during the Democratic leadership of President Bill Clinton’s term in office. From 1993 to 2001 the S&P rose 210%. The lowest performance came under a Republican administration. The S&P fell -40% during the 2001-2009 administration of George W. Bush.
Looking at all of the Presidential terms from Harry S. Truman to the current term of Donald Trump, it is a mixed bag of market performance. The numbers show that annualized real stock market returns under Democrats have been 10.6% vs. 4.8% for Republicans. 
It is impossible to track all the variables that caused market swings during one administration, much less all of them. However, we can track a single metric that indicates the overall health of our national economy: federal debt.
America’s Debt Addiction
Here is what our federal debt looks like as a percentage of Gross Domestic Product beginning in 1945.
1945-1953 Harry S. Truman/Democrat Debt to GDP 71%
1953-1961 Dwight D. Eisenhower/Republican Debt to GDP 54%
1961-1963 John F. Kennedy/Democrat Debt to GDP 49%
1963-1969 Lyndon B. Johnson/Democrat Debt to GDP 39%
1969-1974 Richard M. Nixon/Republican Debt to GDP 31%
1974-1977 Gerald R. Ford/Republican Debt to GDP 34%
1977-1981 Jimmy Carter/Democrat Debt to GDP 32%
1981-1989 Ronald Reagan/Republican Debt to GDP 50%
1989-1993 George H.W. Bush/Republican Debt to GDP 61%
1993-2001 Bill Clinton/Democrat Debt to GDP 55%
2001-2009 George W. Bush/Republican Debt to GDP 68%
2009-2017 Barack Obama/Democrat Debt to GDP 104%
2017 – Donald Trump/Republican Debt to GDP 131%
Because of our ever-increasing reliance upon debt to prevent an economic correction, depression, or collapse, experts now project that federal debt will rise from $27 trillion to $78 trillion by 2028! This means our debt-to-GDP could rise to more than 300%. It could spiral out of control during a political crisis.
The markets hate uncertainty. This simply means investors don’t like to be made nervous. As uncertainty increases, so does volatility. People are not sure whether they want to be in or out of the market.
The worst-case scenario is not a red sweep or a blue sweep (although I hold a strong opinion in favor of the party that aligns with my values) but an election so close that the losing party believes they got cheated.
Do you, like me, sense that this could be the most contentious Presidential election in modern history? Do you think it was tense when George W. Bush narrowly defeated Al Gore sending the validity of votes with “hanging chads” to the Supreme Court for a final decision? That will look mild in retrospect.
Our worst-case scenario is a clear popular vote winner but a different razor-thin margin electoral college victory for the other party. Hillary Clinton is already warning of Donald Trump “stealing the election.” President Trump is already warning of voter fraud with mail-in ballots. The stage is set for a prolonged legal battle to determine the next President. If the average US investor is pessimistic about a quick resolution, many will pull out of the market. Get ready for a wild ride.
This scenario would not be so potentially dangerous if it were not for the precarious means by which our economy is currently being propped up (i.e., with government intervention).
How to Be Ready
Of course, there are other significant reasons for greater concern: the threat of COVID 19 spiraling out of control, draconian shelter-in-place rules, a natural disaster, a sharp turn towards socialism, and outrageous tax increases; the list is endless. But in the face of all those risks, it is a bad idea to try and time the market by going in and out. History reflects that in spite of all downturns pre- or post- an election, there is reason for optimism. The American economy and market have persistently recovered and grown no matter who is elected or what challenges we have had to face. “Fear sells but optimism pays” is a great investor saying I try to follow.
While many will see a worst-case scenario as a time to run for safety, wise investors will stay the course or find opportunities when stocks go on sale. Following John Templeton’s famous rule of thumb, “Buy at the point of peak pessimism. Sell at the point of peak optimism,” new buying opportunities will likely surface.
God’s Word provides an interesting investment tip from Solomon in Ecclesiastes 11:2, “Invest in seven ventures, yes, in eight; you do not know what disaster may come upon the land.” (NIV)
The wisest man who ever lived advises us to diversify our investments since we simply cannot know what disaster may come. He did not say, “Stop investing until it is safe.” Interesting, isn’t it? Solomon knew how to prepare for the unexpected – he did not put all of his eggs in one basket. He put no more than 12 to 14% of his investable dollars in a similar investment.
Have a plan, be sure you can afford losses, diversify, and stay the course. Invest, but with a heightened awareness of your risks. Even if our worst-case scenario happens on November 3, I expect that over time, it will get sorted out and markets will reward the wise, value-oriented investors.
Did you see the recent headline of three men posing as pastors to scam about 1,200 unsuspecting, gullible Christians out of more than $20,000,000 in three states with an investment scheme called “1st Million”?
How about the California pastor who swindled his very own congregants out of a million dollars in a Ponzi scheme?
Or the Christian politician who conned folks out of millions in an “end-times” coin scheme?
The problem is so bad that an official of the Securities and Exchange Commission contacted me several years ago asking for our help to make others aware of the widespread crime known as affinity fraud.
Like defrauders who target groups such as seniors and military veterans, there are those who target people of faith.
How to Spot the Con Artist
Spot the Fraudster
Bill and Sally are comfortably retired. They like to host the seniors in their church for social activities about twice a year. It is always a very nice event complete with food and fun ice breakers. During one summer get-together, more than 20 couples attended; some for the first time and others just checking out the church. The ice breaker that year was to share the destination of their best vacation. Jim and Brenda, although shy about their wealth, shared they had just returned from a Caribbean cruise complete with sunburns. Dale and Megan perked up and asked, “Which islands? We just got back from our cruise: Miami to Costa Rica!” Jim said, “Wow, we must have just missed each other…. like two ships passing in the night!”
As the party was winding down, Jim and Dale were able to confer in the corner about their mutual cruise experiences. This led to an exchange of business cards since Dale was new to the church. Dale’s card indicated he was into commodity investing. The crazy thing was, Jim had just been thinking that he and Brenda needed to diversify as they faced a longer-than-expected retirement. Jim asked if he and Dale could have lunch. Unfortunately, Dale said he was too busy with client meetings and a trip to New York for an investor update from the world’s largest investor in gold mines, but he could meet in a few weeks.
“Wow, Dale,” Jim says, “you must be doing pretty well with the price of gold reaching historic highs.”
“Oh yeah,” says Dale, “Megan and I are going on another cruise in just a few weeks. Maybe you and Brenda can join us.”
Bill sees the men talking and joins the conversation. “Dale, thanks for joining us. We hope you and Megan will consider joining the church.”
Dale replies, “We sure like the church, but we travel so much for business it probably won’t be possible to really become members. Maybe when things slow down a bit.”
Bill asks, “What is it that you do, Dale, that keeps you so busy?”
Dale answers, “I manage Christians’ investments so they can give more…and take more cruises!”
“I’d like to know more about that, Dale. How about you, Jim, and I grab lunch soon?”
This story is based upon a real scenario of a real fraudster that is currently serving time in federal prison. “Dale” in this story lived the high life by subtly luring wealthy people into his Ponzi scheme. That means he took one investor’s money in order to give a portion back to previous investors to make it appear that they were getting real returns. Unfortunately, Jim, Bill, and their wives did not spot it before losing a large portion of their life savings.
Separate the Wolves from the Sheep
I hope this helps you identify, avoid, and/or report affinity fraud in your church or circle of friends. I have counseled far too many who have seen their lives devastated by these types of crimes.
Are you in debt? Do you feel guilty about being in debt?
Most Christians probably know it is best to be debt-free. In fact, it has been so popularized as a goal for Christians that it may be overshadowing other more important Biblical financial principles.
Having studied the Bible to understand what God says about money and possessions for the past 20 years, along with a steady intake of many other great books on the subject, I have a different conclusion of the emphasis that the Bible makes when it comes to managing money. While important, I don’t believe getting out of debt should be the primary or ultimate goal.
Here are three areas the Bible teaches us to get out of that I believe are of greater significance than debt.
The Bible makes it very clear that (a) you do not own anything, (b) you are God’s steward, and (c) you came into the world naked and will depart in the same condition. This is not simply good theology, but also a truth that God wants us to put into practice. If we don’t get out of the trap of claiming ownership of our money and possessions, we will become materialistic and vulnerable to placing our identity in what we have. The weight of trying to accumulate, protect, maintain, and grow our things can begin to control our lives.
Here are three ways to get out of the ownership trap:
Psalm 24:1 (ESV) proclaims, “The earth is the LORD’s and the fullness thereof, the world and those who dwell therein…”
The vast majority of the personal finance industry, financial planning industry, and much of the estate planning industry will have you totally focused on the here and now. They operate ignorant of God’s truth, which commands us to lay up for ourselves treasures in Heaven and not on Earth. And we fall into the trap.
In the parable of the foolish farmer, the wealthy entrepreneur had a problem with managing his surplus, so he made a short-term financial plan. Luke 12:17-18 (NIV) says, “He thought to himself, ‘What shall I do? I have no place to store my crops.’ Then he said, ‘This is what I’ll do. I will tear down my barns and build bigger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods.’”
He also stated his purpose for this plan in verse 19: “And I’ll say to myself, ‘You have plenty of good things laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry.’”
In verse 20, we get the point of the parable loud and clear when God says to him, “‘You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?’”
It is foolish to make plans for our own well-being when we are not rich towards God. Here are three ways to get out of the temporal financial planning trap:
It is good to plan for today and tomorrow and to prepare for our lives on Earth, but if we don’t get out of temporal financial planning we will never get into eternal financial planning and be prepared for “that day.”
Coveting is wanting what someone else has.
Greed is wanting more of what you already have.
Selfishness is using what you have exclusively for your own benefit.
We can justify anything that we want or think that we need. Ahab and Jezebel justified murder because of Ahab’s coveting Naboth’s vineyard (I Kings 21). The foolish farmer in the parable above was greedy and therefore in need of bigger barns (from Luke 12). Nabal’s selfishness made him unwilling to share a morsel of food with David and his starving soldiers although he was wealthy (I Samuel 25).
I know people with a twin-engine plane that are working to get a turboprop so they can get to their beach house quicker. I know those with a turboprop waiting to get a next level jet, so they never have to fly commercial. I know people with two homes that are looking for a third and are unaware of the millions of homeless in the world. I know people who travel to locations that make jaw-dropping social media picture backdrops but never give thought to how they could serve the people on that island or in that remote mountain village.
Three ways to get out of greed, coveting, and selfishness:
If we don’t get out of greed, coveting, and selfishness, we will stay trapped in a life of vanity and insignificance.
Once you have gotten out of claiming ownership, temporal financial planning, and the financial sins that grip our hearts, it would be good to also get out of debt. But remember the rich young ruler. He was out of debt, but not out of Hell.
This article was originally published on Beliefnet, August 22, 2020.
What is Universal Basic Income (UBI), you might ask? Although known by many other names – citizen’s income, citizen’s basic income, basic income guarantee, guaranteed annual income, or universal demogrant –this is how its most ardent supporters would answer that question: “It is a regular income paid to everyone without any conditions. Everyone would automatically receive a regular income paid into their bank accounts.” (Read more here.)
Notice the key phrases: regular income, everyone, no conditions. Yes, you have it right; you do not need to work, meet any qualifying standards, or experience any humiliating scrutiny whatsoever to get paid money for nothing. You, every last one of you, qualify for universal basic income even if you don’t need it or want it.
Proponents of the plan believe it helps resolve inequalities, eliminates humiliating welfare programs, economic crises and austerity, and aids people who prefer to use their creativity in other ways than traditional employment.
Andrew Yang hung his Democratic presidential bid on this as a central promise of his campaign; if elected, everyone would receive $1,000 per month. He called it the Freedom Dividend. And he is certainly not alone: Former President Barack Obama, Richard Branson, Mark Zuckerberg, and even Pope Francis have endorsed the idea as a winning plan to bring economic fairness and mutual benefit to the world. Interestingly, my name appeared in a Polish blogger’s article earlier this year using me as a known evangelical against the great idea that the Pope supports. (He referred to me–or rather those like me–as hypocrites for not caring about other people’s welfare and for lacking compassion.)
Much of the support for UBI is driven by a dystopian view coming from Silicon Valley leaders who believe that artificial intelligence, robotics, and other disruptive technologies will cause massive job loss and economic chaos without a plan to keep unnecessary people happy when they don’t have a job. Speaking of hypocrites, this sounds like they want someone to build a moat around their castles so the peasants cannot climb the walls.
For starters, proponents believe that the program should be paid for by a combination of taxes and “sovereign money.” Sovereign money is the code word for printing money by nations that issue their own currency. This takes us into the nonsensical economic theory called Modern Monetary Theory (MMT), which others like to call the Monopoly Money Theory or Magic Money Theory. It states that currency issuers can print unlimited amounts of money as needed without concern for taxes or deficits. Essentially, you have to swallow the MMT pill before you can swallow the UBI pill. Taken together, they present a toxic threat to the economic health of any nation.
Income without work is similar to holding a lottery and declaring everyone the winner and thus dividing the pot among the citizens equally, with one big difference: nobody even had to purchase a ticket to win, which means the money being distributed must be created out of thin air. What is really gained from this? A history of lottery winners proves Proverbs 13:11 true: “Wealth gained hastily will dwindle, but whoever gathers it little by little will increase it.”
The dystopian view that technology will displace the need for people who presently perform millions of jobs and therefore create social unrest through permanent job displacement is unfounded. For every technological advancement, there is an offsetting demand for new education, new job skills and new problems to be solved by entrepreneurs. The proponents of UBI view man as simply a consumer that will need to be appeased while out of work, versus a creative, capable producer that can add value to any enterprise.
God created man to work and in exchange for that work, his needs will be supplied. This gives meaning to our lives as well as deep satisfaction for earned achievement. UBI removes both of these benefits.
Apart from inefficiency or potential for corruption, empowering the government over a source of our income, however small or large, is dangerous and fraught with political and economic risks.
I prefer to derive my income from work and to give private charitable support to those who are unable to work. This is the way God designed us to flourish; otherwise, he would not have put man in a garden to work and manage it, but rather simply to eat from it.
This article was originally published on Patheos, August 20, 2020.
With many things causing stress in today’s world, here is a short list of financial practices that will reduce your stress, make managing your money simpler, and generally improve your quality of life.
It sounds easy, but this is too often our greatest financial challenge. The vast majority of people that come to me for counsel are experiencing some version of violating this rule. They may say they want to talk to me about debt, refinancing, paying for kids’ college, etc., but the real issue is that they are spending more than they should, which has created a stress point in their current budget.
I grew up with this simple saying:
“If your OUTgo exceeds your INcome, your UPkeep will be your DOWNfall.”
How true it is, regardless of how much you may earn!
Did you ever go roller-skating? In the era I grew up in we would spend hours skating on Saturday nights. It was always a highlight to play “Limbo.” The goal was to see who could skate underneath the limbo bar without knocking it off. Of course, there was always someone there who seemed to be made of rubber who made me look bad. I want you to imagine that the limbo bar represents your income. Your expenses always have to be less than your income if you are going to skate under the bar. Of course, if your income is higher, it is easier to keep your spending underneath it. So, look at your budget from both an income and expenses perspective. The lower your expenses are in comparison to your income, the better off you are.
Learning to give first as a way of life helps you to remember where your provision comes from. When you honor the Lord first, you are acknowledging that all you have comes from Him. It breaks some of the materialistic grip that money may have on your life as you begin to find more joy in giving than receiving. It also helps you to reorient your financial goals from temporal to eternal. Often, those who spend more than they earn also suffer from a lack of generosity.
Notice this principle is a combination of giving and saving. We are taught in God’s Word to be givers and savers. Saving is an indication of self-control. It is the ability to avoid spending money today so that you will have what you need tomorrow. When both of these practices are working well, most financial problems will begin to disappear.
How much? I think it is best to give ten percent of your gross annual income to God’s kingdom and save ten percent as well until you reach your short-term financial goals of having 3-6 months in an emergency savings account. You then begin saving for long-term goals like retirement.
The biggest financial decision most of us ever make is the decision regarding our housing. Too often in America, we find couples have become “house poor” because they stretched to buy a home in their preferred neighborhood, their preferred school district, or with their preferred amenities, only to get several months into it and find they stretched too far. If your total housing expense, which includes your rent or mortgage, insurance, taxes, maintenance and utilities, is 40% or more of your total income, you are likely under financial stress.
Moving down to keep your total housing expense at 30% or below will relieve a great deal of stress. You can use Crown’s free calculator to help figure out your monthly mortgage payment amount based on the amount you plan to borrow, the length of the loan, and annual interest rate. Renting may also be a great option to reduce some of your tax and maintenance costs.
This is typically the second biggest financial purchase we make. Most people cannot afford to drive off the lot and immediately experience the impact of a 20-30% depreciation of the purchase price. If you buy a brand-new car for $25,000, you are almost immediately poorer by the tune of $5,000-$8,000 by the time you drive off the lot. If you finance the car, you will lose even more.
It makes so much sense to buy used cars. Someone else has done you a favor and already paid for the cost of depreciation…you should thank them!
Here are my personal guidelines for buying a used car: one owner, clean Car Fax report (no wrecks, no auctions, no rebuilt title, no floods, etc.), good maintenance records (dealer certified if possible), less than 100,000 miles but with the possibility to drive it another 150,000 miles maintenance-free. It takes work, research, and patience, but it is possible to find great deals using this framework.
By following the guidelines above, you will be able to have money to invest sooner than later. Remember, an investment is money that is at risk of loss while savings are not at risk. You only invest money after meeting your savings goals in #2 above. The reason that early investors have the advantage is that they give their money a long-term opportunity to grow. Investing takes time.
If you think of investing like planting a tree, it may die. But if you take good care of it, nurture and water it, over time it will begin to grow and grow. The longer you allow it to remain planted in one spot, the more likely it is to produce good growth yields. This is the philosophy of value investors as opposed to traders or gamblers.
Once you’ve saved your emergency fund, start investing on a small scale and do a little each month. You will be surprised at how significant these small decisions will become as the decades pass.
When looking at these five simple practices, it’s easy to see where you may be making mistakes that cause you stress. By making adjustments in your housing and transportation expenses, you can alleviate a great deal of pressure that you may be experiencing right now.
That’s the “what” but not the “why.” Biblical financial practices are also affected by your motives. We’ll explore more about that next time.
This article was originally published on Beliefnet, July 2020.