Thursday, September 27, 2007

Keep Reading...

I noticed some amazing words just today in Proverbs 3. Normally we turn to Proverbs 3:5-6 for inspiration and guidance--and rightfully so. I think it's a better reading to read through verse 8:

"Trust in the LORD with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths. Be not wise in your own eyes; fear the LORD, and turn away from evil. It will be healing to your flesh and refreshment to your bones."

Obviously that's good stuff. Now notice the very next two verses (9-10):

"Honor the LORD with your wealth and with the firstfruits of all your produce; then your barns will be filled with plenty, and your vats will be bursting with wine" (emphasis added, JS).

The key to financial "peace" or "security" is realizing "peace" and "security" can never come from money or things we can buy with it. Only the Lord is capable of truly comforting us in this life and the next (Phil. 4:4-7). He will only bless financially those who will bless Him (and therefore others, Mt. 25) with those same blessings. Obviously, this goes a lot further than the collection plate.

WYTI Links: 09.28.2007

Just another dial-up week :) [But we're still extremely thankful for the internet we do have]
  • Is the Value Menu Really a Value? Comparing the Homemade Double Cheeseburger to The McDonald's $1 Version (via The Simple Dollar) This is a classic post. The post itself is intriguing. I think Trent conducted his "experiment" pretty fairly and thoroughly...and in my opinion, the health factor trumps price anyway. It's also amazing to read the comments and see how many people almost seem "offended" that even the cheapest thing on a fast food menu isn't that great of a financial deal. I guess we're still not ready to accept that something we've been told is a good deal is not really as good as it is presented. BTW, advertising is the only difference between Mickey D's and Trent's experiment. Equipment is a moot point (because homes already have cooking equipment and McDonald's billions served have more than paid for their burger presser). My guess is that they're still making dough off that $1 Double Cheeseburger (and an even greater % on those fries and drink). James, you have anything to add from behind the scenes we might not be aware of?
Have a great weekend...

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

"Giving Our Way to Prosperity" (Lesson Twelve)

This next-to-last lesson in V.P. Black's book gives an interesting perspective to giving. It walks us through the story of the Magi (or wise men) to see their attitude and the gifts they brought to the child Jesus. This lesson is unlike others in the book in that it basically is a sermon. One could read this chapter straight through and it would read like a sermon or lecture on giving. There are no lists or long parentheticals as in other lessons.

To emphasize the giving of the wise men, brother Black mentions these four points about their giving:

1. "They made ready for the offering" (page 69). To emphasize the modern-day lesson, brother Black reminds us of Matthew 6:33 and also the Old Testament story of the widow of Zarephath.

2. "They guarded their offering" (70). While not stated in the text, it is obvious that these men had to guard the gifts they brought, simply because of the distance they traveled and the value of each gift. We often "lose" our gifts by robbers. Brother Black enumerates some of these "robbers" as "need," "carelessness" and "automobile!" (70-71)

3. "They presented their offerings to Christ" (71). They went directly to Jesus to offer these gifts. This shows the desire of their heart as much as the gift itself.

4. "They provided for Christ's needs in their offering" (72). Do we give with needs in mind, or do we just give because we "have to"? That's a question that only I can answer for myself, but that will teach me much about my heart.

The Greatness Of My Cause

Back in the early part of the twentieth century, Booker T. Washington was struggling to build a school for the education of black people in the South – in Tuskegee, Alabama. He had very meager beginnings. He was attempting the impossible. Anyway, Mr. Washington was granted an appointment with the great philanthropist Andrew Carnegie to ask for monetary help in the work. He went. He made his appeal. Mr. Carnegie reached down in his desk drawer for his checkbook and gave Mr. Washington a check in the amount of five thousand dollars. Of course, five thousand dollars was more than now, so it was nothing to be ungrateful for. However, Mr. Washington looked the check over and handed it back with the words, “Mr. Carnegie, it is obvious I have failed to impress you with the greatness of my cause.” And he asked for another appointment. He went home, did his homework a bit better and returned. This time Mr. Carnegie gave him a check for five hundred thousand dollars – one half million dollars! – and the Encyclopedia Britannica says he sent that amount every year for some years thereafter to the work of the Tuskegee Institute for the education of black people.

Friday, September 21, 2007

WYTI Links: 09.21.2007

Sorry for no links thus far this internet has been even slower than normal. Maybe these will load...
  • The Simple Dollar Guide to Eating Out (via The Simple Dollar) Look past his advice regarding alcohol; I'm intrigued by his philosophy. Plan to eat out big and expensive (just not very often). We love a meal done right, but we often settle for eating out at cheaper--but lower quality--places too often. We may try to implement a similar approach ourselves.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Reducing Expenditures on Books

The new semester started just a few weeks ago, and between my wife's books for her classes and my books for my classes, we spent about $510 on textbooks for the semester. If we had purchased all of the books from, we would have paid about $675. If we had paid the list price for the books (as would have from our respective schools' bookstores), it would have cost us about $760.

Purchasing textbooks from a school bookstore, religious books from a local Christian bookstore, or good reading material from a supermarket or local bookstore may be convenient, but it is far from cost effective. Most of our books were purchased from or from Amazon Marketplace. My sister-in-law purchased a textbook off eBay for this semester and saved over $100 on that one Chemistry textbook! Oh, and by the way, all but a couple of the books we purchased were new. There isn't a very high percentage of difference between most used and new books in online marketplaces.

For frugality's sake, next time you need/want a book, don't just go to the local store and buy it. Be willing to wait a couple of weeks on shipment (plan ahead if needed!), and purchase it online. I recommend using GetTextbooks is a search engine through which you can search by ISBN#, title, or author. Once you have selected the book you want to purchase it compares online stores and marketplaces (including, Alibris, Amazon Marketplace, Bookbyte, eCampus), and displays a listing of the prices at each store. The displayed list is in order of price (lowest to highest), and displays the seller, new/used, price, shipping price, and the total you would pay. It's a great tool to quickly search a large number of online book sellers. If I had found this tool sooner, I probably would have saved even more!

Happy reading!

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Making A Sacrifice

Mother Teresa once rightly noted that, “If you give what you do not need, it isn’t giving.” As one prepares to give they should remember that scriptural giving must be sacrificial. This means that in order for an act of giving to have meaning you must be giving something up in order to be able to give. This is perhaps the most difficult for members of the Lord’s church who live in a blessed nation such as the United States to understand, but sacrificial giving is something that Christians need to work on in order for their relationship with God to mature. A great example of this principle is found in the life of King David. David was going to erect an altar to the Lord on the threshing floor which belonged to Araunah the Jebusite. When David came to Araunah and told him that he had come to build an altar, Araunah basically told David that he could have whatever he wanted for no cost. David replied in 2 Samuel 24:24, “No, but I will surely buy it from you for a price; nor will I offer burnt offerings to the Lord my God with that which costs me nothing.” David understood that if the sacrifice did not cost him anything then it really didn’t have any meaning. When you make your offering to the Lord on the first day of the week, what are you saying to the Lord about what you are willing to give up for His sake? If you were to take your contribution for an entire month, what could you do with it? If you were to take your contribution for an entire year, what could you do with it? What are you sacrificing for the Lord?
A young executive graduated from college with honors and went to work for a prestigious accounting firm. Things were going well. He was making a good amount of money for someone just out of college. As he drove to work each morning, he noticed that his coworkers who were making the same salary as him were driving much nicer vehicles. He struggled to understand why he was stuck driving a car with pealing paint and a knocking engine, while they were driving luxury vehicles. Were they just that much better at managing their money? He struggled with this until finally he realized why there was a difference in their cars,- he was giving liberally to the Lord’s Church on the first day of every week, and his coworkers, even some he worshipped with, were not. His contribution easily would have covered the payments on a new car, but he had something more important to do with his money.
The sacrifice is what gives the contribution meaning. Your willingness to give something up for God is a direct statement about how much you value Him. What are you giving up for God? If worshippers of the Lord will determine that God is the most important aspect of their lives (Mt.6:33) and they are willing to demonstrate that through their sacrifices on the first day of the week, then they will truly be worshipping God. These sacrifices will be hard to make, wherein lies the meaning, but if we will make them off the top from the first fruits it will keep us from just giving God the leftovers in our lives.

Monday, September 17, 2007

More Music Savings

I have been waiting for today for a LONG time.

Several months ago (in fact, about 15 months ago), I heard of a site that was going to offer free music downloads, based upon advertising. While the site is brand new, is up and running with free music downloads.

I don't have an mp3 player (iPod or otherwise), but these songs can be downloaded to your computer for use in many ways (burned to CDs, mp3 players or just listening on your computer).

I hope you enjoy this new service, and I hope it saves you some money on music. Downloading, even at about $1 per song, can add up really quickly into a way to burn through a lot of cash.

Friday, September 14, 2007

Give From The First Fruits

A poet once wrote, “Leftovers are such humble things, We would not serve to a guest, And yet we serve them to our Lord Who deserves the very best.” When we think about our giving as an avenue of worship wherein we express our belief in the worthiness of God, let us never be guilty of giving Him leftovers. God is worthy of more than leftovers. He is worthy of the best that we have off the top. While no one would dispute that fact, many Christians routinely give God the leftovers. When they show up to worship on Sunday morning, they see what is left over in their wallet after they have taken out everything they wanted first. Then, they give God what is leftover. This sort of giving will lead a Christian to fall short of God’s expectations in both the size of the offering and the spirit behind the offering.
We must give from the first fruits. This concept is seen throughout the Bible. The Lord respected Abel’s offering of the firstborn of his flock (Genesis 4:4). In Exodus 23:19 the Jews were told, “The first of the first fruits of your land you shall bring into the house of the Lord your God.” The same principal is true for Christians today in regards to their income. Christians should not give to the Lord from the bottom, they should give to God from the top. If they will do this, sit down and decide that they are going to give so much of their income to the Lord, it will help them to develop and grow spiritually. I am paid every Sunday and make an effort to sit down every Monday morning and, before any bill is paid, write out a check for the next week’s contribution. That check stays in my wallet from Monday morning until the following Sunday. That way the Lord has been given to off the top, and there is no need to worry that the money might be spent on something else. My obligation to the Lord must always come before my obligation to City Bank, Capital One, Ford Credit, US Bank or any other worldly institution. If there is simply not enough to supply all of the demands it is the world and not the Lord that must be shorted. Let Christians everywhere give their offering some serious thought and not allow it to become a flippant, “whatever I have left”, gesture.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Need Some Motivation?

Recently, we completed a book review of Dave Ramsey's The Total Money Makeover. Ramsey's principles have helped thousands upon thousands reach financial freedom.

Often, when reading books, it is easy to forget that real people have become debt free. Leah and I are working hard toward that end, and getting closer every day. I truly believe that we will be debt free by the end of 2008, and hopefully sooner than that.

Sometimes it can be easy to lose motivation, though. This is a long process, and there are defeats. So how do you stay motivated? You realize that others have done it!

If you need a little motivation, watch (or listen to) the following video. I hope it helps you get going...or get going again!

"Giving Our Way to Prosperity" (Lesson Eleven)

A survey of the New Testament letters is a valuable study in nearly any Bible subject. That is true in thinking of giving, as well. Just a simple survey of the epistles teaches us so much about money and stewardship. In the 11th lesson of his book, V.P. Black gives us a few lessons to think about that come from these books.

First, from the example of the Macedonians, brother Black lists 9 paradoxes from their example in giving:
  1. They gave under affliction and persecution.
  2. They gave with abounding joy.
  3. They gave with abundant liberality.
  4. They gave as much as they were able to give.
  5. They gave more than they were able to give.
  6. They gave willingly.
  7. They begged Paul to accept it.
  8. They gave more than Paul expected, they surprised him.
  9. The reason for their liberality: they gave themselves. (page 64)

As you can see, each of these 9 could easily be a great class discussion starter. Such is the nature of a survey.

Next, brother Black takes the time to speak of the concept of the "promise" to give (Second Corinthians 9:5). This leads to a discussion of setting a budget. He lists 8 things that a budget "is."

  1. It is a goal looking to the future, believing certain things can be done.
  2. It is a plan which may be called the blue print of the church's program of work.
  3. It is a way which points out the best road to follow in the use of your liberalities.
  4. It is a picture which points up the financial program of the church, and is drawn so all may see.
  5. It is a ladder which challenges Christians to climb still higher, and thereby walk the mountain tops in righteous stewardship.
  6. It is satisfaction in which every member can have a part in carrying on congregational activities. It is not really just the "church budget," it is "our budget"--the personal obligation of every member of the congregation.
  7. It is an operation which "cuts out" all unscriptural means for financing God's work.
  8. It is an opportunity for all--from the youngest to the oldest; from the richest to the poorest; from the largest to the smallest. It is a thrill, it is a joy. Here everybody knows where his money is going and what it is accomplishing. (pages 65-66)

This list would make a great series when thinking about budgeting. We often think of a budget as a stagnant "thing," but these points remind us it is far more.

Other sections in this chapter make further points ("Completion of plans," "The Lord's money can be embezzled," and "God's promises to the liberal giver"). There is so much in this chapter and it is one that can be covered for many weeks. Students will enjoy a teacher who gives ample time to the points in this survey.

Ministers - Save Money on Hospital Parking

This is a savings tip for you other ministers reading the blog. It isn't applicable to anyone else. As ministers, we end up visiting people at the hospital more than most people. In a small town like Blytheville, anyone can park in the hospital parking lot for free. However, in bigger places you have to pay to park at the hospital. St. Bernard's Hospital in Jonesboro, AR starts at $.50. Larger hospitals, like Vanderbilt in Nashville, TN, can cost several dollars to park each time (though at Vanderbilt anyone visiting a patient can have their parking ticket validated at a nursing station and park for free). Most of these hospitals which charge for parking will allow ministers to visit without paying for parking. By filling out a form, you can usually receive a Clergy pass, and flash it at the gate to get out for free. Alternatively, many times you can get out for free just by letting the parking attendant know you are a minister. The easiest way to do this is to take the parking ticket and on it write your name, your 'title' as a minister (minister, preacher, youth minister, senior minister, etc.), and the congregation you work with (including the city if you are out of town). When you hand the ticket to the attendant, hand it to them where they will see that information. The times I have done this or seen it done by a minister, there was no charge for the parking. Hospitals recognize that the ministers who visit are doing a service for the patients, and in turn extend this gesture of kindness.

NOTE: If you are not a minister it would be dishonest and inappropriate to take advantage of this gesture extended to ministers. Since it would be dishonest, it would also be sinful! As stated at the beginning this is only a tip for the ministers out there.

Thursday, September 6, 2007

WYTI Links: 09.07.2007

Here are three more links for a Friday.
  • The One Hour Project (via The Simple Dollar) I mentioned one of these specific areas on Wednesday. Here is the first post of the month-long series. Trent will be linking all additional One Hour posts to this one as well. It has already started out as a very helpful series.
I'll post the results of our August goals sometime soon. Because of some good fortune, we were able to purchase a brand new mattress on Wednesday (We've been sleeping on our futon since July). If you are anywhere near Jasper, I would recommend Tubbs' Salvage on 9th Avenue. We were able to buy a brand-new Queen PillowTop (on both sides) mattress and box springs for $230. Additionally, the owners are members of the Crossroads church here in Jasper.

Have a great weekend!

"Giving Our Way to Prosperity" (Lesson Ten)

Oddly enough, this chapter carries the same title as does the entire book. While I think this lesson is vitally important to the overall study, I wish it were either first or last. It is one of the very best lessons, and it carries the same title as the book, so the placement just seems to be "off."

The purpose of this lesson is "to impress upon the mind that we are blessed in this life for liberal giving" (57, emphasis added). Many think that God's people will only be truly blessed for their sacrifice and work in Heaven, but this lesson reminds us that there are promises for this life for those who give sacrificially to the Lord.

The lesson begins with one of the longest introductory sections of any chapter (57-58). In this section, brother Black recounts stories from him many years of preaching. He tells stories of those who have told him of great blessings due to giving sacrificially. He also tells the other side of the story: stories of those who simply do not give as they should and have even cut down their giving to the bare "minimum" for spite! For those with this attitude--which, I'm afraid, is far too many--a lesson on the blessings to be gained in this life from giving is so helpful.

The first reminder in this lesson is the promise of Jesus to those who had left "all" to serve and follow Him. He told His followers that they would "receive an hundredfold and shall inherit eternal life." What a promise! Wouldn't you like to gain 10,000%? That's what Jesus promised! That doesn't mean that, if I put $1 in the bank today that tomorrow I'll have $100. Jesus was using poetic license to tell His followers that the blessings they gain in this life will be incalculable. These words, brother Black reminds us, should greatly motivate us all to give, give, give!

The next verse discussed in this lesson is Luke 6:38. There Jesus said, "Give, and it shall be given unto you; good measure, pressed down, and shaken together, and running over, shall men give into your bosom. For with the same measure that ye mete withal it shall be measured to you again." This verse undergirds the principle found in Second Corinthians 9:5-6: "He which soweth bountifully shall reap also bountifully." God is able to take whatever we can give and turn it into great things; sometimes even using other men as the agent through which that is accomplished.

In Malachi 3:10, God promised His people that He would open the "windows of heaven" to bless them if they would, in a word, challenge Him with their offerings. If I really trust God, why would I not see if He didn't mean what He said?

Solomon wrote, "Honor the Lord with thy substance, and with the firstfruits of thine increase: so shall thy barns be filled with plenty, and thy presses shall burst out with new wine" (Proverbs 3:9-10). Also, First Kings 17:9-16 teaches much the same. This lesson is designed to use these several verses to remind us of the promises God has made. Friends, God always keeps His promises. Why not give to Him and let Him take care of the rest.

This lesson may seem like "health and wealth" Gospel, but it is not. This is not the teaching that says, "Give all your money to this ministry and your mortgage will be paid off." The Bible, instead, teaches us to give to God and let Him take care of the blessings. We may never be wealthy, but we will be well-taken-care-of.

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

WYTI Links: 09.05.2007

Three links for you today...

"Giving Our Way to Prosperity" (Lesson Nine)

Paul wrote these words to the church in Corinth: "Moreover it is required in stewards that a man be found faithful" (First Corinthians 4:2). That verses serves as the basis for lesson nine of V.P. Black's book. The lesson is simply titled, "Faithful Stewardship," and the stated purpose is "to get a better understanding of what it means to be a faithful steward" (51).

I find one of the introductory paragraphs in this lesson to be extremely interesting. While this study, obviously, is about giving, brother Black reminds us of the fact that stewardship is just part of our Christian walk, but it can serve as a sign of how the rest of our efforts for God are:

Stewardship of money is only a fraction of our full Christian stewardship. Giving is just a part of our stewardship of money. We must use wisely that which we do not give to the church. Faithful stewardship includes the whole of a thing, a part is never equal to the whole. Self and substance makes up true stewardship. The person who is very faithful in certain things and unfaithful in others is not a good steward. (51)

The point of this chapter is to remind us that we must use all God's blessings wisely. Wasting what God gives is not wise, nor is it Christ-like.

As I have done in most of the posts in this series, allow me to just list the sections that comprise this study:
  • The steward and his life (52)
  • Stewardship of time (53)
  • Stewardship of influence (53-54). What an overlooked area of study!!!
  • Stewardship of the Gospel (54-55)
  • Stewards of money (55)

We often have lessons on being good stewards of money, then, near the end of the lesson, throw in a statement like, "Of course, we need to be good stewards of our time and efforts, too." Look at that list of sections again. What a great series to preach or teach in a Bible class! We have lessons about influence from time-to-time, but do we ever talk about being a steward of our influence?

This lesson is simple, but, in my mind, is a good "break" from only talking about money. Students will enjoy this lesson about other areas where God has blessed us all, and will want to do better about serving Him in all these areas.