Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Act Your Own Wage

By Jeffrey Arthurs
Professor of Preaching & Communication and Dean of the Chapel

First time I learned about debt was when my brother borrowed money from my parents to buy a Kawasaki 90. He had to have it! He wasn't even 16 years old, so he wasn't allowed to ride on the streets, but he had to have it. It was a consuming fire, so my parents struck a deal: he would use the motorcycle for a paper route and pay them back from the money he earned. I sat back and watched. The yackity motorcycle cost about 100k, if I remember right, and he was indentured for the next 42 years. Before long, the shine of the motorcycle wore off, but he was still tossing papers and paying; repairs had to be made, but he was still tossing papers and paying; he set his eye on the next model—something bigger, faster, shinier—but he was still tossing papers and paying. I came to realize that the borrower is a slave to the lender. All his money was tied up. It belonged to someone else. He wasn't free to quit the paper route. He's now 53 and a medical doctor, but he's still paying on that bike. Not really, but it felt like that at the time.

Do you recognize the phrase I used above—“The borrower is servant [slave] to the lender”? It is from Proverbs 22:7. I've been studying the subject of debt recently, and I have discovered that the Bible says more about the topic than I would have guessed. The consistent teaching is summarized in Proverbs 22:7, but also consider the blessings and curses of Deuteronomy:
If you fully obey the Lord your God and carefully follow all his commands I give you today, the Lord your God will set you high above all the nations on earth . . . . You will lend to many nations but will borrow from none. The Lord will make you the head, not the tail. If you pay attention to the commands of the Lord your God that I give you this day and carefully follow them, you will always be at the top, never at the bottom. (Deut. 28:1, 12-14).
However, if you do not obey the Lord your God and do not carefully follow all his commands and decrees I am giving you today, all these curses will come upon you and overtake you . . . . The alien who lives among you will rise above you higher and higher, but you will sink lower and lower. He will lend to you, but you will not lend to him. He will be the head, but you will be the tail. (Deut. 28:15, 43-44).
Those of you who are in debt are saying Amen, aren't you? The Lord has helped me and my wife to avoid debt (except for our mortgage) and I want you to experience the same freedom and peace we know. Get out of debt! How?
1. Stop using credit cards (or pay them off every month). Statistics show that people spend twice as much as when they using cash (Boston Globe, Dec. 22, 2008, A21). As one author explains: “Recent studies suggest that each buying decision plays out in the brain as a fight between a pleasure center seeking the bliss of acquisition and an aversion center seeking to avoid the pain of paying. . . . Paying with credit cards appears to blunt the insula's [the center of pain and disgust in the brain] reaction to the pain of paying, while paying in cash leaves the pain intact.”
2. Bite the bullet. Downsize. You may have to sell your car, or gun collection, or vacation time share. Do it. I want you to be free.
3. Limit your exposure to newer, faster, shinier, bigger, prettier, glitzier stuff. Don't feed the fires of discontent. Limit exposure by not window shopping, drooling over catalogues, or scanning the net. Learn to be content (Phil 4:11).
4. Memorize Romans 13:8, “Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another.”
Questions for the blogosphere:
• It is OK to go into debt for school? For seminary?
• Should we tithe if we are in debt, or should all our resources go toward the debt?
• What tips can you share for getting out of debt?

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