Four Christians Talk About the "Almighty" Dollar.
looking for the right answer
Compiled by Bill and Brenda Evans
Recently we asked four of our friends—two men and two women—to talk about money. Their ages range from the mid-30s to early 70s, but their life experiences have stretched between even greater extremes. Meet the four:
Kim Sexton is a single, thirty-something health and physical education teacher.
Linda Humphrey is owner/operator of a bookkeeping service.
Waymon Fields, a retired bank president, is a small-town mayor and board chairman of the Free Will Baptist Foundation.
Andy Lay serves as a fundraiser for national and international ministries.
Three major concepts about money and its place in our lives emerged from the conversations.
1. Money generates moral struggles. All four said they have found themselves in moral dilemmas because of money. For Kim, the tension between waste and thriftiness is real, and working out a balance between the two is as messy as a professional wrestling match. Putting a headlock on excess is her current challenge. “Avoiding waste is the biggest money struggle I have right now. I’m on a plan that I hope will make me completely debt-free in five years, but it’s not easy. My daughters (ages 6 and 9) and I eat out too often. If I ask them what they want to eat, they name a restaurant, not a food. So I’m working on that.”
Debt definitely increases stress, Kim says. “You feel overwhelmed with thoughts about how you can pay this or that and become preoccupied with it. I’m not much of a planner and worrier, so I’ve been known to have to count change until the next payday. But one thing I’ve learned is that, for me, credit cards are evil. So I use only my debit card.”
Plus there is tension between wants and needs. Kim says that a fancy home does not entice her, though big toys do—boat, jet-ski, nice pick-up. “If I had lots of money, that’s what I would buy. But I don’t, so I won’t. I guess even adults are a little like one of my daughters was a few years ago when I told her we didn’t have money to buy something. “‘Just go to Wal-mart,’ she told me. ‘You can get back cash there.’”
Waymon’s earliest moral dilemma with money came at a grocery retailer. “I was bagging and carrying items that I didn’t want to be associated with—specifically beer. I prayed that if the Lord would make a way, I’d leave. I got a call about a men’s shop looking for an employee. And since that time the Lord has always opened doors for me to be able to do what is right in my profession and with my money.”
Strategic to winning moral financial struggles is learning from your mistakes, Linda says. “When Jeff and I were first married, we both worked and so we kept separate bank accounts. He would pay some things; I would pay others. That was a huge mistake.” When Linda left work to care for their children, living on one salary and working out of one account provoked more than a few attitude-adjustment moments between them. “ It took work, but we learned that it is not my money and your money; it is our money.”
Statistically, dealing with money is high on the list of marital conflicts. Waymon says he and his wife Gail avoid conflict by never making a major purchase unless both agree on it. “This is something we’ve practiced for a long time. If you overspend, any little hic-cup can put you in a strap. All those years as a banker, I observed too many people were poor simply because of spending and borrowing choices they made.”
2. Good money management is actually good self-management. Money is neutral, Waymon says. It’s how we deal with it that makes it either good or evil. In fact, in his opinion, it is not so much about money management as self-management. “Gail and I live lean. I grew up on a one-mule sharecropper’s farm with hand-me-downs and no college funds. But a wise teacher once told me that hard times could make me pity myself or motivate me to do better. He was right.”
Self-restraint and motivation are crucial, Waymon says. “It is more how you manage what you have than what you have to manage.” At age 22 he accepted a bottom-rung banking job, and over the next 44 years held about every position in a bank, including teller, bookkeeper, chairman, and president/CEO.
Along the way, Waymon bought interest in the company, an enormous commitment for him and Gail. “Two brothers had controlling interest in the bank and wanted to sell. I put together a group of buyers, including myself, none of whom would have controlling interest. I wanted to achieve two things: buy a part interest in the bank myself, but assure that no one had a controlling interest. It is a good thing for your employees to have a working situation where no one can come in today and say, ‘I’m selling, and I don’t need you anymore.’”
In those early days, the monthly payment was almost half of Waymon’s salary. “It was the biggest leap of faith I have ever taken. But here was an open door, and the Lord had guided my employment paths. You have to be practical. You never let credit get the better of you; you never trust money; you never quit giving. And you have to have self-restraint. To me that’s the difference in Abraham and Solomon. Both were very well off, but Abraham handled it better than Solomon.”
Regarding self-management, Andy sees a similarity between money and drugs. “It occurred to me that money is like drugs. Under control and used in moderation, drugs do wonderful things for our bodies. But when used outside the limits of discretion, they destroy both our bodies and our minds. Money does good or evil depending up how we use it.”
All four emphasized the power of the word no. “We use no just fine around our house, both to ourselves and to our three daughters,” Linda says. “We don’t want our lives to revolve around things. In fact, we are savers more than spenders. We’ve only bought one new car in more than 20 years of marriage. Jeff likes to save and pay cash, so when we eat out, he pulls out his wallet to get what we call his ‘moldies’ to pay for the meal. We practice self-control.”
During the California housing boom with prices soaring to the stratosphere, Andy changed jobs and learned to say no firmly. He had been a fundraiser for the Los Angeles Rescue Mission, lived in an apartment at the mission, and gave close to half of his income to his church and various Gospel ministries.
His realtor suggested that he buy a condo in Pasadena because it was near his new job and had better investment value. But high house payments would have jeopardized his giving plan. He said no and eventually purchased a condo 25 miles away, enabling him to remain generous to the Lord’s work.
3. Money pits the world’s values against kingdom values. “Jesus said more than once that it’s either God or money. One or the other will have our hearts, our love,” Andy says. “He didn’t give much wiggle room for other opinions on that.”
When he was a young pastor, Andy saw that concept demonstrated in two elderly widowed sisters. One was rich, the other modestly poor. One had the proverbial mansion on the hill, the other a trailer. One was deeply committed to her wealth, the other to her Lord. Both were shut-ins—one spent her last years worrying about financial decisions, investments, and losses, the other praying for unsaved neighbors and new church families.
“I learned such an important lesson from those dear women. It is about who or what has your heart. I see it in my work, too. Fundraising is similar to soul-winning, you know—in both, it is about a decision, a decision about who is Lord of my life.”
“I love studying Matthew because he was wealthy from his tax-collecting and made a crucial choice between God and money. I think he was the man who found a treasure in a field and then in his joy went and sold all he had and bought the field.”
“He is the only gospel writer who records that short parable—and the companion one about the merchant who finds the great pearl. I think the parable was personal for Matthew. He had learned that the treasure, the pearl was Jesus, and so he “sold all” to have Him. Dealing with money is about deciding who our treasure is.”
To Sum It Up...
Linda: “I have found in my business that Christians are not always honest with money. One example is taxes.”
Waymon: “We can be too presumptuous. The town I’m mayor of was bankrupt when I got elected, so my theme became financial responsibility. We are to be stewards of all of it—everywhere.”
Kim: “I’ve been in FWB churches since I was a child and heard lots of teaching, but not much on money except for tithing. Why not?”
Andy: “We are most like God when we give. Before Magda and I were married, she was laid off from a Christian ministry because of budget cuts, yet continued to work without pay for 9 months. Although she was the provider for her parents, she told her boss, ‘If you can’t pay me, you can’t pay me, but I am responsible to the Lord for these seekers who want Bibles and study guides.’ Magda and I believe he has put us in charge of our money and will call us to account for it all.”