Tag Archives: money

Clean Troughs

Proverbs 14:4

Where no oxen are, the trough is clean;
But much increase comes by the strength of an ox.

A long line of tightwads

      I have a disclaimer, everybody:  I come from a long line of tightwads.  When my parents became engaged, a mutual friend quipped that their engagement was an excellent match:  “Jim & Maryanne gettin’ married?  That’s good. They can pinch pennies together.”

In 1982, my parents took me and my two older brothers to visit the World’s Fair in Knoxville, Tennessee.  If you visited the Fair in mid-July of that year, you probably remember us.  We were the teenage boys carrying wilted cheese sandwiches in satchels dangling from our belts (in 92 degree heat and 98% humidity) to avoid the high cost of fairground fare for lunch.

That is to say, I “get it honest”.

I was 20 years old before I bought my first car, a 1973 Plymouth Scamp for which I paid $850. It came complete with a shredded and flapping vinyl top and fenders so rusted out from the salt on the winter highways of Southwest Virginia that I dared not drive the car through a car wash for fear of leaving too many parts behind.  When driving in the rain, water would pour in under the dashboard, soaking shoes, socks, and pants legs. I’m not exaggerating!

Early in our marriage, I can remember having discussions with my new wife concerning the threshold of excessive toilet paper usage.  (Just use your imagination.)  As I type these words, I examine my current attire:  a striped, button-down, long-sleeve shirt which came to me second hand from America’s Thrift Store, a worn pair of khaki pants purchased on sale in a discount clothing store three years ago for around $20, and socks and underwear that are, let’s just say, of mature age.  Only my shoes are of a brand name which you might possibly recognize, a brand and style I am medically required to purchase to give support to my very flat feet.

So today’s proverb is really for me and for others of the dying breed of folk who are allergic to the spending of money.

Expensive critters

Let’s face it:  Oxen are expensive critters to keep around.  It has been scientifically proven that they have to be fed a certain amount to survive.  Oxen require a ready supply of drinking water.  Oxen need routine preventative and maintenance veterinary care.  They need strong fences to contain them.  They need barns for shelter in severe weather.

Thus if you have no oxen in the stall, the trough is “clean”, or perhaps a better rendering would be, “the granary is empty”.  You don’t have to fill the barn with hay, or purchase corn for the crib, if you have no oxen to feed.  It’s much cheaper to own no oxen.

Wise capital investment

However, seen as a capital investment, oxen can bring the wise farmer great financial reward.  Of course the proverb harkens from a pre-industrial age, but the point is obvious.  Oxen drag the plow to cut the sod so that crops can be sown.  Oxen pull the carts and wagons when bringing in the harvest from the fields, and then they haul the harvest to market.  Indeed, “much increase comes by the strength of an ox.”

Investment is risky business.  By its very definition, invested money may be totally lost.  Otherwise healthy-looking oxen drop dead of heart attacks on occasion, I suppose.  But wise, intentional investments create the possibility for wonderful profits.  To interpret the biblical proverb with a proverb from our popular culture, “Nothing ventured, nothing gained.”

Two gospel passages

In light of Proverbs 14:4, two New Testament texts come to mind.  The first is the Lord’s parable of the sower (Mark 4:1-20).  Without recounting the parable’s details, I conclude that the Lord’s primary point is to emphasize the miraculous increase of the seed that fell on good ground (verses 8 & 20).  When it comes to our stewardship of the gospel, invest heavily!  Throw caution to the wind!  Proclaim the gospel of the Kingdom everywhere, and although three-fourths of the time it won’t amount to much, we can count on an astonishing, miraculous, God-given increase when the seed of God’s Word does hit the “pay dirt”.  There are so many Christian congregations which have the clean troughs of playing it safe in the ministry.  Our proverb would say, “Go big for the gospel of Jesus Christ!”

The second text is found in Matthew 25:14-30, the parable of the talents.  Space does not permit me to retell the passage, but the connection with our proverb is clear enough:  Invest for the master!  Don’t be a scrooge and hide heaven’s riches in a hole in the ground.  Take a chance!  Do something big and bold and risky for the Master!

Father God, make us to be wise and bold investors of all which you have entrusted to us, blessings both temporal and spiritual.  Forgive us when we fail, not for our sake, but for the sake of your own dear Son.  Through Christ our Lord: Amen. 

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“Everybody’s Got Problems”

Proverbs 13:8

“The ransom of a man’s life [are] his riches: but the poor heareth not rebuke.”

A Wise Dad

One of the things I loved about my father was his ability to find the lighter side to any subject. He had the uncanny ability to find the faintest silver lining around the biggest, darkest cloud. That might explain why growing up poor wasn’t so bad.

Here are a few good examples of how my dad would look at things…

  • When he saw a horribly ugly dog, he said, “Well, he’s got white teeth.”
  • When he (and I) got hurt at work, he would say, “You haven’t worked until you shed some blood.
  • When we had to move into a house that had no running water, electricity or telephone, and the sky could be seen between the boards on the walls, he would say something like, “Hey! It’s almost like camping out!”

And when it came to being poor, my dad knew how to keep things in perspective. He would remind us that being rich wasn’t all fun and games, but worry and stress, too. “The more money you have, the more you have to watch your back,” he would say. “But when you ain’t got noth’n, you ain’t got noth’n to steal.

A Wise Proverb

Today’s proverb is trying to tell us that wealth may not be a bad thing, but it does have some inherent risks. The more wealth you have, the more likely someone will want to take it. And, the more money one has, the more he has to spend to stay alive.

On the other hand, as the second part of the verse points out, those who have less are less likely to listen to an extortioner or be kidnapped for ransom. He is more likely to say, “Sorry, but you can’t get blood from a turnip.”

The ESV translates it this way, “The ransom of a man’s life is his wealth, but a poor man hears no threat.”

Be Content

If there is anything else my dad would say, it would be this: “Be content with what you have, cause everybody’s got their own problems.” Don’t be so upset if you’re not wealthy; life for the rich may be a bed of roses, but with roses come a lot of thorns. That’s why the poor can sleep easier.

“Not that I speak in respect of want: for I have learned, in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content.” – Philippians 4:11 KJV

“If you’ve got it, be thankful. If you ain’t got it, be glad.” 


It’s All In God’s Hands

Proverbs 11:28

He that trusteth in his riches shall fall: but the righteous shall flourish as a branch.

It Isn’t Ours

I have been self-employed for the last twenty years. Income in 1992 when I started out was modest, but I believe that over the years God has blessed the business and blessed my family. In turn I have tried to bless others. I have not amassed cash to any extent, other than making provision to eventually pay off the mortgage on the family home through endowment policies and savings. I would not say I have trusted in my financial assets, but I believe that I may have become increasingly complacent, and forgotten one small detail: None of it belongs to me.

A Reminder

Whatever we have on earth we have because God allows us to have it. Over the last three years my income has fallen and it has become increasingly difficult to get paid. While prayers have been answered I have had to dip deeply into savings as it takes longer and longer to receive payment for invoices. I have also had to review my giving. While that has been difficult I have been reminded that it was never mine in the first place. God has challenged me about becoming proud about what I have given.

Temporary Benefit

We cannot and must not rely on or trust in the temporary benefits associated with worldly wealth. We leave the world in the same way that we arrive. Empty handed. Even if we are blessed with monetary riches, nothing can be considered permanent, as many a person who has fallen on hard times can testify. The challenge we face as human beings is to be wise in our choices, and wise in our use of everything God has placed into our hands. It doesn’t matter if the world considers us rich or poor in terms of possessions. What matters most is what God sees in us.

How to Flourish?

So how can we flourish? Jesus spoke about branches that flourish and those that do not. He said:

“I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful. You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you. Remain in me, as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me.

“I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. If you do not remain in me, you are like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned. If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples. (John 15:1-8 NIV)


Don’t Be a Scrooge

Anthony, Grady, and Daniel

Anthony, Grady, and Daniel

(A Note from the desk of the Editor: It was truly a privilege to host Daniel Klem and his wife, Caitlin, when they visited Chattanooga a few years ago. It was the first time we ever had the chance to meet in person. We thank the Lord for brothers and sisters in Christ! Also in the picture is Grady Davidson, who also just met Daniel – Grady and I already knew each other.)

Proverbs 11:24-26

“There is that scattereth, and yet increaseth; and there is that withholdeth more than is meet, but it tendeth to poverty. The liberal soul shall be made fat: and he that watereth shall be watered also himself. He that withholdeth corn, the people shall curse him: but blessing shall be upon the head of him that selleth it.”

First let me clear up the potentially confusing part:

This is not political!

Now let me explain this a bit:

This particular passage basically says “Some people give all they have, yet they always have what they need or more. Others hold onto everything they think they have, but they really have nothing. The former are loved and lavished upon. The latter are hated.”

Misers versus Givers

Do you know the story by Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol? I am specifically talking about Ebenezer Scrooge.

He is known as the stingiest man in town. He counts every cent, never spends more than he absolutely has to, and is not very kind to others.

Nobody likes him.

And the Ghost of Christmas-Yet-to-Come shows him dying alone and his stuff stolen by nere-do-wells who complain about and ridicule him.

Conversely, I know a family who is always struggling to make ends meet. Yet they always have enough food to eat. In fact, they have dozens of people visit on an average of at least once a week. They have been literal and figurative foster parents to many children, teens, and young adults, and their biological children always know they are loved and accepted. They have traveled all over and impacted so many …

… because they give their all, their everything, for all people.

Physical and Spiritual

To be truly blessed in this life, we need to be willing to give up everything. This means money, things, cars, homes, stuff, and even people.

To be truly blessed, we need to be willing to give up literally everything. We need to be willing to die. Die physically and figuratively to our own selves, our wants and desires, our plans and hopes.

In their place, we must put the Love of God. God is our greatest hope, should be our greatest desire, and be the foundation of all our plans and our lives.

Then we will not be able to help loving others and giving of ourselves.

Ask that family.

Gracious and loving Father, instill in us a desire to love. Fill us with a passion for others. Give us more of You than we can handle that we may see You overflow into others. Do not let us get stuck on things and silly desires. Free us to free others.


Topsy-Turvy Teaching

Proverbs 10:15

“The rich man’s wealth is his strong city: the destruction of the poor is their poverty.”

The Rich and the Poor

It seems to me that wealth needs poverty to exist. In Western terms I am not wealthy, but I am not poor. But in the eyes of the poor, wherever they live, I am a billionaire. Why? Because they do not have what I have, and may see no way to achieve such relative wealth. Is it right that what I have is made possible because someone else has less? How much is too much? What do I need to keep and what should I give away?

Wise Investments

Whatever we have been given, we need to make sure that we invest it wisely. In the parable of the talents Jesus taught about two servants who invested wisely and one who did not. Burying what we have in the ground is not wise, and does not create a strong city! However, Jesus also watched as a poor widow put everything she had into the offertory box. Was that the sensible thing to do? Did it destroy the widow? We don’t know. The only thing we do know is that Jesus saw more in the poor widow than he saw in those with greater wealth. Immediately before Jesus pointed out the widow to his disciples He heavily criticized the richer teachers of the law. Jesus said that these people ‘devoured the houses of widows.’ In other words the wealth of the teachers of the law relied on the poverty of the widow, for whom they did absolutely nothing.

Good to be Rich?

While most of us are never going to excessively rich in monetary terms, we can be rich in wisdom, knowledge, and in our relationship with God. These three things should govern how we manage whatever wealth we have received. But the point here is that whether we consider ourselves rich or poor it really doesn’t matter. We enter this world with nothing and we leave in the same way. Far more important is what we do with what God has given us while we reside on Earth. Whether we are good or bad, rich or poor, God is watching us. He sees and hears everything. But He also looks deep inside to the riches or poverty within. Jesus said:

Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. (Matthew 5:3 NIV)

Welcome to the topsy-turvy teaching of the Son of God. When we think we are rich, we are actually poor. But those who know they are poor have access to riches untold.


Gather Now!

Proverbs 10:5

“He that gathereth in summer is a wise son: but he that sleepeth in harvest is a son that causeth shame.”

Of Ants and Grasshoppers and Men

Many have heard of Aesop’s fable about an ant and a grasshopper. The grasshopper spends the summer having fun and not working. (My wife and I can understand that, as we both currently work in schools with summers off!) The ant works hard all summer saving up food for the winter months. When winter comes, the grasshopper is starving while the ant is thriving. Some versions show the message of grace by having the ant share some of its food with the grasshopper. (Darker versions only have the ant rebuking the grasshopper … who dies.)

The moral is that idleness and laziness can lead to ruin, but hard work pays off for tomorrow.

One of the problems of the so-called welfare state, in which the government covers most or all of individuals’ needs, is that many people become, well, lazy and dependent. This is the main reason most political conservatives distrust government programs which support people, such as prolonged unemployment benefits.

God’s Thoughts

One of my favorite passages from the Bible, Matthew 25,  includes the parables of the Ten Virgins, the Talents, and the Sheep and the Goats. They all have the same point: do not spend your time fooling around, but be prepared.

Sure, we are commanded to not worry about tomorrow, but the best way to not worry is to be prepared!

This is a good time to remind us all that these parables, and therefore today’s proverb, tell us that we cannot rest with an understanding that we are safe, that “I am saved!”

Jesus came to seek and save the lost, sure, but it came with a call: love others. A Christian’s salvation is evidenced by showing love to others; by feeding the hungry and clothing the naked; by weeping with the broken-hearted and healing the hurt; by seeking and reaching out to the lost; by preparing our hearts by drawing near to Him.

Great Lord, we thank You for having a plan for and saving us. Help us to not only prepare for our near future, to be good stewards of what You have given us, but also help us to prepare for eternity. Grow Your love in us, that we may love as You love.


Thoughts On Co-signing

Proverbs 6:1-5

1My son, if thou be surety for thy friend, if thou hast stricken thy hand with a stranger,
2Thou art snared with the words of thy mouth, thou art taken with the words of thy mouth.
3Do this now, my son, and deliver thyself, when thou art come into the hand of thy friend; go, humble thyself, and make sure thy friend.
4Give not sleep to thine eyes, nor slumber to thine eyelids.
5Deliver thyself as a roe from the hand of the hunter, and as a bird from the hand of the fowler.

Practical Wisdom

When it comes to the wisdom of Proverbs, some think it’s all spiritual. Much like the person who thinks faith should be kept out of everything secular, such as politics or the workplace, these people assume biblical wisdom is incompatible with everyday life. How wrong they are!

Today’s passage is a lesson in financial wisdom. Here, Solomon is addressing the dangers of unwisely obligating one’s self to a creditor (stranger) on behalf of a friend.

Unsure Surety

There is nothing wrong with helping a friend. As a matter of fact, it was Paul who told Philemon that if Onesimus owed him anything to “put that on my account…I will repay” (Phil. 1:18-19). Helping someone out when they are truly in need, especially when you have the ability, is the right thing to do.

“If there is a poor man among your brothers in any of the towns of the land that the LORD your God is giving you, do not be hardhearted or tightfisted toward your poor brother. Rather be openhanded and freely lend him whatever he needs.” – Deuteronomy 15:7-8 NIV

However, Solomon is warning that we should be very careful when entering agreements (striking hands) on behalf of others, even our friends. You see, to be a “surety” for someone means guaranteeing the lender your friend will pay his debt. The problem comes when you end up owing what you cannot pay, therefore putting your family and your self at risk.

“Can You Co-Sign for Me?”

How many times have you been asked to co-sign on a loan? How many times have you had a brother-in-law ask for help starting a business that “can’t fail?” How many times have you felt sorry for someone, only to get burned in the end?

Many times we want to help our friends and loved ones, but end up snared by people we don’t even know. “I’ll help you this time,” we say. Then, a few months later, Hunter Loan Company is tracking us like deer.

Spiritual Application

There is a practical, yet spiritual principle to be found in the following verse: “[If] any provide not for his own, and specially for those of his own house, he hath denied the faith, and is worse than an infidel” (1 Tim. 5:8). The principle is “if you can barely afford to take care of your own family, don’t make financial commitments you can’t keep.”

Solomon says that even if you have become surety for a friend, prove his friendship – get him to relieve you of your obligation. Otherwise, when the rubber check hits the road, you risk losing not only your money, but your good name, your friend, and even your faith.