This & That

Financial Peace?

So, I’ve been mulling over a couple things since we began our first session of Financial Peace University here at ECoB. In the first lesson, Dave Ramsey talks about the importance of savings, a rather countercultural notion, for the purpose of preparing for emergencies. Indeed, his first “baby step” is having $1,000 in the bank. After dumping debt, the next step would be to save what three to six months of expenses would be for your household. In last night’s lesson, Dave—that’s how I’ll refer to him since he seems to welcome such familiarity—spoke about relating with money, especially how husbands and wives need to partner together. He said that for women in general completing Baby Step 3 is necessary for their security. This is where things begin to break down for me.

As I mentioned in a previous post, I’ve been reading Tim Keller’s Counterfeit Gods. I’ve been slowly making my way through his relatively short book, because there’s much depth in the topics he addresses. Skimming through his books would be like scarfing down a plate of Ghirardelli brownies. In his chapter on the counterfeit god of money, he explains that

“lovers of money” are those who find themselves daydreaming and fantasizing about new ways to make money, new possessions to buy, and looking with jealousy on those who have more than they do. “Trusters of money” feel they have control of their lives and are safe and secure because of their wealth.

He goes on to distinguish between “surface idols” and “deep idols.” The surface idol of greed—or loving money—is merely a symptom of a much deeper crisis. Dr. Keller—he seems to require such deference—describes the deeper crises and how they play out. He says there are people who desire influence and power, while others long for approval and appreciation. Some want emotional and physical comfort, and still others want security, the ability to control their environment. Those who want power don’t mind being unpopular if it gains them influence, while those who are motivated by the approval of others want the opposite. Each idol, he says, produces a different set of fears and hopes. He continues:

“Surface idols” are things such as money, our spouse, or children, through which our deep idols seek fulfillment. We are often superficial in the analysis of our idol structures. For example, money can be a surface idol that serves to satisfy more foundational impulses. Some people want lots of money as a way to control their world and life. Such people usually don’t spend much money and live very modestly. They keep it all safely saved and invested, so they can feel completely secure in the world. Others want money for access to social circles and to make themselves beautiful and attractive. These people do spend their money on themselves in lavish ways. Other people want money because it gives them so much power over others. In every case, money functions as an idol and yet, because of various deep idols, it results in very different patterns.

Probably because he isn’t a theologian, Dave Ramsey tackles the surface idols, but to really get to the problem, the deep idols have to be focused on at the heart level. Keller says the only way to change at the heart level is through faith in the gospel.

Perhaps since she’s a “free spirit” or because she may have greater faith than me, Cindy isn’t as compelled as I am to make sure Baby Step 3 is completed. In very many areas of my life, I have a desire to be in control. Thankfully, God is breaking that in me, as I’ve grown in allowing God to command the throne of my heart. I’ve learned many, but if there is one lesson I’ve learned this past year, it’s that no matter how much I think I’m navigating my own life, I’m still subject to the wind and the waves. Rough waters that threw off my course helped me to realize that I need to surrender power to the One who knows the seas ahead.

Now, don’t misunderstand me. We embrace the Dave Ramsey plan, and are immensely grateful we were introduced to FPU several years ago. To be sure, when I lost my income last January, we were prepared with more than three months expenses worth in the bank and no debt. I believe God did honor our stewardship, as evidenced by the provision of a part-time job in my field, one I hadn’t seen on the horizon—I was able to continue serving in worship ministry instead of flipping burgers—and several gifts from generous people who love God. (Oh, that was redundant. We who love God should be generous.)

So here we are, having remained above water and making our way back into the boat after it capsized more than a year ago. We’re working through the steps again, but this time I have a greater awareness of the lure of the deep idol of the desire to be in control, the altar of which I continue to tear down every day. And I’m not trusting in the FDIC for the money were putting in savings. No, my insurance comes from the One who cares for me and is concerned with our daily needs; yes, the One who owns the cattle on a thousand hills. And God alone is too big to fail.

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