I remember learning an important lesson from those who work with leprosy patients. The surgeon said that pain is good. Pain protects our body; it is the nerves which allow us to detect pressure and danger. Without the nerves or with deadened nerves, one finds a great host of dangers. What if you held something hot but didn't know it? What would happen to your skin? What if a bug was biting you but you didn't realize it. Or what would happen if you cut yourself but didn't care for it or baby it?
I sense that we as a society have become numb to God in the area of finances. We just don't understand how deadened our senses are toward God. And great dangers have encompassed us without us even being aware. It is like cooking a frog in increasingly hot water. He doesn't sense the danger until it is too late. We think we are experts when we are in the process of slow death. It is grace to the Israelites that they could finally understand the great predicament they were in. You see, one does not become impoverished overnight. The result is usually from a series of foolish decisions.
Let me ask you an important question, "Why did they cry out in distress now?"
We are not sure to what intensity these two scenes influenced the people, but surely it climaxed with a great and sudden solemnness to realize your only enemies are not on the outside but your own leaders. This caused a great uproar. Let's trace the distressful reports. We can hear it almost as a hearing with three witnesses, each with a story that builds upon the previous.
The more I subject myself to the teachings of the scriptures, the more I sense we are in great danger. We think we are free, but we are slaves. We pride ourselves at making the best deals for ourselves, but instead we are setting ourselves up for a big fall. We think we are getting ahead of the system but in fact the whole system is about to fall over on top of us and crush us. There might not be a lot of people that can hear what I am saying. If you don't hear the Word of the Lord, surely you will perish. These Israelites could finally see their devastating circumstances and made a great outcry. They finally woke up. I am hoping that we ourselves will also awaken and make some distress calls to the Lord to get out of our situation. For if not, we then will die a slow death. You do not have to take another step into poverty but you will if you do not let God speak to you through His Word. I have incorporated several biblical principles into the lesson here and hope to clarify them as I go along.
I honestly was not planning to speak on this topic at all as I prepared for chapter 5 but when I got to these verses, the Spirit of God greatly humbled me and showed me that we in America including the Christian Church has made many bad assumptions all of which lead to poverty. Let me now clarify these three steps into poverty, hoping of course that we will cry out in the end for change and financial freedom. I do not mean to be a final voice on this subject but neither will I quickly give up what the Word of God promises and warns us in Proverbs 30:5-6,
Story #1 Stepping into debt and poverty.
The first group of people were grieving over the way they had to step into debt. This is the way it should be about stepping into debt. Grief was proper. Maybe we could ask a similar question of ourselves, "Do we grieve when we take our first loan for the sake of having a better future?" This is the first danger scene. Loans in whatever form are easily taken as normal and good rather than dangerous and evil. We have lost our common 'cents.'
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Now I want you be aware that you might feel anger to me, shame or just an impatience. This will probably be to the degree that you have personal loans or credit card debt. It is suppose to be pervasive you know. The average credit a card debt is around $3,000. We received through the mail over a hundred credit card/personal loan offers this year alone. I expect that many of you might be unhappy with this subject. That is okay. But be careful if you take a lie and protect your conscience. Learn about the truth. If all is well, then you have nothing to fear. But if you have problems, it is better that you discover them and save yourself rather than not ever finding them until they find you out.
You might wonder that their circumstances are very different from ours. Yes,this is very true. I do not deny this. They had big families and they were running out of grain. When they looked at their Quicken financial program, they could see that the famine was taking away two things. First of all, they knew that when grain was low, that their own food supply was low. They would eat grain as a staple but also exchange it for other things they might need. were considering it for the sake of food for their sons and daughters. But we also know as farmers, if they lose their grain, they loose their future means of income. A farmer would always keep enough grain to sow the next year. No one would be so foolish to eat all your seed. Nehemiah 5:2 says, "We, our sons and our daughters, are many; therefore let us get grain that we may eat and live."
For the Israelites, they greatly needed the grain to live. In verse 1 it says that they grieved greatly over this. Today, we would wonder what is the big problem. We might wonder whether they couldn't find someone to loan them money. We would without second thought just take a loan out. Yes, the interest rate might be a bit higher than you would like, but you have a real legitimate need. Anyway, you would no doubt quickly reason in your mind, that everything will be better next year and you would pay off the debt - maybe even early. But even still, they could not easily accept their situation nor should they. They were being forced into compromising situations. They probably were very aware that the Law forbid them to participate in such loans. But they had little faith. Their children were hungry. They chose a lesser of evils.
Ex 22:25 "If you lend money to My people, to the poor among you, you are not to act as a creditor to him; you shall not charge him interest."
Le 25:36-37 "Do not take usurious interest from him, but revere your God, that your countryman may live with you. You shall not give him your silver at interest, nor your food for gain."
De 23:19 "You shall not charge interest to your countrymen: interest on money, food, [or] anything that may be loaned at interest."
De 23:20 "You may charge interest to a foreigner, but to your countryman you shall not charge interest, so that the LORD your God may bless you in all that you undertake in the land which you are about to enter to possess."
You might be quick thinking. You are thinking it is not wrong to take a loan with interest but only forbidden to give loans with interest. But in fact if you comply with the loan, then you are in essence allowing another to break the law. Perhaps the main responsibility is his, but there is a secondary responsibility that we should not ignore. This is the law, the command. But why?
The Lord forbid loans for His people for numerous reasons. This kind of thinking is foreign to our thinking; it is hard for us to catch on to God's purposes. But nevertheless, let me mention four reasons the Lord doesn't want us to take loans.
Pr 22:26-27 says, "Do not be among those who give pledges, Among those who become sureties for debts. If you have nothing with which to pay, Why should he take your bed from under you?"
In Proverbs we read that debt binds you to serve another person. Debt means you are in obligation to another. We should not think that 5 trillion is a trifle, nor should we think $100. or $5. To be nothing. Debt is something we must avoid as much as possible. Credit cards cause us to slowly step into debt and consolidation loans hide the fact of our debt from our eyes.
Don't step into debt for you then have lost your freedom. Perhaps you don't understand this because of a Christian principle that is implied. For a Christian, we cannot simply go bankrupt. Perhaps legally you can and should, but under God's law, you must pay back every cent to those you owe.
I know you might think I am living in some imaginary world. I am not. And frankly, I am a beginner in taking God seriously about how His people ought to use money. The whole economy is built on credit and debit. My mom taught me always to have a loan so that you have access to credit. Someone recently boasted of the great increase of people that now have houses. But one commentator rightly asked, "How many really owned their own houses?" They actually belonged to some bank or to the government!
Would it be better to have little and free or much and under the hold of another? I am not making light of people's needs here. The Israelites were starving; there were no food banks or food stamps. They understood God's ideal so that they felt outraged to be part of this enslaving system.
But for most of us, the problem is not this. We do not take loans for food but because we want bigger and better. Our desires rather than our needs lead us into debt. Is this not covetousness? Your own loan and credit card statements are something you have brought upon your own heads. God let you go into debt slavery because of your desire for better quality. I know many of you might state some good reasons for this, but I simply will say that it is not good enough. Our parents would rent until they could afford a small home. After many years, if ever, they buy a cheaper home. Only later in life are many able to afford a bigger home. We want to start off where they ended. When you make bigger purchases presuming your job is stable and health is okay, then you are again doing what God says not to. You are living off of presumption. You live as if you know tomorrow.
New Growth possibilities
Let me paint two pictures. Which do you favor?
#1 Men are greedy. They want to get ahead and therefore at a price loan out money at the highest interest rate possible. Others become obligated to them and they make money from those that are struggling. If they can't pay; tough luck on they!
#2 Men are loving. We work hard so that we can give to others in need. In fact, we deny ourselves different things so that we can give more away. We probably won't get any recognition or any profit on earth, but we will in heaven. We give to help others not to put a burden on them. We live modestly within what God has given us. Therefore we give thanks to God and not to the banks.
I am still dreaming of the later. I might be naive, but I can and have started where I am in this world. Right in my own home and life and neighborhood. None of us should be stepping into compromising situations of debt but aggressively take steps on stepping out of debt.
The Lord doesn't want His people under obligation to others but only to Him. Personal loans not only compromise the command "owe man nothing" but keeps us from the freedom to love one another.
Story #2 Mortgaging Ourselves into Poverty
The second distress call is worse than the first. At least the family started off okay. They started with their property intact. It belonged to them. This is more than most of us can say, including myself. If I knew what I know five years ago, I doubt that I would have even bought the expensive house I bought. It might not be relatively expensive, but it is more expensive than I could afford. Don't think that I don't go through the same struggles of the economic benefits for those who have a mortgage, tax-wise and otherwise. But we just fool ourselves. We are deceived. We cheat ourselves. We don't let the Lord get the glory for providing for us. Nor do we learn the discipline of appreciating the things we gain because we have had worse and worked for the better.
The big question is why do we have mortgages? The people here were in such distress that they were mortgaging their lands and houses just to get grain. The grain served two purposes. It provided them with food and secondly with seed for next year. They would either have to sell or to mortgage. Mortgaging actually became a means of selling and leasing. The privilege was that they would be able to retain full use of the property. But what would happen if they forfeited the payment? Well they spent the money elsewhere that they got for mortgaging their property. This means they were very dependent on getting money from elsewhere to make those payments. And if things did not go as they hoped, and they couldn't manage to put themselves into further loans and debt, then finally, they would have to give up the mortgage. They would lose the right to use the property altogether or to secure it in the future at the set price.
They were mortgaging down and out. We are usually mortgaging into a purchase settlement. The problem is our assumption of income and the discontent of what we have. Many from overseas can identify with this tension. They ask why are Americans so credit oriented. They just can't understand. But they catch on real quickly. This is the way we live. We have hardly ever given any thought whether it is right or wrong. We probably have never even considered whether this is the way God wants us to live. What if it isn't? What if it is just a way that we have satisfied our covetous and doubting hearts? In this case our expensive items have become like idols on the high places. God's anger is upon us because of our many ways of never seeking Him. He let us step into binding situations without His blessing. He never promised that He would give us those mortgage payments.
We are proud of our mortgages. We think we got a good deal. After all, it is worth much more - hopefully, maybe, than before. If the house was worth less, then I would end up buying a house much more for what it was worth. Is not the interest we pay an amazing amount of money? Are we not purchasing the house 2-3 times the original cost? Does anyone ever tell you the real price tag of the house including the interest? No. Have not some of us been buying dream houses our of desires rather than humbly and gratefully thanking God for what He has given to us. We have missed out on God's miracles. We have never been able to see clearly how God has provided for us. For we have lived this part of our lives without Him. We have secularized ourselves.
Application Where do we go from here? We must aggressively get out of our mortgages. It is important. Many of our anxieties are because we fear we would lose the place we live. Some have bought homes because of educational reasons. Maybe you were not trusting God for these things too.
You might be wondering about what I am doing. I want you to know I am doing what I am preaching. I am aggressively getting out of my mortgage. I have been praying about this matter for the last months because when I bought it, I bought it first with a 15 year mortgage and then have been making extra payments on the principal probably like many of you are doing. This is good in a less than acceptable situation. But I have been praying about paying it off completely. Yes, I might lose a few tax deductions. But then I am not bound to man but to God. In this case I look to God to supply. You might be thinking how you ask God to provide your mortgage payments. Of course, this is much better than not looking to Him at all. But we might deceive ourselves that God is happy with that. He has a better way.
Dream. What would happen if everyone would live a bit more modestly? We could use the $3-10,000 dollars on interest that we have been paying to help other brothers and sisters who are likewise dedicated to live by these principals. We live modestly. We give liberally as God leads. If you have 10 families saving $5,000 a year to give away to a needy family, we could begin to build a strong community of Christians who are living free of debt. I know many people come and go. Many don't understand anything of what I am dreaming about. But maybe God will help us make it happen.
Story #3 Burying Ourselves into Poverty
We don't often want to face up to the steps toward poverty. Stepping into debt is not a small matter. Something is wrong. A crisis is at hand. Unfortunately, we do it for things we have coveted, whether house or car or education. We pledge our souls to the bank and governments. Secondly, we are in the process of mortgaging what we do have. We owe something here, so we borrow a little there. It sounds innocent enough, but in fact it is quite horrible. We are absolutely blind to the danger of the whole affair because we think if we go bankrupt, we are not responsible for what we owe. This is not true. Before God we are responsible. We owe that money still. If we buy unwisely for things that are for fun, travel, entertainment, etc., remember that we have to pay all that money back.
But we never face up to the fact what would happen if we couldn't? The last step into poverty is what we hear from the people saying in verses 4-5. They have already mortgaged their property and taken loans out on what they did have or might be able to do, but now they feel forced to make immoral compromises to pay them back. They actually sell off their children. Verses 5:4-5 says,
The problem is that we often do not see the bondage of debt until it is all revealed in such an ugly scenario. These Israelites finally got up enough nerve to face the facts when all three steps were so obvious to them. Step #1, 2, 3. One by one they were all going down the drain because someone wanted to make money off of them. We will not admit to bondage until it is too late and the disaster is already done. I am warning you today to turn from your covetous lives. We might not live in desire of food like these Israelites. But we live bound by our desire for other things. God wants us to break this sinful habit. He desires that we turn from this whole thing before we are forced into unholy financial payoffs.
Let me give you a few scenarios. If your boss wanted a sexual favor, would you do it? Not if you were financially secure. But what if your life, your job or house depended upon it? Would you then do it? Do you see that Satan is slowly setting up our nation for a fall much worse than the stock market crash? Not only the poor are being set up, but the middle class. They are all obligated. Even the rich are bound because they want more than what they have. Because they fall for a tax benefit, they compromise on their desires. How can we stop this syndrome? Only by God's grace. Only by repenting.
Summary We need an opening of our eyes to see that we have not only gone against our God but are under His judgment. We claim to be Christians but we are living like the world and therefore will be judged with the world. God wants to restore us all, not just a few. He wants to take the curse of our judgment of our shoulders. I know I have left many questions hanging. I look at them as secondary issues - important but not most important. We must look at the scriptures and see that God believes obedience more important than quality, trust more important than worry, faith than a loan. God is helping us see our impoverished situation before we all become in the like similar situation as group #3. He is showing us the path is one step at a time.
For we have brought nothing into the world, so we cannot take anything out of it either. And if we have food and covering, with these we shall be content. But those who want to get rich fall into temptation and a snare and many foolish and harmful desires which plunge men into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all sorts of evil, and some by longing for it have wandered away from the faith, and pierced themselves with many a pang. But flee from these things, you man of God; and pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, perseverance and gentleness. (1 Timothy 6:7-11).
Instruct those who are rich in this present world not to be conceited or to fix their hope on the uncertainty of riches, but on God, who richly supplies us with all things to enjoy. Instruct them to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share, storing up for themselves the treasure of a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of that which is life indeed. (1 Timothy 6:17-19).
Biblical Foundations for Freedom