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Steve Diggs
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Steve Diggs presents the No Debt No Sweat! Christian Money Management Seminar at churches and other venues nationwide. Visit Steve on the Web at  www.stevediggs.com or call 615-834-3063. The author of several books, today Steve serves as a minister for the Antioch Church of Christ in Nashville. For 25 years he was President of the Franklin Group, Inc. Steve and Bonnie have four children whom they have home schooled. The family lives in Brentwood, Tennessee.

 
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no debt no sweat!

Our Dirty Little Secret

By Steve Diggs
No Debt No Sweat! Financial Seminar Ministry

CBNMoney.comSssshh!  Don’t tell anyone, but today there’s a dirty little secret in many of our homes that is robbing us of peace, damaging our witness, and destroying our spiritual vigor.  Sure, this might be the introduction to an article about marital infidelity, internet pornography, or one of the other high profile sins.  But it’s not.  Instead, I’m referring to a plague that we rarely acknowledge (or, even realize) until it has done its damage.  I call it Stuffaholism.  It’s the unrelenting lust that drives us to buy things we don’t want, with money we don’t have to impress people we don’t like!  And, because of Stuffaholism —today many of us are drowning in debt.


Americans spent the last decade piling up debt.  We learned that a teacher could live like a tycoon with the help of enough credit cards, and an occasional home equity loan thrown in for good measure.  Now we find ourselves awakening with a financial hangover in the first decade of the new millennium.  If the old adage about misery loving company is true, the following will leave you delirious:

  • Total household debt (credit cards, mortgages, auto loans, etc.) exceeded 100% of total disposable income for the first time in 2000.
  • We’re now charging over one trillion dollars on our credit cards each year.  This is more than we spend in cash!
  • And the kids are following in their parents’ footsteps.  According to CardWeb, the average graduating college student has a credit card balance of about $3,400.  That doesn’t include the $30,000 of student loans that also have to be repaid, or the car loan, or the bill consolidation loan.
  • Some experts believe that money problems are the leading cause of divorce in America by a rate of 4 to 1 over anything else.
  • Today the average household credit card balance is almost $10,000.
  • In 2003 Americans increased their debt load by another 20%.
  • Although most Americans overestimate their level of financial assets and wealth, by up to 25 times, the Consumer Federation of America tells us that the typical family in the US has net financial assets (counting retirement accounts) of just $9,850.
  • In the typical household, consumer debt is more than 50% of total financial assets.

We Never Meant For It To Be This Way

 If you are like many Americans today you started your early adult life planning for success.  You probably dreamed of having the financial resources to enjoy a comfortable lifestyle with enough money in the bank to care for and house your family.  You, no doubt, planned to have enough set aside one day to buy a home, send the kiddos to college, and retire with dignity.

Yet despite all those early plans, if you are like some 70% of American families, today you are living paycheck to paycheck.  For you, the American Dream long ago became a gothic nightmare.  You know all too well what it feels like to sit bolt upright in bed in the middle of the night not knowing how you are going to pay the rent.  More than once, you have hesitated to answer the phone for fear of another harassing bill collector.  You’ve ordered yet another credit card because the others are already maxed out.  You dread talking about money with your spouse because it always ends in a fight.  And, even worse, there are times when you haven’t been totally honest with each other about money and spending issues.  Even when you’re at church, a little league game, or a school play you find your mind drifting to the money problems you’re facing.  When a good cause comes along your heart breaks because you have nothing to contribute.

So, Where Do We Start?

Like they say, the best place to start is at the beginning.  So, let’s begin by admitting the obvious.  We live in a world system that often is not consistent with the Christian ethic.  God’s ways and man’s ways never have been, and never will be, the same.  The world tells us that happiness comes with acquisition.  God tells us that joy comes with contentment.  Yet, far too often, we Christians buy into the world’s philosophy.  We become convinced that happiness will come with a bigger house, a newer car, or a faster boat.  So, off to the rat races we go—buying things we don’t need and can’t afford.  Folks this is dumb behavior!!!!!

If happiness requires acquisition—we’ll never be happy.  The world always has something that’s “new and improved.”  Car dealers, advertisers, real estate salespeople, telemarketers, credit card companies—all have plans to extract the money in your wallet and transfer it to their corporate piggy banks.  These people are smart.  Retailers study us.  They know that most people turn to the right when they enter a store, and then proceed counterclockwise.   According to Kiplinger’s, that’s why storeowners frequently put their highest profit items in that “sweet spot” directly to the right hand side of the front doors.  Have you noticed the trend towards larger shopping carts and fewer hand baskets in grocery stores?  Experts tell us that bigger carts give us the perception that we aren’t buying as many items, while hand baskets get heavy and cause us to hurry to the checkout line faster.

 Grocers know that shoppers will buy higher priced items if they put them on shelves at eye level—and that we’ll pass up equally good, less expensive items if they are out of easy reach on lower shelves.  It’s no accident that there is always a clutter of stuff for sale at the cash register—merchants know that we’re most likely to make impulse purchases when checking out.

Brian Wansink, an expert in the field, says people like stores with lots of variety.  People perceive a store to have lots of variety when there is some degree of jumble and a lack of predictability.  That may explain why you might find picture frames next to socks at a T.J. Maxx, and why Campbell’s Soups are never in a logical order.

An old real estate trick is to heat cinnamon in the kitchen.  It puts potential buyers in a “homey,” buying mood.  Some life insurance people are notorious for using emotional stories to scare people into buying their products.  And, how many cars have been sold on payment plans that lasted longer than the cars? 

Next time you pass the corporate headquarters of an insurance or finance company go up and inspect the building closely.  You may find that it’s not mortar your looking at between the bricks—it’s the dried blood of customers trying to make their payments!  For far too many people, the drive-up windows at the bank are there so their cars can see who owns them!

The Christian’s Closet Sin

 Like most of the problems we face, financial pain has its roots in the bad decisions we have made all along the way.  And, like most bad decisions, we are filled with shame and fear that others will find out.  To admit financial failure is to admit that something in our lives is out of control—and we don’t like to do that.  So instead of bringing the problem into the light where it can be dealt with, we try to hide it from others—and often ourselves.  Things go from bad to worse until, finally, the house of cards falls in on itself.  That’s when what we had hoped would remain a private struggle suddenly becomes very, very public. God really does know how we tick.  Over the years I have become convinced of two things: 
1) As long as I deny or excuse any sin in my life I will continue to fall farther behind.  Only when I face my sin can the healing (changing) process begin.  Sin is like a cancer; until it is recognized and isolated it can’t be treated.  And just as cancer, a sin ignored doesn’t go away—it continues to grow until it finally consumes and destroys the whole body!
2) There is strength in numbers.  Sometimes the only way to deal with a problem is through confession and accountability to other believers.  James tells us to “confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed.” (5:16)  

Recently I was visiting with a broker friend of mine who told me about a man in his church.  He had known this man for a long time, but they had never really been close until they began attending a men’s prayer group together.  Gradually, in these meetings, they got to know one another and began to open up.  Eventually, my pal’s friend felt safe enough to share a dark secret with the other men.  He admitted that, despite a healthy income, he was deeply in debt and saw no way out.  The wolf wasn’t just at the door—he’d already strung a hammock on the porch!  Thankfully, the other men in the group rallied around him, and since then they have helped him through his difficulty. Asking the Hard Question: Why Do We Borrow?

Please don’t misunderstand, I’m not one of those people who teaches that borrowing money is necessarily a sin.  However, the Bible does teach that debt can be bondage, or slavery.  Proverbs 22:7 tells us, “Just as the rich rules the poor, so the borrower is servant to the lender.” (NIV, emphasis mine)  When our lives are controlled by the monthly payment schedule, debt has become the master.   

There are two things to ponder before going into debt:                                                           
1) What Are My Motives?   Why am I borrowing money?  A lot of borrowing happens for all the wrong reasons. 

Often there is an element of greed involved.  Over and over again, the Lord warns us to avoid covetousness and greed.  In Luke 12:14-15, Jesus gets right to the point, “Watch out!  Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; a man’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.” (NIV)

A first cousin to greed is vanity.  Frequently people go into debt trying to keep up with other people in the neighborhood (or, sadly, even at church) who have a more lavish lifestyle.  When I teach the No Debt No Sweat! Seminar on Christian money management, I like to ask the audience what they think is the most expensive thing they will ever own.  Of course, I get all the usual answers, “Our home?” 
            “Nope,” I say. 
            “College for the kids?” 
            “No,” I tell them. 
            “Retirement?” 
            “Not even close,”
By now I usually have their attention.  That’s when I project three letters on the overhead:  E G O.  You see there is nothing in the world more costly than an out-of-control ego.  It makes us do stupid things that we end up paying for for years to come.  How many people do you suppose are making payments on boats, expensive cars, prestigious private schools, second homes, and extravagant clothing because their “social position” or “circle of friends” expected it?

2) What Is My Ability to Repay?  The problem with borrowed money is that it has to be repaid. Today’s instant gratification becomes tomorrow’s bondage.  Recently, a friend of mine shared a fact that startled me.  He told me that if an individual charges a $40.00 meal on his credit card and only pays the minimum amount each month—that meal would end up costing over $200.00! 

It is so dangerous to presume on the future.  Murphy’s Law always kicks in at the least expected (and, most inopportune) moment.  Just when you think you’ll be ready to make that first payment—BOOM!  The bottom falls out.  Either the baby needs some new, exotic medicine, or the central heat goes out, or the transmission gives up the ghost, or...well, you get the point.

  Again, the Scripture gives us helpful guidance in this area:
 “Now listen you who say, ‘Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.”  Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow.  What is your life?  You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes.  Instead, you ought to say, ‘If it is the Lord’s will, we will live or do this or that.’  As it is, you boast and brag.  All such boasting is evil.”  (James 4:13-16, NKJV)

As Christians we must preact so we aren’t forced to react.  We need to “count the costs” before we launch into any venture that will commit our future earning power.                         

God Wants You To Experience Freedom

Know this above all else:  God is on your side—He’s pulling for you.  His ways really do work: “Make sure that your character is free from the love of money, being content with what you have; for He Himself has said, “I will never desert you, nor will I forsake you.’”  (Hebrews 13:5, NIV)

God does want His people set free from every form of bondage, including financial.  Only then will we be at our best for others, ourselves, and the Kingdom work that we’re here to do!

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