Considering the cost of education

education-debt

If I could do it again, I’d like to think I’d do it all differently… but I’d probably be lying. What am I talking about? College.

See, I went to college (the first time) from 1999 to 2002, studying graphic design at a community college in my city. I didn’t have any real savings—though I took two years off between high school and college, all I had to show for it in the end was the beginnings of a debt problem!—and no significant experience managing my personal finances.

My parents did what they could to help, but in the end, my education was paid for almost entirely with student loans. So, when I graduated, I had a diploma, no job and about $15,000 in student debt demanding to be paid.

Now, I get it: for many people, this isn’t a large debt load. In fact, it could have been a great deal more. I was initially accepted into a private art school in the United States, when I had aspirations of being a comic book artist. Had I gone down that road, I would have had at least $60,000 to contend with (and likely much more). And today, as a seminary student, I’m reminded of this once more. When I paid my tuition for one course at the end of January, it was roughly two thirds of the tuition for my entire first year of community college.

But at the time, this was a terrifying amount of money—especially since my first professional jobs only paid $10 or $12 an hour. I was making the minimum payments every month (and then only barely), with a plan to have it all paid off within 10 years (because that was the way the bank structured it).

I don’t currently have any student debt. Lord willing, I won’t accumulate any as I complete my seminary degree (and if you’d like to be a part of making that a reality, I’d surely appreciate it). And if the Lord allows, our children will not have to worry about student debt (though they may need to make some concessions to make that a reality).

But I am concerned for many out there who are going to college and university. And I am greatly concerned about many young people who are going to seminary. What I’m concerned about is that too many of us are failing to consider the cost of our decisions. We are becoming slaves of the lenders (Proverbs 22:7) for degrees that may not actually help us move forward in our future goals and ministry—or worse, in some cases may actually hinder us!

So what are we to do here? Here are five recommendations:

First, examine ourselves. What are we really passionate about? What do we want to do with our lives? Will it allow me to better serve the Lord? These are questions that I wish I’d asked myself more carefully during my first go-around in post-secondary education, and I think I asked fairly well prior to applying for seminary. I want my education to have a purpose, to allow me to move forward in my ministry and career (even as I gain some level of personal satisfaction just from having done it).

Second, plan your education route. These considerations should leads us to ask about the route we’re going to take: do we need a Bachelor’s or a Master’s degree? Are we more suited to a technical skill and thus would be better served by going to a trade school or apprenticing? Are we risking making ourselves overqualified and therefore unemployable by pursuing too much education? (And this is all I’m going to say right now about Christians and PhDs…)

Third, save and find creative ways to pay. A desire we have for our children is that they complete their post-secondary education as close to debt free as possible. One of the ways we’re helping with that is by starting their savings plans now. While we’re not talking huge dollars at the moment, they’re already off to a good start. This should be our approach, regardless of our age and stage in life. Investigate scholarships, grants and bursaries. Save for as long as you can. If we’re serious about doing something, it’s better to wait and do it right without creating new stresses for our families.

And this is where I have grave concerns for many going to seminary. Let’s be honest: seminary is crazy expensive, and ministry jobs tend to not pay all that well (I’m already in a ministry job, so I’m not concerned about that part). While making money isn’t the primary motivation for people getting a degree, and certainly shouldn’t be a factor regarding ministry, it’s a reality we need to be mindful of. For a number of us, seminary is a must. For many more, we’d be better served by just listening to RTS lectures on iTunes U.

Which leads me to my next point…

Fourth, if we take on debt, commit to repaying as quickly as possible. Although the Bible doesn’t explicitly call debt wrong (though it comes awful close and never puts it in a positive category), we cannot forget that it is a type of slavery. If you borrow money, it must be paid back in a timely fashion (whether that’s the timeline agreed upon between the borrower and the lender or sooner). Do not approach this lightly. Do not be careless. And certainly do not choose to not pay it at all or declare bankruptcy in an attempt to get the debt wiped out. If you do this, as many people in my home province have done for decades (to the point now that your student loans stick with you even in bankruptcy), you are stealing from the lender. So if we’re going to take on debt, we need to take the responsibility to pay it back seriously.

Finally, pray and seek counsel. If you’re not praying throughout your education planning, you’re almost certain to make the wrong decision. If you’re not seeking wise counsel from others, you’re probably going to blow it. We all have blinders, and we all need God’s wisdom—and the insights of others—to help us see what we would otherwise miss (both positively and negatively).

Education is a wonderful thing. But be wise as you pursue it. Be sure to carefully consider the cost.


An earlier version of this article was first published in 2010. Photo credit: Pile of Cash via photopin (license). Designed with Canva.

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Kindle deals for Christian readers

New Fantastic Four trailer

I know purists haven’t been keen on the news they’ve heard about this film, but the trailer looks interesting. Thoughts?

Baptizing “Masculinity”: The Real Reason Men are Leaving the Church

Luke Harrington:

I wonder, if we are serious about attracting men to church, if the solution is less to infantilize them by waving steaks and guns in front of their noses and more to challenge them by teaching the rich ideas and contentious debates from the Christian tradition. Clearly there’s no shortage of important questions to be debated. Is human nature as corrupt as Calvin claimed? Is the will as free as Wesley taught? Is God as transcendent as Aquinas believed? Are the Law and the Gospel as separate as Luther wanted them to be? Is Christ as fully present in the Eucharist as Iranaeus argued?

My Baby’s Heart Stopped Beating

Jasmine Holmes:

As soon as the thought came to my head, I felt horribly guilty. I know you’re not supposed to think those things, and when you do, it’s certainly not nice to admit them. But there it was, clear as day: I was jealous.

13 Ways You Waste Your Money

Good stuff here from Tim Challies.

Addressing Cultural Issues in the Pulpit

Daniel Darling:

How do pastors preach on contemporary cultural issues? Or should they? This is a question every pastor faces as he contemplates both the spiritual needs of his congregation, the questions swirling in society, and the weighty commission to preach the Word of God. When I pastored, I constantly wrestled with when to address certain topics, how to address them, and in what format. I’ve also observed and watched pastors of large and small churches organize their preaching. Here are a few ways I’ve seen pastors address contemporary cultural issues.

Is abundance dangerous?

fortune-cookie

Hosea is one of those books that’s both extremely fascinating and troubling, not simply because of the illustration of God’s pursuit of his adulterous people through Hosea’s marriage, caring for children not his own and purchasing his wife out of slavery. (Side note: when was the last time you heard a really great Jesus-focused sermon from Hosea?)

The reason Hosea makes me uneasy when I read it, though, isn’t because of my spiritually adulterous ways (Lord willing, I’m faithful in that regard). It’s because of a different, but related, danger: that of abundance.

Hosea 10:1-2 give us a picture of what happened to Israel:

Israel is a luxuriant vine that yields its fruit. The more his fruit increased, the more altars he built; as his country improved, he improved his pillars. Their heart is false; now they must bear their guilt. The Lord will break down their altars and destroy their pillars.

God gave Israel great wealth and prosperity. And it seduced them. They had their fill—more than their fill—and they became comfortable. They became complacent.

They started to say for themselves, “We have no king, for we do not fear the Lord; and a king—what could he do for us?” (Hosea 10:3) They became proud and they forgot the Lord (c.f. Deut 8:14).

And so, God tore them down. He humiliated them, taking a great nation and making them a laughing stock. He tore down their pillars, destroyed their kingdom and sent them into exile.

Because God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.

The great danger of abundance for us today is complacency and pride. That we’ll rely on our own abilities to provide for our needs, rather than on God who actually does provide it through the abilities He has given us. That we’ll stop seeing the wealth He gives us as a gift to be stewarded and used for His purposes and begin building kingdoms for ourselves.

It’s easy at this point to start pointing fingers. We can look at the excesses of North American Christianity and shake our heads while tsk-tsk-tsk-ing until the sun comes up, even as we drive to church sipping a $4 latte. We can look at the pervasive goofiness of prosperity theology, with its tendency to store up treasure on earth for the promise of heavenly gain, and ignore our own natural inclination toward the pursuit of the same.

At the same time, though, we need to be careful not to demonize wealth and abundance. They’re not bad things in and of themselves. Wealth can be good. Abundance can be good… but it’s probably really, really healthy if we find that they make us a bit uncomfortable. When stewarded poorly, they bring about our downfall, but well stewarded well, they can be a great blessing to others.


An earlier version of this article was published in 2009.

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“The Slender Man Made Me Do It”: Compelled to Violence by an Internet Myth

SD Kelly:

As is becoming clearer over time, the internet only provides new outlets for our own pre-existing inclinations and biases. If we look for mayhem, we will find it. And then it will find us without further help.In trying to understand these girls’ unthinkable behavior, public attention turned to this figure. Who is Slender Man? Why were these girls apparently so convinced of his existence and, more alarmingly, willing to commit violence in his name? Out of this confusion, a simple narrative takes shape: young girls led horribly astray by violent, evil stories circulating freely on the web. What the public has learned about Slender Man in the last few weeks has enhanced our fears about the digital age. An age which involves hours spent immersed in an online world that trades in horror and gore, making games of both. And, in the greatest indictment of all, these games and stories appeal to kids, the demographic least capable of distinguishing between fantasy and reality.

Star Wars: Guardians of the Galaxy style

Yep.

In Justin Trudeau’s world, Christians need not apply

Rex Murphy offers an interesting bit of commentary on some of the latest goofiness in Canadian politics.

A New (and Old) Worldview Divides China’s Christians As Communism Fades

Katherine Burgess:

The hometown of ancient philosopher Confucius was a surprising place to build a multimillion-dollar megachurch. Yet local leaders hoped Qufu’s first official church would integrate Christianity into Chinese culture.

Instead, Confucian scholars condemned the 136-foot-tall project, planned two miles from the long-standing Confucius Temple. They saw it as a concrete symbol of a foreign faith’s threatening rise.

Kindle deals for Christian readers

After Teaching Churches How To Store Up Treasures on Earth, Speaker Faces Fraud Indictment

Ruth Moon:

A self-styled “socially conscious investor” who took his “Building Wealth Tour” to churches across America has been indicted on charges of defrauding investors of more than $5 million.

Fundamentalists, Liberals, and Evangelicals Charted

Michael Patton:

Tuesday night, at “Coffee and Theology” at the Credo House, I taught what might very well be the most important lesson I have ever taught for “Coffee and Theology.” It was over the necessity of creating a hierarchy of belief, helping people learn to distinguish between essentials and non-essentials, cardinal beliefs and non-cardinal beliefs, those things that we should be willing to die for and those things that are less important.

“What will they do before the sentence of God?” Pilgrim’s Progress conversations (5)

Then Christian said to Hopeful, “If these men cannot stand before the sentence of men, what will they do before the sentence of God? And if they are mute when dealt with by vessels of clay, what will they do when they shall be rebuked by the flames of a devouring fire?”1

Personal reflection

pilgrims-progress

I remember a conversation with my first pastor about money. At the time, Emily and I had a lot of debt and we were trying to figure out how to pay it off (a little faster than paying a bit at a time). We were brand new Christians, and said, “If we took the money we give and applied it to the debt instead, we could have it cleared in about a year. Would that be okay?”

“No, it wouldn’t be an issue,” he replied. “The problem is you won’t do it.”

“Why?” I asked, my curiosity piqued.

I’ll never forget his answer: “You said ‘if.'”

The “if” statements we make when it comes to money reveal a lot about us. If I make more money, then I’ll start giving. If I get the bonus, I’ll make this donation. If this happens, then…

If, if, if.

The problem with the ifs is we use them as an escape from doing what the Lord has already called us to. We know we’re to be generous, but really, we like our stuff better. And it’s a sore spot for us. So when we hear a sermon that talks about money, or when we read a book that describes the radical self-sacrificial nature of the Christian faith, we get our backs up, pull the legalist card and bail.

But the words that confront us—these are the words of men. And we cannot stand before them. How then will we stand “before the sentence of God”? Without a broken and contrite heart, we cannot.

Reading with Ryken

The interaction between the travelers and the worshipers of wealth is a temptation scene par excellence. Here the danger is not external hostility but the allurement of worldly success. The allegorical antagonists are not bullies but qualities (such as Money-love and Save-all) that make life easy in the name of religion. Accordingly, what the conflict requires from Christian is the ability to provide convincing intellectual reasons against the claims that religious people can pursue wealth and success as their highest goals.2

Next time

The next discussion of The Pilgrim’s Progress will be centered around chapters 10 and 11 (I should note: chapter breaks are based on the 2009 Crossway edition).

Discussing together

This reading project only works if we’re reading together. So if there are things that stood out to you in this chapter, if there are questions you had, this is the time and place to have your say. Here are a few questions to help guide our discussion:

  • How does the temptation to live an easy life in the name of religion?
  • Consider 1 John 2:15-17. How do you see John’s warnings exhibited in the worshippers of wealth? Why is this form of worldliness so dangerous?
  • How can you protect yourself from it?

Post a comment below or to link to your blog if you’ve chosen to write about this on your own site.

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Can We Trade Sexual Morality for Church Growth?

Russell Moore:

Sexual morality didn’t become difficult with the onset of the sexual revolution. It always has been. Walking away from our own lordship, or from the tyranny of our desires, has always been a narrow way. The rich young ruler wanted a religion that would promise him his best life now, extended out into eternity. But Jesus knew that such an existence isn’t life at all, just the zombie corpse of the way of the flesh. He came to give us something else, to join us to his own life.

Get The Poetic Wonder of Isaac Watts free

Reformation Trust’s free book of the month is The Poetic Wonder of Isaac Watts by Douglas Bond. Get it for free for the Kindle at Amazon, the ePub edition at Ligonier.org or for iBooks at iTunes.

Constitutional Wisdom and Common Sense on Ceremonial Prayer

Albert Mohler:

The Court’s ruling yesterday is important at every level — even as the controversy over the ruling is very illuminating. Some people argue that the problem is prayer in any form, and would simply prohibit public prayers at any governmental occasion. Others, like the women who brought this case against Greece, New York, would argue that prayers may be allowed, but only if they are sufficiently nonsectarian prayers offered to a generic deity. Others, including Justice Kennedy and a majority of the Court, argue that the nation has clearly allowed explicitly “sectarian” prayers to be offered at government occasions, and that the nation’s commitment to pluralism then depends on the invitation to pray being extended to all, regardless of creed.

How the Lego Movie should have ended

HT: Zach

Church Is For Messy People

Stephen Altrogge:

I distinctly remember one Sunday when a man said to me something like, “When I look around, I see all these people who have their lives together. Meanwhile, my life is a mess.” Church should be a place where messy people feel comfortable. When I say “messy people”, I don’t mean people who are willfully engaging in unrepentant sin. I mean people who are seeking to follow Jesus, but who often find themselves struggling, and falling, and failing. I’m talking about the weak, weary, and worn out.

10 Money Lessons To Teach Your Kids

David Murray summarizes ten lessons he’s learned from Dave Ramsey’s new book, Smart Money Smart Kids: Raising the Next Generation to Win with Money.

Get The Gospel According to Ecclesiastes for $5

Westminster Books has a killer sale on Zack Eswine’s new book, The Gospel According to Ecclesiastes. This week only, you can get this book for $5 per copy. Here’s the description:

The Preacher in Ecclesiastes reminds us that life under the sun does not play out according to neat and tidy rules. He asks us to see the world around us in all its messiness and explores what that messiness reveals about us, our world, and God. The Preacher is plainspoken, because people live in the midst of this mess and we have to talk about it. Zack Eswine gives us a meditation that engages people where they are and invites them to draw near to God who enters their world to redeem it and them.

Preparing Your Teens for College by Alex Chediak

preparing-teens-college-chediak

My niece is heading off to college this fall. This is weird for me… partly because it reminds me how far away I am from my own teens and college years. But when I think of my niece, I don’t think of an almost 18-year-old getting ready to take a first step into adulthood. I sometimes still think of her as a six-year-old wanting to play dress-up and paint on the carpet with nail polish.

But it also makes me realize that I really don’t have that long before one of my kids is ready to go to college. My oldest daughter is 7, and she’ll be 17 before we know it. So how do we start preparing ourselves—and eventually her—for that big milestone?

That’s much of the heart behind Alex Chediak’s new book, Preparing Your Teens for College. Written as a series of 11 conversations to have with your teen over the course of several months (or years), this book addresses everything from encouraging your child to own their faith to how to save for tuition.

A few thoughts on reading this book:

1. You don’t actually have to read this book in order. Although it can be beneficial to read through it from start to finish, it’s not necessary. You might want to start off simply reading the most pressing topic for you at the moment.

The section I most deeply resonated with during my read through (which was one I also turned to almost immediately upon opening the book) was the conversation on financial responsibility. I went to college almost entirely on student loans. I didn’t learn how to manage money during high school, so I had virtually no savings. I came out of school with a fairly sizeable debt load, but no skills on how to manage money. So that debt grew. And grew. And grew… It took a long time for me to learn how to manage money responsibly, and this is something I want to pass on to my kids, particularly the most foundational element—who our money actually belongs to:

Your teens don’t have much money yet. Now is the time for them to start thinking about money in a way that recognizes it all belongs to God, not us, and that we’re to use it to advance his purposes. Only from this firm foundation can they learn to properly manage it. (202)

This mindset is absolutely what I want for my kids. I want them to understand that how we use money is ultimately about furthering God’s purposes in the world, not satisfying our every passing fancy. Simply, because God desires for us to be generous and wise with the money He’s provided, we need to pray earnestly and think carefully about how we give, spend and save. This is

2. You don’t need to have a teen to read this book. As I’ve mentioned, I don’t have teens yet. But I have one child who is fast becoming one. And in some ways, I feel like I’m the exact target audience for this book because what Chediak repeatedly encourages us to remember is that none of these conversations are one-and-done. They should happen over a long period of time, laying a foundation and building based on your child’s age and maturity.

For example, I’m not going to have a conversation with my oldest daughter about sex right now. She isn’t really ready for an in-depth discussion on the topic. But I will (and have) talk to her about the purpose of boyfriends and girlfriends, and how the purpose is to get to know the person you’re going to marry, which is why we need to think carefully about who we spend time with.

This principle of building on a foundation is important for every topic discussed, from encouraging godly friendships and maintaining sexual purity, to developing godly character and teens internalizing their faith.

3. You’re going to be challenged to look at your parenting. This is especially true as you consider how to help your child discover his or her gifts and abilities or whether or not your child should go to college or university at all. Many of us have bought into the notion that wanting more for our kids means making sure they’re better educated or in a more distinguished field… But sometimes this is simply our own idolatry at work. We want to live out our unfulfilled dreams through our kids, instead of nurturing the unique person God has made them to be—and let them own that:

Perhaps you’ve always thought they’d make great doctors, or you have your sights set on them taking over the family business or going into ministry. Look for fruit in their lives and hearts to see if any of that makes sense. Whatever happens, remember that they are the ones who have to live wit the consequences. So give them space to own these decisions. (286)

4. It’s very “American.” This is not going to be an issue for the majority of the readers of the book, since they’re going to be Americans. But as a Canadian, there are a few things that don’t translate. These are mostly related to some of the practical tips on saving, terms related to degrees, and the like. This is a very minor quibble since, again, the author is an American writing to a primarily American audience. But it’s a good reminder for us non-Americans to focus more on the principles provided than the particulars.

Preparing Your Teens for College is one of those books that you don’t know you need to read until you read it. It’s packed with practical wisdom, sound theology, necessary challenges and much-needed encouragement for parents. Whether college is weeks or years away, you will benefit from reading this book and starting the conversations that will help your child thrive in college and beyond.


Title: Preparing Your Teens for College: Faith, Friends, Finances, and Much More
Author: Alex Chediak
Publisher: Tyndale House (2014)

Buy it at: Westminster Books | Amazon

Choosing family over stuff

Today is Family Day, a civic holiday allowing us to enjoy an extra day of family togetherness, in many parts of Canada. One of the ironies of Family Day, though, is how little “regular” time families actually get together, especially as increasingly the average family requires two (or more) incomes to survive.

I really feel for families in this situation. I know a lot of people for whom this is reality. They’ve got mortgages, car payments, student loans… Some of them are cool with it, others feel stuck.

When Emily and I got married, a big question we wrestled with was whether or not Emily would stay home with the kids or if she’d go back to work. We chose for her to stay home, knowing  there would be a cost. So we went from a fairly decent two incomes to… less. Like a lot less.

About five years ago, I had a meeting with the pastor of the church we formerly attended. We wound up discussing some of our adjustments to the single income lifestyle, and toward the end of our conversation, he said, with more than a hint of resignation, “The days of the single-income household are gone.”

Around the same time, we watched Maxed Out, a brilliant and troubling documentary chronicling the practices of the credit card industry in the United States, and the stories of many Americans whose lives have been crippled by debt. They can’t escape it, no matter how hard they try, it seems.

We’ve made tremendous mistakes financially over the years, and everything came to a head when we finally decided to sell our house. For us, it came down to a choice about our convictions. Which was more important—owning a home or having Emily stay at home? 

We chose Emily staying at home.

We chose to remain at one income, to sacrifice some of the things the world, our friends and even our parents kept telling us we “should” want. Why? Because we’d considered the cost, and found it worth the price we had to pay.

It was better for us to say goodbye to a lifestyle we should have wanted, in order to embrace the one we have. We have everything we need, if not always everything we want.

And that’s okay. This, again, is not to say our decision is the right one for everyone. Some of our friends have decided to go the same route as we have. Others have not.

But when we feel trapped by the expectations of the world, we need to remember: we can always choose to go another way. We don’t need the house. We don’t need the new car. But kids need their mom and dad. Husbands need their wives. Wives need their husbands.

Sometimes we can have it all, and that’s not bad. But sometimes we have to choose between the two. And when we do, it’s always better to choose family over stuff.

My Memory Moleskine: Panting and Provision

Memory Moleskine - Image by Tim Brister

I rejoiced in the Lord greatly that now at length you have revived your concern for me. You were indeed concerned for me, but you had no opportunity. Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me. (Philippians 4:10-13)

Thursday night, Emily and I were talking about something she read in Jamie Munson’s book, Money – God or Gift. In it, Munson talks about how we treat money and that basically, the idea of divvying everything up into categories of “needs” and “wants” is an oversimplification. Why is that?

Well, the reality is that the wants vs needs dichotomy doesn’t take into account two things:

  1. That “wants” can be used for evangelistic goals.
  2. That sometimes God allows you to abound simply because He wants to bless you.

Christians in the west have got a weird relationship with wealth in that we tend to fall into one of two extremes, either prosperity theology or poverty theology. One treats wealth as something we’re entitled to, the other treats it as something utterly wicked. Neither is true.

Continuing to work through Philippians 4:10-13, I was reminded of how these arguments miss the point. Here, Paul reminds us that the point is not asceticism any more than it is affluence. God is no more honored by deprivation than He is by gluttonous over indulgence. Instead, whether we are rich or poor, whether we are panting for our basic needs or basking in an abundance of provision, we are to remember that it is God who strengthens us. Because God provides, and because God sustains and strengthens us, we can be content in any and every circumstance.

So what are we doing differently in the Armstrong house in light of this?

We’re continuing to look at how God might be calling us to be more generous and how we can wisely steward the finances He has entrusted to us. But, the thing I’ve been convicted of recently has been not enjoying what He has entrusted to us. Being a single income family, there’s not always a lot to around, so it gets tempting for me to get a bit freaked out about money. And in doing so, we fail to actually enjoy what we do have, focusing only on what we don’t.

Again, not appreciating and enjoying what God has provided with a spirit of thankfulness is no more honoring to Him than extravagant indulgence. Both show that our trust is in the gift, not the Giver. Neither leads to contentment.

So our first step in this course correction has been two adjustments to our budget:

  1. We’ve rejigged things so babysitting money exists
  2. We’ve created an “unexpected/in case/do something fun” line item

Even if we don’t use the money allocated to these immediately or in the budget cycle, it’s there to use. So we can save it up and do a big night out, or we can enjoy simple things like a couch date with a movie from Blockbuster and a couple of drinks from Starbucks.

Nothing too extravagant, but it’s been helpful in reminding us that He has blessed us with much (and really, He has), and it’s helping us to learn to be content as we thankfully appreciate all that He has provided.

Educated into Slavery

It’s been eight years since I graduated from college.

I went to community college paying my way nearly entirely by student loan. And when I graduated, I not only had a shiny diploma and no job, but a brand new friend:

About $15,000 in student debt.

I understand that for many, this is not a lot of money. But for a graphic design graduate—a field that in London pays slightly better than minimum wage—this was terrifying.

Paying the minimum payment every month, it would have taken ten years to clear out my loans (thankfully, we were able to get this taken care of a lot sooner). However, I know far too many men and women who are still paying off their education long after they’ve left the field.

Today, the average university undergrad degree costs between thirty and fifty thousand dollars in Canada (this includes housing and food).

That’s a crazy amount of money for a degree that may not ever get used.

While I’m grateful for the education I’ve received and for the skills that I picked up that led me to becoming a full-time writer (wait, what?), it seems to me that we’re at risk of educating ourselves into slavery. [Read more…]

Selling Ointments and Stealing from Moneybags

Six days before the Passover, Jesus therefore came to Bethany, where Lazarus was, whom Jesus had raised from the dead. So they gave a dinner for him there.

Martha served, and Lazarus was one of those reclining with him at table. Mary therefore took a pound of expensive ointment made from pure nard, and anointed the feet of Jesus and wiped his feet with her hair. The house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume.

But Judas Iscariot, one of his disciples (he who was about to betray him), said, “Why was this ointment not sold for three hundred denarii and given to the poor?” He said this, not because he cared about the poor, but because he was a thief, and having charge of the moneybag he used to help himself to what was put into it.

Jesus said, “Leave her alone, so that she may keep it for the day of my burial. For the poor you always have with you, but you do not always have me.”

John 12:1-8

This passage has been rattling around in my head since it was preached through this past Sunday at our church. I just can’t shake these words:

But Judas Iscariot, one of his disciples (he who was about to betray him), said, “Why was this ointment not sold for three hundred denarii and given to the poor?” He said this, not because he cared about the poor, but because he was a thief, and having charge of the moneybag he used to help himself to what was put into it.

John doesn’t mince words, does he?

Judas Iscariot puts on a holy front basically so that he can steal money.

He is a thief, using piety to support his own agenda.

I wonder if there isn’t something we should be paying closer attention to here?

Years ago, I heard a sermon by a certain pastor from Michigan. He spoke about poverty. How if resources were distributed equitably, there would be no more need in the world.

How if America spent a tiny percent of the money it was spending on the war in Iraq to alleviate suffering, extreme poverty could be completely eliminated.

$74 billion dollars is what it would take, according to some sources.

And this is true.

If the problem were simply a matter of resource distribution and money. If it were even a matter of changing our priorities.

Unfortunately, it’s not. [Read more…]

Don't Be Guilted into Giving

Last year, I was sitting in a reasonably packed conference watching the host on the screen as he made a request for an offering to let the content of the conference be sent out to nations that couldn’t afford it.

A noble effort, to be sure.

But just before the collection was taken, he looks to the audience, points a finger and declares, “If you aren’t giving your full ten percent to your local church, don’t give to this. You are in sin and you are robbing God. Get right with God and then give to this.”

I’ve heard a lot of similar type comments before. But hearing it this time… honestly, it just made me angry and I’ve never been fully able to articulate why until recently.

I wasn’t angry because I was being convicted of sin in this area. I was angry because this attitude turns financial giving—something that should be a wonderful, worshipful act—into something ugly.

Why do you give?

Do you give out of a sense of obligation?

Do you give out of a sense of guilt?

Or do you give out of a heart of gratitude for all that God given you—in response to His saving you through faith in Jesus Christ?

What was most helpful for me was recently discovering the place of the tithe in the New Covenant community.

Tithing & Taxes

My pastor recently spent the last two weeks teaching on this, so it’s all still pretty fresh and I freely admit that I’m stealing from him. But here’s the big idea:

The term “tithe” is a mathematical term, referring literally to a tenth. It’s also a term that refers to taxation. [Read more…]

The Danger of Abundance

I’ve been reading Hosea for the last couple of weeks and it’s been both extremely fascinating and extremely troubling. And it’s been both for the same reason:

It gives us a eery glimpse into the dangers of abundance.

Hosea 10:1-2 give us a picture of what happened to Israel:

Israel is a luxuriant vine that yields its fruit. The more his fruit increased, the more altars he built; as his country improved, he improved his pillars. Their heart is false; now they must bear their guilt. The Lord will break down their altars and destroy their pillars.

God gave Israel great wealth and prosperity. And it seduced them. They had their fill—more than their fill—and they became comfortable.

Complacent.

They started to say for themselves, “We have no king, for we do not fear the Lord; and a king—what could he do for us?” (Hosea 10:3)

They became proud and they forgot the Lord (c.f. Deut 8:14).

And God tore them down.

He humiliated them, taking a great nation and making them a laughing stock. He tore down their pillars, destroyed their kingdom and sent them into exile.

Because God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.

The great danger of abundance for us today is complacency and pride. That we’ll rely on our own abilities to provide for our needs, rather than on God who actually does provide it through the abilities He has given us.

That we’ll stop seeing the wealth He gives us as a gift to be stewarded and used for His purposes and begin building kingdoms for ourselves.

Wealth is good. Abundance is good.

But I can’t help wondering if having them shouldn’t make us a bit uncomfortable?

Everyday Theology: God wants your best life… now!

How often have you heard something like this:

“God wants your best life… now!”

Generally speaking, this idea means that God wants you to be materially wealthy, and if you are, it means you’ve found favor with Him. But if you haven’t… well, you might not be seeking Him enough, or you might have some sin in your life preventing you from attaining His favor. Perhaps God has yet to activate the “success gene” in your DNA, as one gentleman with a big smile in the great nation of Texas has said.

So, dear reader, is this true? Does living your best life mean you are “happy, healthy and wealthy,” and if you’re not then there’s something wrong with your relationship with God?

This idea that God wants all His people to be materially wealthy is pure nonsense. Worse, it’s one of the clearest examples of a damnable false gospel (cf Gal. 1:8) in that it is a blatant attempt to use Jesus as a means to getting an idol (in this case, money).

Now here’s the thing: God does want your best life… but that best life may seem awfully unpleasant at times. [Read more…]