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This week Mark and I celebrated our 18th wedding anniversary, so I thought I’d write a blog to those of you who aren’t married about some tips to help choose well in the most important decision of your life.  If you’re struggling in your current marriage, you should not read any further as we are prone to being consumed with discontentment and the need to compare.  The reality is that the marriage you are in is the one you should be working on!   There is no sense in looking back on what you “should have done”.

Also, good to note….marriage is from God for a man and a woman according to Scripture.  My lens is through the eyes of a Jesus centered marriage…the basics of a commitment to faith, prayer, and the Word of God are foundational and implied.  So, here’s my thoughts on some good things to watch out for in a potential spouse:

 

1. Purity first.

Sexual sins harm and destroy marriages with violent force.  After so many years in ministry, I can tell you this:  many warning signs of those prone to sexual deviancy were very visible during dating relationships.  Look for a person who wants to wait for sex until married, has high standards for their computer use, speaks appropriately of the opposite gender, has a history of purity, and who treats your body with respect.  I’m not mincing words here: if you have a concern over some of the sexual comments, activities, or habits of someone, don’t enter into a dating relationship or marriage under any circumstances.  Pornography addictions, affairs, and illicit activities are areas we dive into as pastors all too frequently with people and it is a pain that you will be wise to avoid if at all possible.  If you are honestly evaluating your own life right now and seeing these tendencies, it is time to get help!  It is possible to rely on Jesus, be surrounded with the right counseling/accountability and find victory in these areas.  Until then (which will be a long process), you aren’t in a place to date and get married.

 

2.  Financially disciplined.

The most argued about topic in marriage is money.  Marry a person who tithes 10% of their income to Jesus or expect there to be issues.  Malachi 3:6-12 talks about how God will take care of you if you are faithful:

“I the Lord do not change. So you, the descendants of Jacob, are not destroyed. Ever since the time of your ancestors you have turned away from my decrees and have not kept them. Return to me, and I will return to you,” says the Lord Almighty.

“But you ask, ‘How are we to return?’

“Will a mere mortal rob God? Yet you rob me.

“But you ask, ‘How are we robbing you?’

“In tithes and offerings. You are under a curse—your whole nation—because you are robbing me. 10 Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. Test me in this,” says the Lord Almighty, “and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that there will not be room enough to store it. 11 I will prevent pests from devouring your crops, and the vines in your fields will not drop their fruit before it is ripe,” says the Lord Almighty. 12 “Then all the nations will call you blessed, for yours will be a delightful land,” says the Lord Almighty.

Mark and I have never made a lot of money with both of us in full time ministry and church planting, but in 18 years we have paid every bill and never argued about finances.  If your spouse doesn’t have the foundational belief of giving and the discipline to follow that up with sacrificial action, you are setting yourself up to be outside of the blessings of God.  That statement should make you shudder.  You will be wise to make generosity a standard for who you marry…and for yourself.

Also there are a multitude of other financial questions to address: does the person you’re interested in pay bills on time?  Do you hide financial information from you?  Do they have the history of interviewing well, keeping jobs, and getting good reports?  Do they save money or spend it with little regard for responsibility?  How much debt do they have and why?  If they have nice things, but have a mountain of debt, you’re headed for a problem.  Be wise in whom you connect your financial future to!

 

3.  Stability is sexy.  OK, maybe not when you’re 20, but when you have kids, jobs, bills, and mortgages…someone who does what they say they are going to do, shows up, and is emotionally level is VERY sexy.  There’s a saying that the good guys always finish last.  It’s true…their marriages finish last…when you’re old.  So look for a person who is faithful, dependable, loyal, secure in who they are, prone to joy, not controlling, and not addicted to substances.  (Again, if you’re struggling in these areas, get help!)

 

We often buy into the fairy tale idea of being emotionally swept off our feet with love.  I definitely think that’s a part of the equation!  However, we do have control over our decisions and if there was ever a decision to weigh out pragmatically…it’s marriage.  I used WAY more of my head to date Mark than my heart.  In fact our first date was like an interview between the both of us about how and why we believed about a TON of issues.  It was almost embarrassing to discuss some pretty intimate topics, but we had no time to waste.  I was not going to let my heart take me somewhere that I knew wasn’t going to lead me to the right place.  I also relied on Godly people around Mark and I to have input.  We went to church together, did ministry together, and allowed people into our world publically and privately.

If I had red flags on my key issues, I would have walked away (and Mark as well).  I know this because I did it with several men that my heart pushed me towards.  And I was right.

 

Marriage is a risky business even when you have high standards.  Many of my friends over the years have realized secrets, discovered lies, and been blindsided by some awful realities.  It happens in life, but the key is to avoid what you can avoid and allow Jesus to redeem the rest.  He’s given you Biblical standards, offered you wisdom, and provided you with counsel.  It is your responsibility to use that to make the best decision you can with the precious life you’ve been given!

Tithing is the single greatest issue that the Church struggles with as a whole.  No one other issue limits ministry, hinders personal growth, and stops you from living the life that God designed for you to live.  I have such a heart for the local church, telling people about Jesus, and the financial well-being of our people and I believe they all go hand-in-hand!  My hope is that this blog will cause you to change everything about your current giving and spending habits!  Lofty goal? YES!  But I’m all about impractical dreams mixed with an all-powerful God!

The problem that is created by our lack of willingness to tithe is two-fold.

First of all, our personal finances are in jeopardy if we decide to consume 100% of our income.  Statistics show that tithers carry much less debt than most people and are financially better off than Christian non-tithers—80% of “tithers” have no unpaid credit card bills; 74% have no car payments; 48% own their home; and 28% are completely debt-free. (For the official source of this article CLICK HEREThis is because when we are in alignment with God’s plan for our giving and spending, we will find health.  The principle of obedience is also true for sexual boundaries, moral boundaries, as well as these financial boundaries.  When we follow a Biblical framework, we will find holistic well-being time and time again.

Part of the reason for the above statistics is that people who come into alignment with God’s ideal for giving will tend to come in alignment for spending as well.  This will play out by not using credit cards to accumulate possessions we can’t afford, and buy cars that are out of our cash-purchase range.  When we have submitted our finances to God, we tend to make decisions that benefit our lives for the long-term satisfaction, rather than the short-term pleasure.  Although it requires more discipline, it pays out in less stress, more joy, and more freedom.1213643-Exhausted-Businessman-Carrying-The-Burden-Of-A-Heavy-Boulder-Load

The other issue that a lack of tithing creates is that our responsibilities as Christ-followers to reach, disciple and care for people are passed to someone else.  When we refrain from tithing, we are saying, “God, I know that you have given me this “rock” to carry as a Christian, but I don’t want to carry it.”  Unfortunately, that responsibility or “rock” doesn’t disappear….people still need to hear about Jesus and still need a church to be discipled in, so when we forgo our job, someone else picks it up and adds it to the load they were already assigned.

But sometimes that load becomes too heavy and the ramifications are that some people never even hear the message of Jesus because the resources can only stretch so far and the weight can only be so heavy.  Yes, we lived happily as a consumer, but they died without the hope of Christ.  Harsh?  Unfortunately, but said in the positive it is the most motivating thing in the world – When we give, people are reached with the message of Jesus…churches are birthed, communities are changed, people are set free, sex workers are rescued, the thirsty can drink, the widows are cared for, children are protected, the weary are refreshed, the hungry are fed, the lame are healed, and the suicidal are saved… I could gladly go on with all the ways our measly resources are used by Jesus to impact eternity!  His plan for us sacrificing a little to make a big impact is really astounding!

So, how do you go from spending to giving and being a part of changing the world?  Here’s a few ideas:

1.  Give first.  Yep, write the giving check before the other checks.  Why?  Because there is never enough left at the end of the month if we allow ourselves to spend first.  By writing the giving check first, we are saying, “OK, God, I trust you.  If the washing machine breaks down and there’s no money left, YOU have a big problem, God.”  And just watch, because He will come through every time!  It’s living in faith and it will be good for you!

2.  Don’t wait to get out of debt before you start giving.  Why?  Well, that will never happen.  You’ll die before you’re out of debt if you don’t come in alignment with God’s plan.  Start today and watch God help you get out of debt in miraculous ways – the first one being His ability to change your perspective!

3.  Reward yourself.  Not in a prideful way, of course, but when you hear about a Story of a Changed Life coming from your church, say to yourself, “Self, because you gave, that person gets to experience Jesus.”  Help yourself make the connection between your giving and eternity…because there is a BIG connection!

So, give it a shot!  I understand the fear your facing when deciding to give, but I’m on the other side of the mountain and it’s AWESOME over here!  God just keeps changing lives and the stories are worth every penny.  I believe in you!

 

 

 

 

I’m currently reading a book, The Generosity Ladder, by Nelson Searcy.  Generosity is one of my main goals for my life, so I often read books about this topic.  Mark and I happen to also be reading the book of Malachi right now, so it’s the double-whammy of God’s voice on this topic!

Even though Mark and I have always been faithful givers, I still feel like the fear of generosity can sneak in and get a grip on me, so I frequently go back to the basics and remind myself of the promises of God.  I bet you are in the same boat, so I’ll share with you some of my devotions and reading on the topic.  Hope it helps you as well!

In Malachi 3 it says,

“I the Lord do not change. So you, the descendants of Jacob, are not destroyed. Ever since the time of your ancestors you have turned away from my decrees and have not kept them. Return to me, and I will return to you,” says the Lord Almighty.

“But you ask, ‘How are we to return?’

“Will a mere mortal rob God? Yet you rob me.

“But you ask, ‘How are we robbing you?’

“In tithes and offerings. You are under a curse—your whole nation—because you are robbing me. 10 Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. Test me in this,” says the Lord Almighty, “and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that there will not be room enough to store it. 11 I will prevent pests from devouring your crops, and the vines in your fields will not drop their fruit before it is ripe,” says the Lord Almighty. 12 “Then all the nations will call you blessed, for yours will be a delightful land,” says the Lord Almighty.

I love the “if-then” statements of God.  He says that if I bring the whole tithe to his storehouse, I can count on Him to see that I am taken care of.  Does that mean that He won’t put my faith to the test at times?  Sure He will, but I will just proclaim right back to God what He said!  And if He will do all of that for just my tithe, how much more will He do when I lay it ALL before Him?

Here is one paragraph of The Generosity Ladder that I appreciated: 

Fears-are-stories“Fear keeps people locked in the lie of the scarcity mentality – the idea that the more you give away, the less you will have for your own needs.  The only way to break out of the trap of that lie is to take the first step in faith: give an initial gift and get on the [generosity] ladder.  As much as Paul understood the struggle we have with ourselves, he also knew that following God’s commands and principles was not something to be left to feeling.  Sometimes we just have to decide to get started with what’s right, no matter how we may feel about it at the time.

Emotions are fleeting, but God’s truth about his plan for our financial lives is timeless.”

Such a great last sentence!  I cannot base my decision making on emotions…true generosity will ALWAYS make my stomach tight…probably because that is the point.  God wants us to step out in faith so He can show up in our lives in miraculous ways!

Also on my reading list on this topic for the week was a great blog on what our tithes could do to the world.  Here’s the LINK if you’d like to read it as well.  It’s almost unbelievable what world our children would grow up in if we just got this one principle nailed down in our lives and churches.  Well, I’m dreaming for that future, how about you?

Be blessed!

 

 

Lately I’ve been praying to God to help me understand money and generosity better.  We tithe, we give, but I never want to assume that what I am doing is all that God wants for my life.  I always want to be asking God if He wants something else from my talents and resources.  Not in a pathetic, “I’m not good enough” kind of way, but in a “As long as I’m alive, I want to be growing” kind of way.  What do I believe about generosity that is limiting me and therefore limiting God?  Limiting God…that was an interesting perspective to dive into.  Can I really limit God?  I’ve been reflecting back on various teachings I’ve heard about generosity and trying to match it up with my own ministry experience.  It’s pretty interesting!

I’ve heard countless sermons about giving and how it’s about our own hearts, not because God needs our money.  I’ve even bought into the idea that God will find a way despite our personal generosity.

“He owns the cattle on a thousand hills…”

“It’s all His anyway…”

“Money doesn’t limit God!  We give to unlock our own issues with greed!”

But what if it doesn’t work that way?  What if our inability to obey in this one area DOES limit God?  What if people don’t know Jesus, simply because the vast majority of His people don’t understand that generosity really does further ministry?

As I was praying about generosity, I got a mental picture of the cattle on a thousand hills.  What if God gave them to me and I put up a fence with a padlock on them to keep them for myself?  They may be God’s, but His ability to bless others with them has been limited by me.  As long as I hold the key to that padlock, those cows are mine and mine alone.  Now I understand that I serve a God who could tear down my fences or take back the key to the padlock, but I also see in scripture that isn’t the way it works most of the time.  God loves ME so much that He gives me free will to do what I want with what I’ve been given.

Being on the backside of a church I see this all of the time.  There are very few other limiting factors in ministry other than the generosity of others.  If God’s people were truly generous…if I was truly as generous as I could be…the world would simply be different.

So, here’s my challenge of the day…how can we all be more generous?  Where can we start or where can we grow from?  One of the ways that Mark and I try to work on this area in our spiritual growth is just to give more this year than last year.  Tithing 10% has always been the foundation of our marriage.  We just write the check every month like clockwork, but that’s not where I want to be in the end of our story.  Where I want to be is at the place where I understand the heart of God for people, not possessions.  I’m not there yet, so the solution is to keep giving until I am.

 

 

Making Change

stacynewell —  February 9, 2013 — Leave a comment

titleRight now we are finishing up a financial series at church.  I think there is a myth out there that people get angry when the church mixes the topics Bible and Money.  That has not been our experience at all!  We have been flooded with questions, emails, and kind messages of gratitude as people are starving for financial principles that will give them the boundaries that we are all looking for.  I know that we will take all the help we can get!

One of the interesting facts about our marriage is that we have never had a fight over money.  And it isn’t because we have an enormous salary, a big house, nice cars, and no need to discuss a budget.  Quite the opposite.  I believe we’ve never fought about money because we base our decisions from the Bible.  If we want to argue, we’ve got to argue with God Himself…and that’s not a good plan.

Although I don’t think we have our financial picture completely worked out, I thought I’d share some of our foundational beliefs about money and maybe you’ll find some common ground to help your own financial stress.

1.  We give first.  The Bible gives us a foundation of 10% to give back to our church.  We tithe off of our gross because that’s what we are paid.  Then we decide how much we want to give to missionaries, facility fund, and camp scholarships within North Creek.  There’s no guilt in this conversation.  It’s not about breaking the bank, but about consistently supporting things we believe in.  Then we evaluate other opportunities outside of the church that we have a passion to support.  If one of us doesn’t feel good about something, we scratch it off the list, even if the other person would like to support it.  It’s about agreement.  There are plenty of organizations that we can both get behind.  It’s not his money and my money…it’s our money.

2.  We had a values conversation a long time ago where we decided what was important to us.  The main thing about this list is that it benefits our family as a whole.  That means we each say no to personal desires along the way.  The exception to that rule is that birthday and Christmas gifts are FUN money.  Mark saved his fun money for years to buy a TV he wanted.  He was like a kid in a candy store, and it didn’t hurt us financially at all.  We have decided that retirement, travelling on a vacation once a year, having an emergency fund, and having a date fund are priorities for our family.  That means other things just can’t make the list.

3.  We hate debt.  We have never paid interest on a credit card in our married lives.  That means we say no more than we say yes to things.  We have a budget and our desires must fall within the amount of money God has entrusted us.

So, there it is!  Nothing fancy, nothing complicated, but maybe something we are doing will help you.  I’d also love to hear your tricks and tips for living a financially healthy life.  What is working for your family?