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1. Neither Poverty Nor Riches: Redefining Wealth & Prosperity

Alistair Huong


Alistair Huong

Executive Director of AudioVerse



  • December 31, 2015
    8:45 AM
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Well, let me begin by introducing myself just very briefly before we get officially started. (Are you Solomon? Are you the recorder? You’re not. Okay. I assume it’s going? And the recording should be online later.) But my name is Alistair Huong. Some of you probably know me from my work with AudioVerse. That’s generally what I do when I’m in conferences like this, is talk about AudioVerse, which is much closer related to the mission of GYC and things of that nature. But a couple of years ago, my wife and I started writing about a strange hobby of ours.


You might call us personal finance enthusiasts, and, yes, that means that we’re nerds. But, as you know, nerds and geeks, it’s actually a compliment these days. It’s not so much of a derogatory statement, so I don’t mind being a nerd. And so, as a result, we were writing about our personal experiences, saving money, managing our finances, biblical principles and things of that nature, and lo and behold GYC asked that I share some of my experiences and what I’ve learned here at this conference. So, that’s why I’m here. I am not a professional, but hopefully through my experience as a layperson just like you, dealing with regular everyday money issues, I can share some things that might be practical and helpful for you.


So, with that, let’s officially get started here with a word of prayer, and then we’ll get going. Gracious heavenly Father, we are so thankful that You give us an opportunity right here at the end of one year, the beginning of the next, focused on things above. And as we begin this particular seminar thinking about some practical things about how we can be better managers of the assets You have bestowed upon us, may we be faithful and may we learn how to live by faith, a faith that doesn’t just talk and wish and hope, but a faith that works, a faith that works according to Your revealed principles. And so, I ask that You will guide and teach us and help us to learn something useful today. We pray in Jesus’ name. Amen.


Welcome once again. The title of our seminar is “Beyond the Tithe: Practical Lessons on Personal Finance,” and the reason why it’s called “Beyond the Tithe” is because when we think about stewardship, that’s the general term we use in the church, I think that term comes with some baggage. It’s unfortunate, because I don’t think that’s the case, but now stewardship has been sort of relegated to when the pastor asks you to pay your tithe faithfully. I mean, that’s pretty much how we associate the word stewardship, give more to God. And, by the way, we are going to talk about giving to God, but there’s so much more to stewardship, and so I actually shy away from the term stewardship just because of the connotation, even though it’s a fine term, and just stick with the words personal finance. And we want to be practical this weekend in this seminar.


We’re going to look at biblical principles, and we could have whole studies about just what the Bible has to say about money, and we’ll deal a little bit with that, but we’re actually going to be spending more time on the nuts and bolts, hopefully, that, you know, we can actually apply. Principles are important, and you can actually check on AudioVerse. We have messages on there by other individuals that deal with a lot of good principles. So, “Beyond the Tithe” hopefully gives us the picture. It’s not just about paying a faithful tithe and offerings, our money, all of it belongs to God, and we need to think in a wholistic way.


So, session number one here, the title is “Neither Poverty Nor Riches,” and I want you to think carefully because not just this title, but all the titles of all six sessions are directly lifted from inspiration, and if you think carefully about it, actually they’re the key points. And so, keep in mind and see if you can identify where is it in the Bible or the Spirit of Prophecy that this name comes from and how does it apply to the main point today. Alright?


“Redefining Wealth and Prosperity,” so this is a general session. It’s going to give you some broad principles that we’re going to build on in the next few sessions and also give you an overview, an outline, of what the other sessions are going to be and what we’re going to talk about. So, this is sort of an introduction, but also we’ll give you some principles as well.


So, this is an important question, why should you listen to me? I am not a finance professional. I don’t work in the finance industry. I am not a certified public accountant. I am not a certified financial planner. I am not giving you legal advice. I need to make that clear up front, disclaimer. I’m just a regular ’ole person like you. I work for a ministry. I have a family. You know, we have a house, and we have to pay bills, and I have a feeling you do, too, and so, I’m not a professional, but, if it matters to you, I do have a degree in business, but actually that qualification is less important than the next one, which is I know how to do math. Okay? And you’re going to find out in personal finance, if you know some basic arithmetic, that’s all you really need. A little bit of common sense, knowing how to do basic arithmetic, and you’ll probably be just fine. You don’t need a business degree, but in case you care, I do have one.


I graduated with a master’s degree from Southern Adventist University (that’s not the part that matters; it’s that last part that matters) debt free. Okay? And I’m going to share a little bit about that when we talk about student loans and things in session number four this afternoon. And we bought a house, and we paid it off in two years. Most people think that’s pretty remarkable, but the fact is, there’s really no secret. The secret is that there’s no secret. I’ll tell you all about it later on this afternoon as well.


So, in 2014 we spent 23 percent of our take-home pay. We gave away 22 percent, and we saved 55 percent, so, just as a framework of how we have managed our money. And then 2015 we had a baby, and, you know, babies are hard on the budget, at least that’s what we were told. But guess what? She was born in August, she’s four months old, she’s here. If you are lucky, you’ll see her around. In 2015, we spent 24 percent, so, yes, it did raise the budget. We gave 22 percent, and it’s really more like a rounding error, but we still saved 55 percent. So, even with the baby, okay? And we haven’t gotten our tax return for the baby and all that kind of good stuff.


And once we had our baby, my wife has stayed home; she doesn’t work anymore., and I work for a ministry, a ministry’s salary is code, right? You know what the code stands for? I don’t need to explain then. And we have no secret windfall. Now, I will qualify, we have godly parents who believe that, both my wife and I, who believe it was their responsibility to give us an education. And so, I and my wife both had our undergraduate studies paid for, which is a huge blessing, huge blessing, and I praise God for that. But with my master’s degree, buying a house, all the rest, we don’t have a secret stash? Okay? We’re not trust fund babies. We didn’t win the lottery. We don’t play the lottery, don’t recommend it. So, that’s sort of a picture of why perhaps I have something to share.


So, my wife and I, we write a blog, a personal finance blog; it’s called “Saving the Crumbs.” So, this is the website, you can check it out, Savingthecrumbs.com, and I also want to mention that all of the slides that I have here are in digital handout form already. So, if you have an app, the GYC app, you can check it out. You can download it later, and also eventually, when it gets on AudioVerse, it will be there, too. And those in the handouts, not only are all my slides there, there are links, resource links to articles that I have already written about in more detail and more depth on the topics that we’re discussing in each session.


So, one hour, believe it or not, is just not enough time to go through a lot of this stuff, or six hours even, over the whole course of the weekend. So I recommend to get those handouts, and if you want more information, just follow the links, and I have written about a lot of these topics already. And if you visit Savingthecrumbs.com, you can subscribe. All of our new posts will just get sent to you automatically to your email, if you want to keep up that way. So, Saving the Crumbs. So, enough of an advertisement about Saving the Crumbs and myself and all that.


We’re going to get right to it, and we’re going to start with a quiz. How about that? Don’t worry, you won’t be graded, but it might affect your wallet a little bit. And this quiz is going to become the framework. Okay? This is the framework of our presentation, and then we have a few tidbits at the end where we’re going to show sort of the outline of the six segments, things that you can look forward to that we’re going to talk about. Okay? So, this quiz, ten questions, all true and false. Okay? So, I’ll ask you how many of you think true or false on the questions.


Question number one, let’s start with a “gimme” question: We shouldn’t talk about money because it is the root of all evil.


[AUDIENCE: False.]


Whoa, ho, ho! Does anybody think that’s true? Nobody dares, right, after that response. Well, that’s an easy question, right? Because why? What does the Bible say? First Timothy 6:10, it is the love of money that’s the root of all evil, and here’s the problem: Money is viewed as synonymous with greed frequently, and greed is bad, that’s the love of money, covetousness, envy, all these things. But if we don’t talk about how we deal with that very human tendency, aren’t we setting ourselves up to not know how to deal with the problem, right? So, the love of money is the issue, but there’s more to it.


Just think with me, every time you go to the gas station to fill up your car, you have to slide your credit card, you go to the, you know, the little stand to pay, it costs money. Transportation costs money. Your smartphone, not only do you have to pay to buy it, you have to pay for the data plan, which you know how expensive it is, and then you have to charge it, you have to pay for the electricity, and then you break the screen, you have to pay for that, too, your battery goes dead…It’s money flowing through the wireless network of your iPhone. And [it costs] money even when you get sick. When you’re sick, it’s intangible, but there’s the lost revenue from your income, you pay to see the doctor, you pay for your medicines, even if it’s natural remedies, you’ve got to pay for your charcoal, right?


And this is a big one: Relationships. How many relationships, and I’m not just talking about husband and wife, male/female. Family relationships, friendships have been ruptured over money. You borrow money or a friend borrows money from you, and then it’s like, “Why are they going on that vacation when they owe me a hundred bucks?” You understand what I’m saying? Money infuses all the aspects of our lives. And education, education “ain’t” free; everybody knows that. And this is a big one. This is a picture from GYC, right? Obviously GYC costs money.


The lights, the chairs, the screen, the booklets, our lanyards, everything costs money here, but think about this: All of the young people coming up to the stage dedicating their lives to service, “I’m going to go be a missionary for God, be a Bible worker for God.” And then they go home, and then they say, not everyone obviously, but frequently, “Oh, wait. I’ve got a 50,000-dollar student loan. I guess I can’t work for God anymore.” Does that make sense what I’m saying?


Money affects all aspects of our lives. The love of money is dangerous, yes! And we need to learn how to control it, but the reality is, we can’t live without money. It’s going to be a factor somewhere. It’s not the main thing. It shouldn’t be the main thing, but it is a thing, and we’ve got to recognize that. And this one, it’s hard for us to talk about sometimes, but money is frequently the cause of not just businesses but ministries closing.


And we can say we live by faith. Yes, we need to live by faith, but faith by itself doesn’t necessarily pay the bills. And I need to take that back. Faith that works should pay the bills, but a presumptuous faith, that is, a false faith, isn’t really the way that God intends us to operate. And so, money, it infuses all aspects of our lives. So, we shouldn’t talk about money? The Bible has over 2,000 texts on money, more than almost any other subject. I have a feeling God wants us to know something about this topic, all right?


Question number two: To save money is to be faithless in God’s ability to provide for us because, by the way, we’re Adventists, and Jesus is coming soon.


[AUDIENCE: False.]


False? How many of you think that’s true? Anyone? Believe it or not, this is actually one of the most common statements that I hear. “Saving money, planning for the future, we’re Adventists; we believe Jesus is coming soon. That is not being a faithful steward. We need to give it all away, and God will provide,” right? That’s the line, “God will provide,” and guess what? God does provide. So, let’s take a look.


Matthew, chapter 6:31-34, it says, “Therefore take no thought, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or, ‘What shall we drink?’ or, ‘Wherewithal shall we be clothed?’ (For after all these things the Gentiles do seek:) for your heavenly Father knows that ye have need of all these things. But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you. Take therefore no thought for the morrow: for the morrow shall take thought for the things of itself. Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof.” And, you know, this is the same passage where Jesus says, “Seek ye first the kingdom of God, and His righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you,” a beautiful promise. So, God does promise to provide for His people, yes? Yes, He does, but is that all the Bible has to say about this subject? Let’s keep reading, shall we? Right? If we’re people of the Book, we’ve got to read all the counsel.


So, Proverbs 6:6-8, “Go to the ant, thou sluggard; consider her ways, and be wise: Which having no guide, overseer, or ruler, provideth her meat in the summer, and gathereth her food in the harvest.” So, how are we to be wise according to Proverbs? When you look at the ant, and what characteristic makes the ant wise? They save for the future, and guess what? They save for the future without being told! Hmmm! So how does this line up with, “Seek ye first the kingdom of God, and all these things will be added unto you”?


I’ll just summarize here. This is a passage about Egypt, Joseph telling Pharaoh, “You’re going to have seven plenteous years and seven lean years. My advice to you, which comes from God, not from me, God’s advice, is you save up during the seven years of plenty for the seven lean years.” That sort of sounds like a good idea, but isn’t that sort of going contrary to just believing that God will provide? God provided the dream. God managed to save Joseph. Can He provide in the lean years, too? He sent the ravens to Elijah? Okay?


Let’s continue reading. Proverbs 21 and verse 20. These are two different versions of the same verse. NIV says, “The wise store up choice food and olive oil, but fools gulp theirs down.” King James says, “There is treasure to be desired and oil in the dwelling of the wise; but a foolish man spends it up.” So, it’s very clear, the wise are the ones who save for the future. The fool is the one who spends it up.


Here’s even a stronger one, 1 Timothy 5, verse 8. It says, “But if any provide not for his own, and specially for those of his own house, he has denied the faith, and is worse than an infidel.” Those are strong words. And so, when we think about it, we have to realize that faith without works is dead. And when we say we seek first the kingdom of God and all these things shall be added unto us, how do we seek God first? Isn’t it through studying His Scriptures and applying the principles that He’s given us? Because when I hear a lot of people say God will provide, underneath that frequently, not always, frequently there’s this idea of, “That means I don’t have to try; I’ll just continue living my life, spending money on what I want, and God will take care of it someday, and I’m just being faithful.” That’s the idea.


Obviously not everyone’s that way, but that’s the tendency. But when we say, “Seek ye first the kingdom of God; take no thought for tomorrow,” that means, if we are faithful to God’s Word, and we are following His principles, and His principles happen to be, “We need to save and prepare for the future, or we’re worse than an infidel,” provide for our family’s needs and those kinds of things, when we are faithful in doing our part, God makes up the lack. Amen? So, we don’t have the full burden of it, but it’s a cooperation. God shows us His instruction in His Word; we follow by faith. Faith is taking God at His word. It’s not presumptuousness that just says, “God will miraculously provide for me with the ravens, because I’m just going to live my life the way I want.”


So, what about this idea of, “Oh, Jesus is coming soon”? We’re going to talk about the end times very specifically on Saturday afternoon. Should we sell everything? What about the financial collapse? Some of these questions we’re going to deal with Sabbath afternoon, but in Last Day Events there’s an interesting quote, page 76, paragraph 4, “Christ declared that when He comes some of His waiting people will be engaged in business transactions.” That’s fascinating. “Some will be sowing in the field, others reaping and gathering in the harvest, and others grinding at the mill. It is not God’s will that His elect shall abandon life’s duties and responsibilities and give themselves up to idle contemplation, living in a religious dream.”


Even though Jesus is coming soon, it does not detract from the duties, responsibilities, which we just read. One of them is to provide for our family, right? Store up for a time of need. Those things are always responsibilities. And, yes, there is an end-time scenario, and we are going to talk about that Sabbath afternoon.


So, just remember this: Just because God is coming soon, His will is, “Occupy till I come.”


Alright, question number three (we’ve got to keep moving here), question number three: God wants us to live a comfortable life. True or False? How many of you think it’s true? True? Okay, some of you, okay. How many of you think it’s false? Okay! I’m glad there’s actually one that we have a split decision on because this is a tricky question, right? It all hinges on what do you mean by a comfortable life, right? Well, let’s see what the Spirit of Prophecy has to say.


Counsels on Stewardship, page 250, paragraph 2, “Had you and your wife understood it to be a duty,” there’s that word again, “that God enjoined upon you, to deny your taste and your desires, and make provision for the future,” so she’s in harmony with what we just read, “instead of living merely for the present, you could now have had a competency, and your family have had the comforts of life.” How about that? Ellen White says it’s okay to have a comfortable life. Somebody should’ve said Amen.


We sort of have this idea Ellen White’s like, “You need to dress in all black and eat oatmeal three meals a day and give everything to God.” That’s not Ellen White. If you’ve been to her house in Elmshaven, you will know that she lives by this principle. But here’s the balance, right? What does it mean to live a comfortable life? What’s the balance?


Adventist Home, page 379, says, “God does not require that His people should deprive themselves of that which is really necessary for their health and comfort,” Amen to that, “but He does not approve of wantonness and extravagance and display.” You see, the Spirit of Prophecy, balance. You can have the comforts of life. You don’t have to sleep on the floor. You can have a mattress, have air conditioning, running water, and all that stuff, washing machine, you don’t have to do it by hand. But “wantonness, extravagance, and display,” yes, there’s still some room for interpretation of what that means, but there is a balance in which she says we don’t want to go too far. And here’s a funny quote from Leonardo Rosten, I think is his name, he’s an American humorist, “Money can’t buy happiness, but neither can poverty.” That is so true.


Okay, number four: Being in debt is a sin. True or false?




True? Okay, How about false? Okay! Let’s see what you think about this one. Publishing Ministry, page 209, paragraph 4-5, Ellen White says, “I now write to ask you if you will let me have the use of two thousand dollars to help me in bringing out books that the people need…If I should fall in the conflict before the Lord’s appearing, my sons would carry forward the work of circulating my books according to my plans. When the expense of issuing my books is lessened, the sales will soon pay up all my debts.” Did you know that quote existed?


Ellen White borrowed money to print her books. So, clearly, it can’t be on the sin category completely. However, again, the balance is that the Bible says, “The borrower is servant to the lender,” Proverbs 22:7. And the word servant here is more appropriately translated slave. And so, indentured servants is how I call it. And she says, “Be determined never to incur another debt. Deny yourself a thousand things rather than run in debt. This has been the curse of your life, getting into debt. Avoid it as you would the smallpox.” Smallpox is not sin, but you sure don’t want it, right? And so, debt is not necessarily a sin in a clear black-and-white type of way, but it is not good, not good. So, debt, we’re going to talk about it. We have session number four; it’s called “Indentured Servants with Smallpox,” and that’s actually where we get the name, from here. So we’ll deal more with that later.


Number five: A budget is a cornerstone of sound personal finance. Is that true? False? Anyone says false? I know that, I mean, who likes doing a budget? But Ellen White actually has something to say about this. Let’s see what she says. Counsels on Stewardship, page 294, paragraph 1, “In the study of figures the work should be made practical. Let every youth and every child be taught, not merely to solve imaginary problems, but to keep an accurate account of his own income and outgoes. Let him learn the right use of money by using it.” Ellen White recommends all young people learn how to keep your own budget.


Adventist Home, page 374, “All should learn how to keep accounts. Some neglect this work as nonessential, but this is all wrong. All expenses should be accurately stated.”


So, this afternoon, session number three, “Counting the Cost,” we’re going to be talking about how to do a budget. And the way we do it might be a little different than the way you’ve heard, but I think is more effective, so you’ll want to be back for that. Practical how-to, I’ll give you examples and all of that.


Alright, number six: Giving a ten percent tithe is the extent of my financial obligation to God.


[AUDIENCE: False.]


Okay, I’m glad I don’t have to talk about this one too much because how much of our stuff does God own? He owns all of it. So the reality is we are managers. We are like the CEO of our life, right? Your name, incorporated. You’re the CEO; God gives you the assets to manage, but He’s the 100-percent shareholder. You’re accountable to Him. And the ten percent is simply the dividends you pay your Boss. It’s just to show that, you know you’re making good use of His assets, but everything belongs to Him anyway. And so, we’re going to talk about this in more detail on Sabbath.


“Will a man rob God? Yet ye have robbed me. But ye say, Wherein have we robbed thee? In tithes and offerings,” right? We’re not supposed to just give a tithe, but offerings are also required, and the question often is how much are we supposed to give? Do you know that the Spirit of Prophecy actually tells us how much offering we should give? Like, not just in general, like, a percent. So, I might have spoiled it for you, but come back Sabbath afternoon if you are a glutton for punishment. Be ready.


Alright, so, number seven, this is another interesting one: Investing is gambling, it’s not biblical, and it’s contrary to sound Christian principles.


[AUDIENCE: False.]


So, in other words, by saying false, you’re saying that investing is not wrong. Is it right or wrong? Right or wrong? Well, the answer is there’s wrong investing and there’s right investing, and that’s really the bottom line here. But Jesus, Matthew 25, is the parable of the talents, “You ought to have invested my money with the bankers, and at my coming, I should have received what was my own with interest.” Of course, it’s a parable, and we’ve read Christ’s Object Lessons where Ellen White applies the talents to all the good gifts that God gives us, influence, strength, health, speech, time, all these things. You know what? We seem to often forget the very thing that was the symbol in that parable. Money is a talent. I mean, the talents were literally money, but it also applies to our money, and when Jesus says, “You ought to have invested my money, and He should receive the interest on it,” I think He means that. And so, we’re going to look on Friday, tomorrow, at biblical principles on investing and what are the pitfalls to avoid. So that’s Friday.


Number eight: God wants us to prosper and to build wealth. How many of you think that’s true? How many of you think that’s false? You know, really, it comes down to how we define prosper and how we define wealth, and that’s really the whole point of this seminar. So, we’re going to come back to that definition, but I’m just going to throw a few things out there at you to chew on.


Deuteronomy 8, verse 18, says, “But thou shalt remember the Lord thy God: for it is He that giveth thee power to get wealth.” And by the way, if we think about it, He gave us the power to get wealth. That sounds a whole lot like a talent that should be improved, if we’re putting two and two together.


Deuteronomy 28:11-12, “And the Lord shall make thee plenteous in goods,” okay, “in the fruit of thy body, fruit of thy cattle, fruit of thy ground, the land,” all these things, and at the very end here, “He will bless all the work of thine hand: and thou shalt lend unto many nations, and thou shalt not borrow.” You know, this is interesting, putting two questions together. Lending is a form of investing. So, God is actually saying the children of Israel, not only will they have prosperous crops and cattle in their land, they will be in a position to profit financially as a financier to other nations, charge them interest even. And, of course, the interest ultimately belongs to the Lord, and that’s the underlying principle in all this.


Let’s take a look at this one, Counsels on Stewardship, page 113, “The followers of Christ are not to despise wealth; they are to look upon wealth as the Lord’s entrusted talent.” There, we have a direct connection. Ellen White makes it very clear: Wealth is a talent to be improved. “By a wise use of His gifts, they may all be eternally benefited, but we are to bear the fact in mind that God has not given us riches to use just as we shall fancy, to indulge our impulse, to bestow or withhold as we shall please.” Ultimately, the balance is, always it belongs all to God.


Alright, so we’re down to question numbers nine and ten, and questions nine and ten, we’re shifting into some practical nuts and bolts issues now. So, this one, question, true or false: It’s better to save small amounts regularly while you’re young than to save a lot later when we earn more.




Okay, so how many of you think it’s better to save a little bit regularly while you’re young? Okay. How many of you think it’s better to just save more once you earn more money later? Peer pressure guys, come on. It’s okay to disagree here.


So, let me give you an example. We’ve got two ladies, Thrifty Tiffany and Spendy Sally, and they are the same age, grew up in the same area, same church, and all the rest. Tiffany, on this side here, she saves 2,000 dollars a year from age 20 to age 30, so, for ten years. She invested at eight percent rate of return, so she invested a total of 20,000 dollars over ten years; that’s the total amount of money she put in of her own money.


Sally, on the other hand, she waits until she’s 30 years old. So, the year that Tiffany stops investing and doesn’t put in another dime, that year Sally begins investing the same, 2,000 dollars a year from age 30 to 65, so 35 years, also eight percent rate of return. She invests 70,000 dollars of her own money, and she goes in for 35 years.


So, who do you think has more money when they get ready to retire at 65? You probably know, I’m sort of setting this up, so I’ll just tell you. Who has more at 65? Tiffany will have around 500,000 dollars, whereas Sally will only have 380,000. So, how does that work? How is this possible?


Over here, she saved for a shorter period of time, and she saved less money, a lot less money. Over here, she saved much longer, and she saved a lot more, but yet she ended up with far less. The secret is compound interest, and compound interest requires a secret ingredient, and it’s time. Because what is compound interest? This is where your math has to come back, alright?


You remember back in high school algebra, compound interest formula, principle, rate, return, length of time. Compound interest is the way the interest grows on itself. So, if you have 100 dollars, and you earn 10 percent, the next year, you don’t just earn another ten percent on 100 dollars; you earn ten percent on your principle plus whatever you earn.


So, over time, the amount of interest you earn starts earning interest on itself. It’s like a snowball. And so, here’s a graph of Tiffany and Sally, alright? So, blue line here is Tiffany’s rate of growth, and Sally is the red. So, what we see here is it’s not a straight line. You notice that? It’s an exponential curve. And so, imagine if she has another 30 years to grow this money without adding another dime, this thing’s going to be way off the charts, and it’s the secret of compound interest.


If you save a little bit early, it allows that interest to start compounding on itself, and you can set and forget. You can walk away from it, and your money will work for you. Okay? This is a fundamental principle when it comes to how you manage your money and the time value of money as well. But I will mention this, and that is it’s not just a matter of earning more. We’re going to talk about the difference between just wanting to have more and more and more for the sake of having more versus saving for a goal. Okay? So I don’t want you to walk away with this thinking that I’m telling you, “You just need to save a bunch of money so you can be a super-rich, wealthy person.” But hold that thought; we’ll come back to it.


So, question number ten: The best way to reach financial independence is to earn more money.


[AUDIENCE: False.]


Does anyone think that’s true? A few people. It’s okay because, you know, this one I phrased in a way that’s a little bit tricky, alright? Because what does financial independence really mean? Different people have different definitions. Some people, financial independence is just get out of debt, financially free. Other people pay off the house. Other people, it’s when I’m ready to retire, and I don’t have to work anymore, I’m financially independent. And also, to earn more money, well, what are the alternatives? What is the alternative that we’re comparing against, right? So, this was a little bit of a trick question, and I say that to make you guys feel better if you voted different ways. But, however you define it, here my point is, is it better to save more money versus earn more money? Okay, so if we are comparing those two, which is the better way, save more or earn more? Okay?


Let’s take a look at another example. We’re going to look at Saver Sam and Consumer Carl. Sam earns 50,000 dollars a year, he lives on 20,000 dollars a year, so he saves 30,000 dollars a year, and that’s 60 percent of his earnings. Carl, on the other hand, he earns three times as much, 150,000, he spends 120,000, don’t ask me how you spend that much money, but he does, and he saves 30,000 dollars, which is 20 percent. And, by the way, 20 percent savings rate, by most financial guru’s standards, is excellent.


If you’re saving, like, 10 to 15 percent, you’re doing good; 20 percent, you’re like a rock star. So, he’s doing actually pretty good. But Saver Sam here saves an equivalent of three times as much as a percentage of his income, but it’s the same dollar amount, so most people would be, like, of course, I’d rather be Carl. Of course! But here’s the thing, look at it this way. Here’s one way to look at it, and we’re talking about being financially independent or financial freedom: For every year that Sam works, he can take over one year off from work. Carl has to work four years before he can take one year off. Ah, that changes the perspective a little bit, doesn’t it? Because look at this, he only needs 20,000 dollars a year to live, because he saves and he spend less.


So he can work one year, and he can say, “See ‘ya later. I’m going to go be a missionary,” spend the year volunteering somewhere. And guess what? He has paid for it because he learned to manage his lifestyle. Whereas Carl, he’s got his big house, the big car, student loans, all that kind of stuff, 30,000 dollars a year, he’s going to have to wait four years before he can take one year off. And, honestly, is that really likely to happen when you’ve got a lifestyle this size? You know, I think that’s the realistic picture.


So financial independence, meaning freedom, the freedom to make choices, not tethered to your desk or your cubicle, it’s better to save than to simply earn more because there’s a double benefit.


So let me explain it this way. If you learn to live on less, a lower percentage of your income, you are able to save a greater percent of your income immediately, and it’s always viewed as a percentage of what you need, percentage of your income, and your total amount of savings required in the long run is permanently decreased in the future. Because if you spend more, even if you’re saving, you have to save up longer in order to have the equivalence of freedom than if you are living on less.


That’s question number 10, and that does bring us to the end our quiz. We do have a bit of time, and so I’m going to transition now to working through some of these principles, some of these questions maybe that got raised through the quiz. A lot of those things we’re going to deal with in future sessions, but some of the last few points, I think it’s important for us to get into right now.


So, fundamentally, we need to ask the question, what is the purpose of money? Because if we don’t know the purpose of it, we many not use it properly, and money is a tool with only three functions. It’s helpful for us to summarize things, parse it down, so it’s not a convoluted complex thing, it’s not a spaghetti monster. Money is very simple. There are only three uses for it.


Number one: Money is a tool for us to spend on current needs or wants, and this is the one that needs no explanation. We all know how this works. If I want to go out to eat, if I want to buy a new car, if I want to buy a house, money I can spend. The other use for money is to save for future needs or wants, okay? Third thing that money is good for is to give away.


That’s it. Every use of money that you can consider, that you can think of, falls into one of these three categories, and if you think about it that way, it becomes far easier to categorize how your funds flow and how you use your money, and that’s also, if you noticed earlier, that’s how I view my financial situation. How much did I earn, how much did I spend, how much did I give away, how much did I save for the future? You just break it down in those buckets, and this is actually the fundamental, one of the things we’ll look at when we talk about how to do our budget this afternoon.


So, a tool with three functions, and guess what? It is confirmed by the Spirit of Prophecy. Christ’s Object Lessons, page 351, paragraph 3, “Money has great value, because it can do great good…But money is of no more value than sand, only as it is put to use in…,” and here’s what money can be used for. If it’s not used for any of these things, it’s no better than sand, okay?


So, these are the only good uses of money. Number one: “Providing for the necessities of life.” Okay, so, what does that mean, providing for the necessities of life? To spend, right, on our current needs and our current wants, and the necessities of life in the future, so saving for future needs, right there. And notice she makes that first. Spirit of Prophecy, Ellen White, she’s very balanced. She realizes you have needs, your family has needs in this life. God does not expect us to give at the expense of crippling our family, okay? Praise the Lord for that balance, but “in blessing others and advancing the cause of Christ” is the next step. So, you see? Providing for the necessities of life, the two items we talked about earlier, spending and saving for future needs, blessing others, and advancing the cause of Christ, to give, to give the money away.


Alright, so three uses of money. And we mentioned earlier, that it appears to be that the Bible and the Spirit of Prophecy promote God’s people building wealth. God wants us to prosper. It says that in the Old Testament and the New and the Spirit of Prophecy, but that begs the question, what does He mean by that? What does it mean to be prosperous or to be wealthy or to be rich? Because that is a definition that you ask a hundred people and you might get a hundred different answers. Because, if you think with me, this is probably the picture of wealth and riches, right? Tropical exotic vacations, a fast car. I wouldn’t mind having this car, but we’ll talk about that some other time. Having a nice big house, private jets. The wealthy, this is the mental picture that we have because we live in a world saturated by the media.


You know, you go on CNN, and it’s not just news anymore; it’s become almost like a tabloid, telling you all about the lives of the rich and famous, and it gives us this idea that prosperity means this kind of lifestyle, and so, when we think, “I don’t live like this. I don’t have a private jet. I don’t go on tropical vacations like this; therefore, I’m not rich.” And, you know, this term, being rich or wealthy or prosperous, it’s a term that when you talk to people, it’s amazing. I’ve talked with a number of people, and some people I consider to be fairly well to do, and they all say the same thing, “Oh, I’m not rich. I live a pretty modest life.”


And how do you think, what’s the next word out of their mouth? “I’ve got friends who have a more expensive car, they have a fancier set of golf clubs than I do, and they actually go on more vacations. So, you know, I’m really not that rich.” And you talk to those friends they’re referring to, and they’ll say, “Oh, yeah, I’m not Bill Gates, oh, pff! I’m not rich.” There’s always someone richer and, therefore, I’m not rich, right?


But the Bible does say He wants us to prosper, so clearly God must have some idea in mind of what is this ideal, what is the goal for us to strive for when it comes to material wealth and possessions and things of that nature, and, of course, underlying all of it is for the purpose of advancing His work ultimately, not to aggrandize ourselves. And so, this is the key verse of the day, alright? This is the verse that forms the foundation of everything we’re talking about: Proverbs, chapter 30, verses 8-9, “Remove far from me falsehood and lying; give me neither poverty nor riches; feed me with the food that is needful for me, lest I be full and deny you and say, ‘Who is the Lord?’ or lest I be poor and steal and profane the name of my God.”


Do you see the beautiful balance here? Scripture makes it very clear. What are we shooting for? We don’t want poverty. We don’t want to be the filthy rich. We just want what is needful. And here, the Proverbs writer actually tells us why. If I am rich, I’ll be full and deny You and say, “Who is the Lord?” Right? You remember the rich fool, built a barn, filled it up, built a bigger barn. He said, “Take thine ease, soul! Eat, play, be merry,” right? “We’ll go to this town and have some business,” and God says, “You Fool! Tonight, your soul will be required of thee.” He forgot God because he relied on his material possessions. That’s a danger.


But at the same time, poverty is not the answer either because if I be poor, and I’m tempted to steal and profane the name of my God. Being poor is not a virtue; I want you to understand that. Just because you’re poor doesn’t mean you’re a bad person, but the goal is not to strive to be poor, if that makes sense. Holiness doesn’t equal, you know, having no money. There’s not, like, a direct line. But it is true that wealth, the love of money, indeed, can lead the soul away from the Lord. So it’s that balance.


And, you know, that humorist that we read earlier, Leonardo Rosten, he didn’t’ know it, but he was actually reflecting the principles of Scripture, “Money doesn’t buy happiness, but neither does poverty.” And that’s actually not God’s ideal. Poverty is not God’s ideal. And so, what does it mean to be prosperous, to be wealthy or rich? The biblical definition, okay, based on Proverbs, what we just read, is simply to have our needs met and to have enough. That’s the goal. Once we have our needs met, once we have enough, anything extra pushes us into the realm of prosperity, and when we’re prosperous, we can give more for the Lord, and we can rely less on debt and the charity of others.


If that is true, okay, if it is true that the biblical definition of prosperity, wealth and riches is based on our need, our level of need, what it means is that the less that I need, the easier it is for me to prosper. You know, I like this quote because it reflects this thought in an economy of words, “Wealth consists not in having great possessions, but in having few wants.” That is a powerful thought, and, in fact, the Bible echoes it. First Timothy 6:6, “But godliness with contentment is great gain.”


You know, this seminar is all on personal finance, and we often figure that it’s the finances that’s the problem. I need to earn more money. I need to get out of debt. I need to do something, you know, some trick. Teach me, you know, the tips and the tricks. But you know what? That’s like 20 percent. It’s the personal side that’s the 80 percent because it is the personal side that we need to deal with, to deal with the issue of contentment with what we have. The ability to trim our needs to a more modest level and to be willing to say, I can actually live just as happily without that. See, that’s the problem. And if you want to take it to a spiritual level, that’s what sanctification is all about.


You know, there are some powerful quotes I’ll share with you Sabbath afternoon about the relationship of overcoming sin and managing your money. There is a very direct correlation, and you’ll want to come back to hear more about that. But the point that I’m trying to make right now is simply this point, and that is personal finance is not so much about, “What do I do with the money?” It’s more looking in the mirror and saying, “What is it about myself that I need to adjust?” And as a result, the resulting change will affect our money. Personal finance: 80 percent personal issues, 20 percent financial issues, but, yes, we’re going to talk about math and all those things as well.


So, this leads to the practical question, if wealth and prosperity according to God is defined by our level of need, how do I know how much I need? Because if you just sit down and just pull it out of thin air, we need a lot, right? “I need that vacation,” “I need that new outfit,” “Yes! I need it.” We can convince ourselves of a lot of needs, but how do we know? Okay. And this is where the math comes in. We need a dollar amount. When we think about money, it’s math. And when we think about math, we can’t do math very easily without some objective data. We need some actual numbers, so this is where we transition from the principle to an application now in real life. “Alright, I understand, God, you want me not to be filthy rich so that I forget You. You don’t want me to be in poverty so I’m tempted to steal and be envious and have a heart of greed and all this stuff.” Yes. So, how much do I need? Okay, t`his is how you figure it out.


You want to track your living expenses on a monthly level, okay? And this is actually fundamental to everything we’re going to talk about this weekend. You have got to know where your money is going, okay? How do you do that? Okay? How do you track your monthly expenses? Look over all your receipts, and if you’re not in the habit of taking the receipt with you, like you fill up your car with gas, you go to the store, “Would you like your receipt?” “Nah, I don’t need it.” Take the receipt home, keep it for a month, and if you have been keeping receipts, look back at the previous month, add everything up. Just take every purchase you made.


It’s going to be a little bit of work at first, yes, and create a report. So, you can have your receipts, your bank credit card statements, create a report of all of your spending. You can just list it out. How much did I spend in the month? What did I spend it on? And then you can categorize it. So, categorize your spending. It is a starting point for your budget. Okay?


You have to do this first, because if you don’t know how much you’re spending, it’s like, “I feel bad, but I don’t know what sickness I have,” and you need to account for every penny. There is a level of discipline that’s required here, because the reason why we need to account for every penny is because it’s easy for us to fudge. Right? It’s like, “Oh, that wasn’t too much, it was just,” you know, “Starbucks,” or, you know, “It was just the vending machine at work; it doesn’t matter.” Uh, it does matter because pennies add up to cents, you know, quarters, quarters add up to dollars, and dollars add up to a lot more than that in the future.


So, this is the practical step. How do I know how much money I actually need to live and survive on? Make a monthly expense account. We read about this earlier, Spirit of Prophecy, Ellen White says, “Let everyone learn how to keep accounts, their income, their outflow.” This is the practical step.


So, let me help you out with some free tools, okay? Mint.com and Personalcapital.com, these are both services that I have used, I do still use personally, and what they do, both of them work similarly. They have slightly different emphases. Both of them help aggregate all of your financial accounts. If you have student loan accounts, mortgage, your bank, investment accounts, credit cards, all of it. You just go in, it’s a nice slick interface, you type in your login credentials, and it logs in, and it pools all of your other data all into one nice slick user interface, and it will run all the reports for you, and it will give you a report on a monthly basis. You can set up your own budgets in there, and it will show you exactly where every penny went, over whatever span of time you want to analyze. For a geek like me, this kind of stuff is pretty nice.


Personal Capital is a little bit more emphasizing investments, and so if you do have investments, investment portfolios, and things of that nature, Personal Capital will run the analysis for you, asset allocations, a lot of those kinds of projections. You can run Monte Carlo simulations, all that kind of fancy stuff.


Both of them are free. Personal Capital, if you have a certain amount of assets, they’ll call you to try to get you to be a paying customer for advice and all that kind of stuff; you don’t need to do that. And Mint, they get paid through advertising. So, there is advertising throughout their website. As long as you don’t think that the advertising is actually part of the plan, you’ll be okay, because they’ll try to sell you credit cards and things like that, so you’ll want to stay away from those things. But these are some helpful, free, online tools so you have no excuse. Okay? No excuse to not be able to keep track of your expenses.


Why is it so important? It’s because having a clear grasp of your regular living expenses is essential to gaining control over your personal finances. You’ve got to diagnose the problem before working on a cure, and I am very serious about this. This is so fundamental. Nothing else in this seminar will matter if this step isn’t done.


If you do not have a picture, a clear picture, of your expenses, there’s no sense in having a budget because where is the money going? How much did I spend last month? I don’t know. How much should I spend this month? I don’t know. How much do I need? What is the necessity? You know, how much do I actually have to, you know, allocate for my family’s needs? I don’t know. How much can I give to God? No clue, right? So, everything we’re talking about, it has to be based on knowing what the problem is, and the problem, it may not be a problem in your case, is how much am I spending? Alright, is that clear? Very good!


So, let’s summarize what we’ve talked about today, and we’ll see how much time we have after that. Session number one: God desires His people to give sacrificially, yes, but still build wealth and live a comfortable life. So, that’s the balance we discussed earlier. Yes! We should give. Yes! We should live a modest life. However, He doesn’t want us just to live in a cardboard box either. It is better to save a little early than a lot later, and this is all thanks to the power of compound interest and the secret ingredient of time.


A Chinese proverb says, “The best time to plant a tree is 20 years ago. The second-best time is right now.” So, compound interest, investments, same story. Twenty years ago was the best time. Well, I don’t know, some of you might not be even 20 years old, but assuming you’ve had a long time ago to begin, that would’ve been the best time, but the next best time is right now.


It is better to live on less than to earn more. I know some of you are going to hop off here and join another seminar, so let me just mention this. My next seminar is entirely on this point, spending less, saving more, and I believe there’s a pretty compelling case for us to learn how to economize our lives more. So, if you want to stay for that, you might be surprised at some of the things that you will learn.


The next point in the summary: Money is a tool that is good only to spend, to save, or to give away. Three uses of money, that’s it. And according to the Bible, we are prosperous when we have enough to meet our needs. This is the fundamental point of this message.


So, the title of our seminar, this particular session, “Neither Poverty Nor Riches: Redefining Wealth and Prosperity.” There it is, right in that sweet spot. Not having too much, not having too little, having just enough to meet our needs. And so, how do we determine our needs? We must track our living expenses. How much do I spend to live? What do my bills cost? My student loans, all of these things that are required for my month-to-month expenses.


That brings us to the end of this session. Let me see how much time we have. We do have a few minutes, so I can probably take a few questions, but let’s do this, I’ll conclude with prayer now, and if there are people with a few questions, we don’t have a whole lot of time, but if those want to get a head start to get to your next seminar, you’re welcome to do so, but if you have questions you can stick around for that.


Let’s bow our heads for prayer right now. Father in Heaven, we are so grateful for the clarity of Your Word and the practicality of Your Word. You have not left us wandering around in darkness wondering what to do with such an essential and all-pervasive topic as money, and You have given us sound warning to not love money, and at the same time, not to assume that poverty is a road to holiness. I pray, Lord, we might apply this principle that we have learned from Your Word to live, shooting for Your ideal for us, neither poverty nor riches, we don’t want to forget You, and we don’t want to be greedy and to deny You and the other extreme either. And so be with us as we continue on this weekend here at GYC. Help us to learn much. And we ask these things in Jesus’ name. Amen.


We have about four minutes now for questions, so if there are any questions, I’ll try to call on you and if not, it’s okay, too. Yes, question.


[AUDIENCE: How realistic is an eight percent return?]


Ah ha! That’s a good question. So, the question is, “How realistic is an eight percent return?” I hate to leave you in suspense, but we’re going to talk about that on Friday morning, but the reality is that there is no investment that can guarantee you a return. But there are investments that can earn far excessive of eight percent. It is actually very possible, so we’ll talk more about that Friday.


[AUDIENCE: Unintelligible.]


Who was that again? I didn’t catch…


[AUDIENCE: Unintelligible.]


Oh, “Rich Dad, Poor Dad.” You know, I read that book a long time ago, and I think, if I recall, his fundamental point is a different premise from where we’re starting. His premise is you should be rich, and if you’re not rich it’s because you’re not smart. And his definition of rich is actually quite speculative. You borrow money, and you just leverage yourself upwards; whereas, I think the biblical principles are far more conservative in how we ought to manage. And so, I can’t necessarily say if it’s a thumbs up or thumbs down, I just don’t remember that book. Yeah.


[AUDIENCE: Unintelligible.]




[AUDIENCE: …marked similarities…as well. He defines wealth very similarly in that, it’s really our needs….]


Good, okay.


[AUDIENCE: Unintelligible.]


I would agree with that. Yeah, excellent.


Alright, so I’m just going to take a quick break here, and we’ll be back to begin at 10 o’clock. Thanks, everyone.


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