The Terrible Twenties

“IT WAS the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way- in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only.” (Charles Dickens, the opening line of his classic: Tale of Two Cities)

If I did not know the two cities of which Dickens wrote were London and Paris, and if I did not know he was speaking of that period of time surrounding the French Revolution, I might well have thought he was describing what it is like to be in your 20’s.  He was right in say, “The period was so far like the present period” because since the time when Dickens wrote to the present day, the struggles of life are very much the same. Dickens words describe the era of those who are twenty-something as well as any.

The twenties boil down to the issue of choice.  What you choose in your twenties will be the foundation for the rest of your life. You live with the consequences of those choices. You choose Light or darkness, hope or despair, belief or unbelief.

The choices are clearly defined. Choose wisely.

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How to Deal with Debt – Part 2

You’ve left college and now are facing a mountain of debt. This can be terrifying now. The good news is, as a Bible College graduate, your debts are less than those of your counterparts. I first started this blog for one Bible College in particular which costs  30% less than the state’s public university. So imagine you had 30% more debt for four years. Your theological education is looking a lot more affordable. Now, with a good attitude, there are many things you can do to help yourself become free of debt more quickly.

First Things First

First and foremost, as I said before, “Tithe. Give to missions. Be responsible”. God rewards faithfulness. My husband and I know this firsthand. For 37 years the Lord has cared for us and He will prove faithful to you too. Start giving. Do it now.

We married the week after graduation. We drew a line around our lifestyle and did not expand it no matter how much we earned. Don’t love the world or the things of it, because the love of the Father isn’t in them. Not only will you find that freeing, but you will get out of debt a lot faster. Frugality is an adventure you can enjoy. Learn to love Freecycle and Savers.

It is unlikely you will get your dream job just out of school and unhealthy if you did. We had our first paid position when we went to the mission field at age 31. While you are working to pay off your debts, whether you are in a paid church position or not you should be serving Jesus faithfully in ministry in a local church.

You might be thinking, “That’s not financial advice”. Yes, it is. It is biblical and sound financial advice. Now the nuts and bolts.

To Parents Who Are Reading This

A number of parents have asked me how they can help their children. If you own a home and your interest rate is lower than the rate of your children’s loans, you can pay off their loans and take a line of credit against your mortgage. Many students have unsubsidized loans at 6.8% and if you have a mortgage at 3.6% you will save your adult child thousands of dollars by helping them this way. This is not code for, “Stick mom and dad with the bill”. If you can do this and your adult offspring is responsible, then by all means do so. How you handle their repayment to you is a family matter but many people simply have their child pay the difference between the original mortgage payment and the increased amount.

For Everyone Else

Most of you will have parents like our son’s. His parents don’t own furniture made in this millennia. This means you must find other ways to pay down your debts. The first thing to know is to never default on your debt. It will ruin your credit for seven years and it is not ethical. As a Christian you have an obligation to repay the money you borrowed.

Pay off your highest bearing interest loans first. If you have any extra money at all, even if it were $5 over and above your regular payment, send it a separate check with a note that says, “This goes against the principal”. If you send in extra money the loan company will apply the extra to your next payment rather than the principle. Your goal is to pay down the principal as quickly as possible. Also be aware that your interest rate is usually discounted if you make automated payments.

Talk to your loan provider over any issue of concern. Your loan provider does not want you to default. They will work with you for income based repayment plans. Earlier this year I worked with a pastor who was paying almost 70% of his income to school loans. He is now paying closer to 20% of his take home and his interest rate has been reduced. Although he had asked for assistance in the past and been declined, he prayed and persisted. The loan company will not call you and say, “Hey, pay less, because we would so love that”. They need to be sure you are not shirking your responsibility. When they are confident of that, they will want to work with you to ensure you are able to make payments. It is in everyone’s interest for you to faithfully pay back all you borrowed.

If you must refinance or choose to consolidate, shop around for the best deals. Another useful link with good information can be found here. Be sure to deduct the interest you are paying on your taxes. This will save you money which you can apply against another loan payment.

This link discusses a number of options. One creative option is doing work from home where they company directly pays your loan provider. You can chip away at those loans even when you are looking for work by working online to have them paid directly. If you are not great a budgeting, this might be a wise choice for you.

Lastly, it takes a life of faith to live a life of faith. Every generation has challenges and yours is no exception. A friend of mine says, “If you are not living on the edge, you are taking up too much room”. Work. Sacrifice. Go the extra mile. All those Biblical things you have studied. “Give and it will be given to you, pressed down, shaken together, and running over.” (Luke 6:38) There is no greater waste than if you live life worried about your finances, dissatisfied with your blessings and disengaged from serving the cause of Jesus Christ. God made you for better things.

How to Deal with College Debt – Part 1

The best scenario for those facing college debt is to start dealing with it the moment you take your first loan. If you have graduated and are now trying to decide if it is possible to pay off your loans, while continuing to eat and live indoors, do not panic. There is a way forward. But we’ll start with those who still are in school and can make choices to reduce debt load now.

First and foremost: tithe. Give your tithe and offerings. Tithe off your gross, not your net. Yes, that sounds painful and will feel that way when you start but you will be amazed how God is faithful to bless you. One of the ways to tie up this generation is to be sure they are so self-focused on their personal debt they do not give sacrificially. God honors His Word and He actually will do miraculous things to ensure you meet your obligations if you are responsible. Responsibility means tithing, giving to missions, paying your college and even chipping in for gas when you borrow a car or ask for a ride to work.

Next, fill out the FAFSA using your best “guesstimate” from the previous year and do that at the start of January. When you fill out your taxes go back in and use the “Data Retrieval Tool” which is a box you will check that downloads your filed return into FAFSA. It is to your advantage to fill out the FAFSA early. Just be certain you update and finalize it when your taxes are complete.

Do your “loan homework”. There are resources from little known scholarships, to crowd-source donation websites that can help reduce what you borrow. I will not recommend any particular site but you can find them with a search engine. Do some “smart shopping” to avoid high interest rates. When you do take loans, take the least amount you need at the lowest rate possible. Do not borrow extra money for living expenses beyond room and board. “Board” means meals. Though few Bible colleges are known for extraordinary meals, you paid for those meals so better to eat them then go to Chipotle. Never borrow more than you absolutely must. Trust God and get job to pay for extras or go without. It is good practice for life after school.

Remember that 1098 Form Brother Ed sends you every year? Keep it. It is vital to your financial well-being. Use that to be sure you or your parents take the American Opportunity Tax Credit. Unless you are a higher wage earner, that credit, which ends in December 2017, will be the most advantageous tax credit going to cut down on debt and pay your bills. It is possible to receive up to $2500 per year per student. If you or your family have not taken this credit when you were eligible you can get the money back retroactively by filing an amendment.  The credit can only be taken for four years and is worth $1000 even if you have no taxable income. Would four to ten grand make your life easier? If the answer is yes, ask about this credit.

Take some classes online. Your college probably offers online courses, or you may be able to transfer in credits from a community college. These courses are less expensive and decrease your indebtedness.   Look at ways to shave a semester off your time in school. A bit here and there saves the cost of room and board which is a significant expense. If you want to help your school by spending more time there, consider saving the money and donating it to the school instead.  If you are attending Bible college a large portion of your tuition is covered by donations raised by the school president who is constantly traveling about the country and raising funds so you can get an education.  If you are going to remember someone special at Christmas, drop him a  card.  In fact, thank the entire staff. They are earning less than you think so you can prepare for ministry.  In doing so they are helping to pay for your education.

If you are a senior or have graduated, be of good cheer. Having walked through this with other graduates there is indeed hope. I will post on debt reduction strategies for the graduate tomorrow.

Remember this regarding that mountain of debt: faith and faithfulness will ensure it does not stand in your way.

 

What To Do When You Graduate

OK, the philosophical stuff is fine but what do we really do when we graduate?

First, all college graduates have the same problems transitioning to the work world. For everyone who said, “I have a useless degree from Bible College” please be reminded you are actually trained for a vocation. My first degree was in sociology and I was trained for nothing. You can actually apply for a job with your degree and it is remarkable how few look at the job postings on their own school’s website.  The postings are there.  Everyone has a time of transition and secular students do not get a free pass.

Our nephew attended a prestigious business school and graduated the year the economy crashed. He ended up as an elite firefighter and the joke on the fire line was, “What was your major?” Responses ranged from Engineering to Law.  A bachelor’s degree is always an asset and you do not need a second one to gain additional skills to tide you over while you transition. I went back to a community college and took some courses in accounting to improve our income situation and I landed a great job at a big company, while never wavering from our call to missions.  So be thankful for your degree.

You didn’t go to Bible College to get rich in the short term but because you are a longer-range investor. You have vision. You won’t settle for things that moth, dust and rust can ruin.  Since you have vision, use it. To transition, you will have to do some crazy wild things that are totally off the charts. You’ll actually have to do them for the rest of your life so start practicing.

Radical Step One: “Humble yourself in the sight of the Lord and He will lift you up”. Take a ministry position, even if it is not full time, or not paid, in addition to whatever else you need to do to meet your adult financial obligations. You have to start someplace and that place is usually lower than you hoped.

Your first job, unless daddy and mommy can arrange it for you, will be less than your dream job. (And if daddy and mommy can give you a great job right off the bat and do, they have zero judgement) No one in any field starts at the top. It’s counter-culture to our kingdom mentality where we imitate the Great Servant. As for your friends going off as missionary associates fairly soon after graduation, think twice before you get jealous. Firs they fund raise, which is a real job. Then they face that obstacle called “language learning” . Having recently started on Arabic I am sure that many unreached people are still unreached because learning their languages is like rocket science. You do not get to learn a language by inoculation. You actually have to work at it.

So, all you Jesus-loving servants out there: it’s OK to work in a church part time doing youth work, children’s work, or serving in some capacity that is not your full time dream job. You might not find little kids or youth are your passion but if you serve the Lord, He promised to raise you up. Take a job even if it is not “your thing”. It’s “His thing” and you claim you are all about Jesus so act like it. You might not think the soul of the 5, or 15 year old is quite the same as if you were speaking to the teeming masses but if you save someone from a nightmare life or an eternity of hopeless, it’s really OK if you had to dress up in that inane VBS costume. Worse things can happen. Ask a Christian in Iraq.

Radical Step Two: Trust God. The most terrifying issues for graduates are their loves lives and dealing with your debts. Most people are in debt when they graduate. I applaud every parent who has jumped hoops to enable their children to more quickly get to work by sacrificing so they are not in a ball and chain relationship with the government. However, debt is a reality for most people. Last week I met with a couple in ministry where something like 70% of his take home pay was set to go to loans. We spent a day working together and when all was said and done he got an adjustment where he now pays 1/3 of what he did before. Your payments are negotiable.

Your love life is not as negotiable but keep in mind: marriage is something you cannot “walk back”. We women are “made to complete” someone so we tend to get more anxious about this. Guys are normally still figuring out if their future wife is the right one long after the girl has feels sure. This means you are like 99.9% of other people on the planet. Guys often have to figure out their work then their love life. You can certainly think of exceptions but as a general rule of thumb, just get moving and trust God for the right person but don’t hang out waiting for things in the wrong order.

Radical Step Three: Keep your vision. Remember when your heart broke for victims of human trafficking? Or when you thought of people in places so isolated no one in this day and age had the guts, or gumption to walk into where they are and try to live among them? The vision might tarry but at the appointed time, it will come to pass. Don’t let debt, doubt, or circumstance cloud your vision. Don’t let your broken heart for the hurting be dulled by a wide screen TV at home. Nothing great happens overnight but it is during that waiting period when your endurance and vision is truly tested. Sadly a great many people compromise their way out of their destiny because they lack the patience to wait and keep their eye on the ball. Don’t invest in the world or the things of the world. The Love of the Father is not in them.

Lastly: Don’t forget who you are. No one is to look down on you for being young. You are a royal nation and a holy priesthood and every day you get up there are good works prepared beforehand in Christ Jesus for you to walk in them. Go find yours today and every day and you will soon discover that you did not get a useless degree. You were blessed with a foundation for the work to which God has called you. And for practical advice: develop a good sense of humor. There’s a lot of enjoyment on the journey.

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How You Differ From Your Generational Peers

The first thing you need to get a clear grasp on is that you must be different from your peers.

This world requires “instant everything”. You have the vision to work and wait.

This world is easily discouraged by what is seen. You have longer range vision and live for the unseen.

This world lives for today. You live for “forever”.

The world is about “me”. You are about “Him” and “them”.

The world sees obstacles and problems. You see possibilities and opportunities.

The world schemes for how to live as safely as possible between birth and death as though good planning will make the inevitable fall into the box less painful. You are free from those worries because you are already dead and your life is hid with Christ in God. You are not afraid to take chances.

The world says, “Take what you can now because the door might not be open tomorrow”. You choose to “Give all I can now because the door might not be open tomorrow”.

The world lives by what it sees. You live by the Word of God, the Power of the Spirit and vision grounded in that which absolutely, positively will come to pass.

You were bought with a price, you are not your own. (I Cor. 6:24)  You are of all your generational peers, most free.  Don’t waste it.

“The 42%- Part 2: We Know We Believe

Consider:

“There is no other name given to mankind by which they might be saved”.

“Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation”..

“No man putting his hand to the plow and turning back is fit for the kingdom of God.”

“Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.”

“You were bought with a price and are not your own”.

“Set your mind on things above, not on things of the earth for you are dead and your lives are hid with Christ in God”.

“They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance, admitting that they were foreigners and strangers on earth…….. Instead, they were longing for a better country—a heavenly one.”

Beautiful encouraging words! We believe:

All those words are true.  We believe, we are people for whom the greatest ransom in history was paid. We believe we are inheriting a glorious incorruptible kingdom. We know, for just a fraction of eternity, our eternal, perfect, forever-lives are hidden with Christ in God and we know we have just a small window of time called ‘life’ to share this great salvation with others.

We believe the response to redemption is self-evident. Compelled by powerful love that pursued us to salvation, we are incapable of ignoring the plight of billions trapped in isolation and hopelessness.  We know the uselessness of investing our lives in that which is eternally insignificant.  We believe Jesus is returning and we know this visible world is nothing more than a blink of the eye.  We believe and see with glorious anticipation that incredible city whose builder and maker is God.  We know that we have been tasked with loving others as sacrificially as we have been loved so we long to put our hands to the plow and stay on task.  We know no better expression of gratitude to our Savior, than to accept His invitation to discipleship and we rejoice in the privilege of being called.

In my heart I am troubled by something I don’t know:

In light of what we believe,  why are 42% unreached?

We know we believe, don’t we?
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The 42% – Part One: Delusion

Who are the “42%”.

Forty-two percent of the people on this planet have not heard the Name of Jesus. That means they have no reason to hope and no chance to be sure of eternal life. Given that most of them live in very harsh conditions they face a reasonably miserable temporal existence with no hope of ever-lasting life. It simply can never get better.

Relieving the plight of the 42% would be easy if we understood the word “go” is a verb which requires movement. People feel called to “raise awareness” and wear rubber arm bands which alleviates guilt and makes the wearer feel satisfied. The plight of the lost remains unchanged. Why?

Why the Lost Remain Lost

The plight of the 42% has many causes. One cause is the convenience of self-delusion.

When I was a new Christian, I heard preachers say that with “radio and TV beaming the gospel to the ends of the earth, the great commission has been fulfilled”. In 1988 I moved to the ends of the earth and life looked nothing at all like it sounded when the televangelist spoke. One night I saw an older woman silhouetted against the setting sun. She held 40 pounds of food and firewood on her head and turned to walk another hour home. It struck me that it made no difference to her that she was surrounded by unseen radio waves. They were beaming words of hope she desperately needed to hear, in a language she did not understand, to a radio she did not own. Those who believed the gospel had gone to the ends of the earth desired to reach the four corners of the globe from the comfort of home. The people who inhabit the four corners of the earth require a messenger with flesh and blood to come and be with them and speak a language they can understand. They need the gospel presented to them, the same way it was presented to us. The Son of God had to leave His throne in heaven to live among humans and speak our language and share His life with ours. Any message can be sent by radio. The gospel message can only be lived out in person. To believe the 42% who have not heard can be reached without the same leaving and living and sacrifice that was required of the Son of God, is nothing more than self-delusion.

Technology Marginalizes Those in Need

With the explosion of technology has come the false impression that the world is a “global village”. If you had enough to eat today, have secure housing, indoor plumbing, and constant power, you are not living in the same village as 42% of the world’s population.  It is a great inconvenience to us that most of the 42% live in inconvenient places. They are off the grid, live simply and their lives focus on survival. Travel is difficult. Supplies are short. Sacrifice is required. One of the reasons the 42% are unreached is it requires sacrifice to reach them. We cannot rely solely on the methods we would most readily like to employ. There is no technology available that makes them easier to reach with the gospel. The gospel is a relational message and it requires physical presence among those who need to hear. Technology is a tool but it must travel with real people to dark places if it is to bring light. This is a message that must travel with a human messenger or it is not the gospel. The gospel is the story of Love Incarnate. It still requires flesh and blood to bring the message. There is no shortcut. There is a only a lack of courage and self-sacrifice to live a life without shortcuts.

Technology is part of the age in which we live. God will bless and use it as He has the tools of every other age if it is used in keeping with the pattern and commandment He gave us. The commandment He gave us was, “Go”.

Pack your computer, your camera and your phone. Bring a paperback copy of scripture for those nights by camp fires. Pack up your knowledge, faith and love. Love cannot be broadcast. It must be lived out side by side with those for whom He died. He did it for us. Do they deserve less?