Sunday, August 23, 2015

Family. Money by Parker, Sperry, & Willis (Book Review #65 of 2015)

Family. Money.
David Willis, Terry Parker, and Greg Sperry of the National Christian Foundation (2008)
https://www.nationalchristian.com/download/458

The best books are free, this one is a free PDF although it is also available as a small hardback.
The authors get five stars for succinctness and theological soundness. They do not get bogged down in details, nor do they preach or inject politics. They get right at the core problem of family financial planning and propose a solution. This is a book I would recommend reading before doing Financial Peace University or other course. Dave Ramsey may give you some steps to follow, but never really addresses the core of the matter and how to make your financial intentions sustainable. The book is really a first step towards estate planning.

"The Great Taboo" - p. 11-12
there is an invisible boundary in our Western culture when talking about money, just like talking about the bedroom. There is a shame attached to what we earn, our purchasing decisions, our lack of knowledge about saving and investment. We don't talk about our views of money with our family because those conversations are uncomfortable. "Some fear talking about inheritance because it will spoil the motivation of the inheritor." But that's silly, one should prepare the inheritor for what he is about to receive. "Failing to discuss your thoughts with loved ones leaves them to assume the worst about the reasons for your choices (when reading your will for the first time after you die)."

The authors note that a parents' attitude about money will be remembered as a defining attribute, and definitely will shape their kids' attributes. Did you have the freedom to ask about finances at home when you were growing up? Wouldn't you like to foster that freedom in your own home now? How can we make money something "safe" to talk about?

"Wealth should be viewed like a family room where everyone gathers to enjoy each other" (p. 17). Families desire harmony, and a goal should be to harmonize views on money (p. 24). What is your family's "Stewardship Philosophy?" All wealth and possessions ultimately belong to God; we are God's agents, stewards who will give an account (p. 19). But the details of our attitude about spending, saving, and estate planning need to be understood as a family in order to reduce conflict and eliminate unpleasant surprises.

The leader of the household should examine how he feels about money, journal it out. Then, look at the checkbook: does the reality match the philosophy? Ask five questions:
- Who really owns the things you own?
- What assets have been entrusted to your care?
- When is it "enough?"
- Where should it go in the end? (family, charity, or taxes)
- Why will your children's children share in your stewardship philosophy?

Include kids in your stewardship discussion. Clarify your own belifs first, and then communicate your knowledge and beliefs about money in an open, friendly, listening session with your family. Once everyone is on the same page, make a written statement about your philosophy. Then, make commitments which demonstrate your decisions and objectives.

I particularly like the authors' attitude that "stewardship is an act of worship" (p. 28). They call the phase of wealth acquisition "wealth reception," (p. 38). God sees our earthly and heavenly wealth, he knows what we've given up in faith and our hearts. The authors give some questions to ask about wealth acquisition, using John Wesley as an example but noting the deficiencies of the example. They include some questions to ask to determine if wealth is an idol (p. 42-44): Do you feel closer to God when financially successful? Are you happier? Are spiritual and financial success linked in your mind? If so, these are signs of idolotry. Do you want more of what you have enough of? How do you "affair-proof" your relationship with God?

It's tricky to draw a line between building wealth without hoarding, the authors write that God can show you through His word (and I would add other believers walking with you in your local church). But a Family Stewardship Philosophy sets guidelines so you know when "enough is enough," for your lifestyle, savings goals, etc.

Moving from "reception" to "preservation." Is your motive in preserving your wealth love? Love to be able to help your parents pay for their retirement home? Love to help your kids pay for college or their first home? Love for your community that you use the funds to assist it? Love helps you determine how much you really need. Five minutes with your checkbook will tell you where your heart is. "Giving determines your lifestyle, not the other way around" (p. 62). 

Don't ask "Who needs my resources?" ask "How can I glorify God?"  We are not expected to meet every need, as this would not be good stewardship. "Give until it hurts" is unbiblical, write the authors. The better advice is "give until it feels good."
The authors wisely quote John Piper's Dangerous Duty of Delight on this. Pursue pleasure in God in giving, otherwise it's idolotry. Not pursuing pleasure in this activity without pursuing pleasure in God is "not optional."

Moving to the "transition" phase of retirement and asset withdrawal. What needs stir your heart? Are the people you're passing assets to prepared to steward them properly?  The authors recount the story of a woman who included stipulations in her will about the inheritance-- the inheritors must first use money to go on a mission trip. Setting up trusts that have such stipulations help the recipient be disciplined to appreciate the inheritance and increase the likelihood of good stewardship going forward.

The authors close with tips on how to converse with your families and introduce the idea of a Stewardship Plan. With a plan in place you don't have to ask "should I buy this?" "Is this too expensive?" etc. It is a very practical book.

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