Are You Living Beyond Your Means?

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I recently found a prophetic word in an unlikely place, in the Money Matters section of USA Today, March 2, 2006.

"How long can households sustain negative savings?” By John Waggoner, USA TODAY

Never have so many spent so much and saved so little.

The nation’s dismal savings rate is the focus of a sharp debate: This can’t go on forever, some economists say. We spend and borrow too much, we save too little, and in the long run, it spells trouble for individuals and the nation. Nonsense, others say. We
might be dipping into our savings, but that’s a deep well: Household assets, swollen by rising home equity, stand at $62 trillion, according to the Federal Reserve.

Only a long economic downturn is likely to settle the debate about whether Americans are saving enough. But the low savings rate can’t be entirely waved away. Americans can 
go on spending merrily until hard times come: a lost job, a recession, and a health emergency. Then, assets and income will fall — and those without an emergency fund will be in danger.

“We have a real savings shortfall,” says David Wyss, chief economist for Standard & Poor’s. 
But now, saving seems to be the exception more than the rule.

“Overspending and excessive speculation today can lead to recession tomorrow.

"The nation’s personal savings rate ... sank to -0.5%. Households spent $41.6 billion more than they earned. The rate’s last dip into negative territory was in 1933, when banks were closed and breadlines were long. In January, the savings rate fell further, to -0.7%. But we’re nowhere near a recession, let alone a depression. Why the dismal savings rate?”

The severe recession is here that was nowhere to be seen when that article was written. As it turns out, negative savings rates in 2005 and early 2006 were an ominous sign of coming decline.

WHY THERE IS WORLDWIDE FINANCIAL RECESSION

So the question remains:

“Why the dismal savings rate?"

The answer is simple: Overspending. People can’t save when they are living beyond their means. Overspending and excessive speculation today can lead to recession tomorrow. But why are Americans living like there is no tomorrow?

It isn’t the government’s fault. Easy money policies after 9/11 caused interest rates to remain too low too long helping fuel the housing, automotive, and oil bubbles of this decade. The pro-spending/anti-saving interest rate policies of the Federal Reserve System (the U.S. central Bank) succeeded in temporarily muting the negative effects of 9/11, but historically low interest rates also tempted consumers to borrow for goods they couldn’t really afford or didn’t really need or both. In the short run, we may have been saved from a severe recession, but now, seven years later, the bill is coming due.

Even before 9/11, the government was feeding the consumer’s ravenous appetite for bigger and better housing. The government backed mortgage agencies, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, made it way too easy for folks to mortgage their futures and achieve the American dream of owning a home (or owning a bigger and fancier one). “After all, if there is no heaven, you better get your mansion now.” However, you won’t own your home for long if you can’t make the payments.

Government has made matters worse. It has become the co-dependent parent of a childish consumer enabling him to keep spending. In order to solicit our votes, politicians keep trying to give us things we can’t afford and don’t really need.

If we want to really understand the root cause of our present economic troubles in America, we need to look beyond government’s policy failures. The real cause is spiritual not natural, an issue of the heart: greed. In the end, the government cannot help you pay off a humongous credit balance.

The apostle Paul described the collective heart of greedy people with remarkable accuracy when he wrote: “...they are enemies of the cross of Christ, whose end is destruction, whose god is their appetite (belly), and whose glory is in their shame, who set their minds (hearts) on earthly things.” (Phil. 3:18-19)

But how does running up my credit card bill make me an enemy of the cross? The cross of Christ was the place of supreme sacrifice where God gave His very best for the very worst. There the selfless love of God defeated man’s love of self.

God gave up His very life so we could live. There truly is no greater love than this. The cross is the antithesis of self gratification. Is it any wonder, then, that God considers the man who makes his belly his god to be an enemy of the cross of Christ?

The real cause is spiritual not natural, an issue of the heart.

Paul forecast our current problem: “But realize this, 
that in the last days difficult times will come. For men will be lovers of self, lovers of money...lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, holding a form of godliness, although they deny its power...” (1 Tim. 3:1-5)

Here he draws the line in the sand: lovers of self, money, and pleasure are not lovers of God. The self-love crowd may look good, even godly.

But they are not fulfilling the greatest commandment: love God with all your heart, mind, soul, and money. Yes, money too, for where a person puts his treasure, there his heart is, too. And he is not fulfilling the second commandment either; because the one who loves God will love his brother also and deny himself in order to be generous with him.

First world nations have been consuming as if there is no tomorrow. To live like there is no tomorrow is to live as if there is no God.

To a rather gifted but gluttonous group of Corinthians, the Apostle Paul described how one should conduct himself in a world without God: “If the dead are not raised, let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die.” (1 Co. 15:32) Today he would likely write it this way: “If the dead are not raised, let us eat and drink by maxing out our credit cards, for tomorrow we die.”

People say that we are living in the last days. I do not know when Jesus is coming back. No one does. I know I’m living in the last days only because I live among a nation of lovers of self, money, and pleasure.

Have you noticed that as far as society is concerned, the one and only sin a person can commit is intolerance, to consider another person a sinner? This is the religion of the moral relativist. Lustful, covetous living is the “lifestyle” of the relativist, and a pretty attractive one at that. But in God’s economy, lust, gluttony, and covetousness are telltale signs of sin and death that separate a person from God.

HOW TO SURVIVE AND THRIVE

We should not expect the government to bail us out. Incurring trillions of dollars of new government debt cannot solve an economic crisis.

This is akin to an alcoholic trying to cure his hangover by taking another drink. Short term, there’s some relief. But long term, there’s going to be an even bigger crash.

It’s time for every Christian to live out of his “new” heart that finds its satisfaction in God and not in an ever-increasing array of goodies. If the Eternal God is living in you, you will not be greedy. Instead, you will be other-centered, not self-centered. You won’t live to get but to give. No politician or program can create this kind of heart. Only God can create such a heart in man.

There is never a recession in the Kingdom of God because greed is not the value there.

God’s solution to recession is the two thousand year old, recession-proof venture that recreates human beings into the very image of Christ. In God’s Kingdom, slaves become sons, sinners becomes saints, takers become givers, and yes, frivolous spenders become good stewards.