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Friday, January 15, 2010

You Are How You Act, Not Just How You Believe

“Hey, why the long face?” asked my pastor.

That Sunday morning, I was feeling so bad about something that had happened the day before that my pastor could see it on my face.

“Well, I’m kinda embarrassed to tell you,” I replied.

“Come on, Shah. You know me better than that. Tell me what’s bugging you.”

Like a kid caught after breaking his next-door neighbor’s window with a slingshot, I spilled the beans, “In three years of marriage this has never happened to us. For the first time one of our checks bounced.”

With a surprised look on his face, he began to laugh, and said, “ Let me tell you a secret. For the first time in my marriage, I wrote a check that didn’t bounce.”

Of course, he was exaggerating, but like a neon sign on top of a cheap motel, a light went on in my head, “So, you don’t have to live within your means, and it’s OK to write bad checks? Wow…There really are people who live this way?”

I was raised in a culture where we had to purchase everything in cash. No credit cards. No loans from the bank. There were no entitlement delusions. You were only entitled to that which you could afford in hard currency. No cash, no carry! That was the end of that tune. My parents spent years saving their money so they could carpet a room, or buy a secondhand car – not because they were poor, but because they were wise and practical with their finances. That is why, that Sunday, I was rather ashamed of what had transpired the day before, and did not expect my pastor’s response.

Sure, my pastor was joking, but I’m amazed at how, today, the same entitlement mentality prevails even among Christians.

While at a wedding, in a circle of Christian friends, I over heard one man, without batting an eye, boast, “My house is going into foreclosure. I haven’t paid my mortgage for the last six months, and now I’m looking for a smaller house.”

My first reaction was to slap the brother and scream at him, “Where is the honor in your action, you who boast of your Christian faith? Who told you, somehow, you are entitled to buy a house you couldn’t afford? And now, instead of settling your debt, you’re looking for another house!”

36 years ago when Karen and I got married, I inherited her 1969 VW Bug that her parents had given her as a high school graduation present. I still have the car and drive it on occasion. At one time, some of my church members told me how embarrassed they were to see their pastor drive such a beat-up car, but that didn’t matter to me. I wanted to be an example to my church and was hoping for the members to learn the importance of living within their means even in a land that is built on spending and credit. Besides all that, I truly loved driving my VW. In fact, in 2000 I had it completely refurbished – a job that was done by a friend whom I paid gradually as the work progressed.

In 2005, after paying off our mortgage and existing car loans, I looked through our finances to see if I could afford to purchase a new car (because, any more, I could not hack the summer heat in a car with no A/C). As it turned out, we could afford it, so for the second time in my life—The first time was over 37 years ago--I went out and purchased a new car for myself.

Let me sum up what I’m trying to convey to you in this New Year: You are how you act and not just what you believe. Telling people what you believe isn’t going to cut it if you don’t live accordingly. Jesus told us to let our light shine so those around us would see it and glorify the Father. In these economically tough days when many are desperately looking for solutions that can offer them comfort, we can be that light by putting aside our childish entitlement attitude, and as an example, live wisely within the means God has granted us.
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